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Defensive backs ready to anchor season's success

April 18, 2003

While much of the secondary is unproven, two defensive backs are set to anchor the group and provide the necessary leadership to get this unit through the season.

Junior free safety Jason Harmon and junior cornerback Roderick Maples are the "elder statesmen" in the defensive backfield - each is stepping up and accepting the leadership role they have been assigned.

"Roderick and Jason stay on us all the time because we're young," sophomore strong safety Derron Ware said. "They've been here for a long time. They expect a lot from us and they help me perform better on the field. They let me know what I'm doing wrong. They always stay in my head."

Harmon said developing a chemistry among the secondary is on the to-do list, but it's not a job that can be defined by Xs and Os.

"We're communicating, but I think we need to do a better job," Harmon said. "But we'll have (a cohesive unit) down pat."

Time isn't on the Spartans' side. They can expect it to take longer than one summer to complement a secondary crop which includes one player yet to play a down of Big Ten football (Cobb) and two players used sparingly in last year's campaign (Maples and Ware).

But Maples said he is ready to take on the teacher's role.

"I gotta do that. We're all going to be out there together in a war," Maples said. "I try to keep their heads up. They're young and, like me, we all don't have a high level of experience so we're gonna make mistakes. But they have to keep pushing."

Maples attributes his willingness to help younger players to having received help from former Spartan defensive back Thomas Wright.

The last time an MSU defense was on the field, against Penn State last November, it gave up more than a point a minute. And although this unit is largely unknown and unproven, Maples said the entire defense - not just the secondary - is ready to get back out on the field.

"I'm really anxious," he said. "I know as a defense we're all anxious. We want to get our respect back."

Offensive defensemen

If head coach John L. Smith's new spread offense has the MSU secondary running in circles this spring, Harmon said it's all for the best.

Smith's pass-first offense has provided Harmon and the Spartans secondary with ample opportunity to practice pass coverage and improve defense on complicated pass routes.

Harmon sees it as a blessing.

"It's preparing us a lot," he said. "We get a lot of man-to-man coverage going, rep after rep."

Add the tradition of bruising, ground attack Big Ten football, and the Spartans could find themselves prepared in the secondary for the running and passing game.

"We get a lot of run practice in our individual drills," Harmon said. "All of those drills help us, the run and the pass. But we've got to work together and be able to communicate."

Spring forward

The public will get its first look at the MSU football team under new head coach John L. Smith at the annual Green and White game at 1 p.m. Saturday in Spartan Stadium.

And even though Mother Nature can't seem to make up her mind these days - the Spartans have practiced in weather ranging from cold and snowy to sunny and balmy - the players can't wait to play.

"I like the cold," Ware said. "I'm from California, and we don't get too much cold weather. That's why I came up here. It doesn't matter what the weather is on Saturday, I'm ready."

Ware might be disappointed, however. The National Weather Service in Grand Rapids is predicting partly sunny skies with highs in the mid-70s for Saturday afternoon.

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