Last Modified: Friday, August 15, 2014 10:57 AM
The McNeese State defensive backfield is developing into the type of unit in which one sees no hesitation in plowing one of their best buddies into the ground.
During Wednesday’s practice, safety Brent Spikes wiped out fellow Newton (Texas) High graduate Kelvin Bennett in a play near the goal line. It wasn’t a dirty play, but certainly not the type of hit a coach wants to see his running back take.
Even defensive coordinator Lance Guidry had to jump in and remind Spikes “Not like that!” — at least when a teammate is involved.
“I wasn’t trying to do that,” Spikes maintains. “My mind-set was just to not let him score, and it just kicked in.”
No one seemed to have hard feelings about the hard-hitting matter.
“Afterwards I said to Bennett, I said, ‘Spikes was trying to take your head off,’” Guidry said. “And he said, ‘That’s always how we did it in Newton. Coach (Curtis) Barbay would be proud.’”
McNeese’s secondary is a mixture of youth and speed, and if the strength of the latter trait can overcome the shortcomings of the former, a lot of coaches will be proud.
“With a freshman, if they can run, they’ve got a chance,” Guidry said. “He can’t process as fast, but he can make up ground.”
If the secondary has the season it believes itself capable of, senior Aaron Sam is the key. And not just in the sense of manning the back end of the defense at free safety, where he moved after playing buck safety as a junior and cornerback his first two seasons.
Because of his experience at almost every position and age gap on many of his teammates, he’s an invaluable piece of the team in training camp.
“I wouldn’t say I’m old — more wise,” said the LaGrange High graduate. “You have to teach the youngsters how to slow their minds down. Because if you move too fast, you’ll see something that really isn’t there. The offense will try to fool you. I try to keep them on their toes and focused on the day.”
Freshman Dominque Hill has already experienced that firsthand. He enrolled early this spring, and learning from Sam in that time frame has made him a virtual lock to start at buck safety in the season opener at Nebraska on Sept. 6.
“I don’t know how far I would have came without Aaron,” Hill said. “That’s the guy I came to. He’s helping everybody, being more like a field general.”
Hill has continued to set himself apart even amongst a freshman class with plenty of promise.
“He has the playmaking ability that Aaron Sam has,” Guidry said. “He’s a high school quarterback. He’s very instinctive. And he played running back, wideout, everywhere. So he’s very athletic. But to see him progress this quick with all the stuff we’re doing is really impressive. He’s really instinctive. You can’t put a finger on it when they’re instinctive like that. He’s just got it.”
The other freshmen have displayed their athleticism in the first week of camp, but are starting to regress a tad now that more of the defense and offense are installed.
“They looked good at the beginning, but now some of the stuff is starting to confuse them,” Guidry said. “But that’s natural. The more we install, there’s more for them to learn. But the offense continues to install and stuff starts crossing up on them. There comes a point where you stop installing and you re-teach and they get even faster.”
Players like Tavarious Battiste, Kamon Darby, Andre Fuller and walk-on Josh Washington have all made plays, but their performances in McNeese’s two Saturday scrimmages and the rest of camp will determine if they make it onto the field this year.
No one can question that they are making the competition on the depth chart fierce, though.
“We want the best player to play, and we’re trying to find the best player at every position,” Spikes said. “We’ve got to compete every day to get the spot.”
Virtually every practice has featured someone new rotating in with the No. 1 defensive backs and somebody else fighting to get back into that spot. The day Spikes laid a lick on his old high school teammate, he was playing with the No. 2 defense.
“They’re competing for the jersey at every position. It’s good to be able to reward a young freshman with a DWA (Defense With Attitude) jersey on,” Guidry said. “It’s good to see how they’re going to respond playing with other good players and against good players. That way if you have something happen like with Malcolm Bronson (a season-ending injury in 2012) you’re not like ‘Ahhhh!’ Obviously losing someone like Malcolm is a big blow, but you have to create different scenarios.”