August 24, 2009

Position Preview: Safety

Perhaps no position was hit harder last season than at safety.

Mississippi State graduated three senior safeties in Derek Pegues], Keith Fitzhugh and De'Mon Glanton leaving only one player at the position with any starting experience.

But both junior Zach Smith and sophomore Charles Mitchell earned their share of action last season in some key minutes for the Bulldogs and will lead that unit on the field in 2009.

"They play with confidence and believe in what we are doing," said MSU assistant coach Tony Hughes. "Our defensive system under Coach (Carl) Torbush allows them to be very involved in the defense. They are sort of like the quarterbacks back there and they run the show. Their experience shows up at practice and the things that they do on a daily basis."

Smith has played in 24 games during his MSU career earning two starts making 64 tackles (0.5 for loss), broken up three passes and recovered one fumble while Mitchell played in all 12 games as a true freshman last season making 31 stops and one pass deflection.

Smith is expected to start at free safety followed on the depth chart by sophomore Wade Bonner, redshirt freshman Chris Cameron and true freshman Nickoe Whitley.

At strong safety, Mitchell seems to have locked down the starting role backed up by junior Emmanuel Gatling and true freshman Cameron Lawrence.

Bonner came to State as a two-way star in high school. He worked his true freshman season in the secondary before switching over to running back as a redshirt freshman. He played in all 12 games last season rushing seven times for 12 yards and also hauled in one pass for six yards. He also worked on the special teams units returning six kickoffs for 106 yards before moving back to safety in the spring.

"He has really had a great summer camp," Hughes said of Bonner. "He is an excellent cover guy. He is physical and has learned so much from the spring to the fall that we are not afraid to put him in the game in any situation. Right now he could end up being our starting nickel."

Gatling along with offensive lineman John McMillan were the two recipients of scholarships this fall. Gatling has been a walk-on player for the Bulldogs since 2006 playing in 11 games last season registering four special teams tackles.

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