STARKVILLE • Both of Mississippi State’s starting safeties – Johnathan Abram and Mark McLaurin – have moved on to the NFL, creating big holes at the back end of the Bulldogs’ defense.
Although that is a lot of talent and experience lost, MSU defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has been encouraging his returning safeties to embrace that challenge.
“Opportunity is the key to life and someone’s missed opportunity is another person’s opportunity,” Shoop said.
Graduation didn’t wipe MSU completely out at the position either. Brian Cole played in five games and made four starts at the star position, which is a nickel back that often fills the role as a third linebacker on the field.
Cole made 11 tackles – three of which were for loss – one sack and one interception early on as a junior before being lost for the remainder of last season when he tore his right pectoral muscle making a tackle against Florida.
“He’s a name that you may not be familiar with, but by the middle of the season, if he plays up to his capabilities, may be on a lot of people’s radar,” Shoop said. “He’s very, very talented. He can cover like a corner and can blitz like a linebacker. He’s tough and physical. He’s got all the great assets for a defensive player for the nickel in our scheme.”
When Cole went down, Jaquarius “Capri” Landrews came onto the scene to start in wins over Auburn, Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech. But he too was injured for the final three regular season games.
“Capri is a solid player,” Shoop said. “He’s like a steady Eddie. He’s never out of position and he does exactly what you ask him to do. He’s got a quiet leadership style. He does a great job. He’s a steady influence. He’s the yin to my yang.”
The injuries by Cole and Landrews allowed C.J. Morgan to move up the depth chart and tallied four tackles in each of the final four games. Morgan also finished tied for the team lead with two interceptions.
“C.J. played really, really well in those last four games and I think the confidence grew,” Shoop said.
With Morgan and Landrews expected to start at free and strong safety respectively and Cole returning to his nickel role, the Bulldogs have plenty of competition behind them.
Fred Peters was signed out of Jones County Junior College and is capable of playing all three positions.
“He was able to come in this spring and learn the system and, using the baseball analogy, he’s a utility guy,” Shoop said. “He can play second, third or shortstop. You can put him out in left field if you have to – he can do it all. I really like his game and he takes hard coaching. He loves football and he’s almost a 4.0 [GPA] student. He embodies everything that is part of coach (Joe) Moorhead and our culture here.”
West Point native Marcus Murphy will also see time at safety and nickel. Fellow sophomore Landon Guidry and redshirt freshman Shawn Preston return for their second seasons on the field and are fighting for playing time alongside true freshmen Collin Duncan and J.P. Purvis.