By JOEL COLEMAN
Opponents beware. Mississippi State’s newest defensive position is almost ready to strike.
MSU reports for training camp Monday. With the season opener now less than five weeks away, that means first-year defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon is just days away from taking his viper out of its cage.
“The viper position is a guy that has to be kind of a big guy, but has to be able to cover (the pass),” senior linebacker Richie Brown said at Southeastern Conference Media Days earlier this month. “We’ve got a few guys working out at that position. It’s going to be able to help us in the pass coverage as well as sometimes in the pass rush, having a real fast guy there that can help sometimes, depending on who you’re playing. We’re going to have a lot of coverages. (Opponents) are going to have to guess, ‘Are they rushing or are they covering.’ It’s going to add some flavor to our defense.”
Sirmon brought the viper position to MSU upon his arrival. He started implementing it during State’s spring practices.
“What we’re doing, we need a guy with some versatility,” Sirmon said during the spring. “It doesn’t have to be a total cover guy. He needs to be a blend.”
The viper serves as a bit of a hybrid between a defensive end and a linebacker. In the spring Will Coleman, Traver Jung and Anfernee Mullins tested the waters of the position.
Coleman and Mullins are both listed on the roster as defensive linemen. Jung is listed as a linebacker.
Sirmon insisted during the spring that none of the three playing the viper were specifically changing positions.
“We are opening up some of the techniques and some of the things we are asking them to do now,” Sirmon said.
The viper is used with a three-man defensive front. In the past, State has shown multiple defensive looks, but played primarily a 4-3 style. Brown anticipates differences this year. With Sirmon calling the shots, Brown is anticipating more 3-4 looks as the Bulldogs display a wide variety of styles.
“We’ve run some 3-4 in the past, but we didn’t really emphasize it though,” Brown said. “I think it’ll be a little more emphasized this year. It’s something we did a lot in the spring to kind of get used to so that we could be sure we’re used to it and ready to do that. We’ve got a little bit of both though. We’ve got a little bit of everything.”
Out of the 3-4, the viper can leave his mark. Senior defensive end A.J. Jefferson says the viper position has forced him to become more aware of things on the field. Jefferson isn’t playing the viper post. He’ll continue to line up with his hand on the ground. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to be aware of the viper’s responsibilities.
“We really have to be on the same page,” Jefferson said. “There might be times where we’re both rushing and he’s not dropping. He has to know if I’m going to shoot it and he can come underneath or if I need to go inside so he can stay outside.”
From the outside looking in, it might seem as though MSU has complicated its defense as players adjust to new roles and schemes under Sirmon. Head coach Dan Mullen says that’s not really the case though.
Sure, some things are different with more 3-4 looks and the viper position, but Mullen thinks State’s aggressive nature that he likes will be very much the same.
“Our defensive philosophy is not going to change, but our personality is with Peter Sirmon,” Mullen said. “You see our defense. We have 11 guys running to the ball and it’s a very attacking style of defense that we’ve played since I’ve been the head coach and will always play while I’m the head coach at Mississippi State.”