Go ahead. Ask around.
Two weeks into Mississippi State training camp, virtually every Bulldog coach or player that has been questioned on which MSU defensive back has been standing out has responded with the same name.
"Fred Peters," State wide receiver JaVonta Patyon said. "Definitely Fred Peters."
MSU defensive coordinator Zach Arnett?
"A lot of guys have made plays, but one guy I’ve noticed several times at safety has been Fred Peters," Arnett said.
The list goes on. Tight-end-turned-receiver Geor'quarius Spivey has lauded Peters. Same goes for safeties coach Jason Washington. At every turn, Peters is getting praise. And for an inexperienced secondary that needs its senior to shine, Peters' surge is a welcome sight.
There's no doubt about it. The Bulldogs need Peters to be good. That's putting it mildly. It's because MSU's defensive backfield is a shell of what it was a year ago. Cameron Dantzler? Gone via the NFL Draft. Jarrian Jones? He's now a Florida State Seminole. Martin Emerson? Graduated. Tyler Williams? Opted out of playing this season. All of those names started at least one game last year and now all are elsewhere.
That leaves Peters in a spot where he's almost forced to step up his game to pick up the slack. And to this point, everyone insists he's doing just that. What's the secret to it? Peters seems to boil it all down to one word – confidence.
"I feel much better (than last season)," Peters said. "My confidence is way up there. My man technique, I’m more patient than what I was last year.
"I didn’t play much last season. But the last (game) I actually started and that boosted my confidence a lot. My man (coverage) technique (wasn't as good as it needed to be). I had to just be patient and the rest will come. Like tackling. I know had to tackle, I just had to get my man (coverage better) and my confidence back up."
It has been crucial for Peters to improve when he's man-to-man. Arnett's 3-3-5 scheme will often leave defensive backs in man coverage situations according to Peters. Judging by the reactions of Peters' teammates, he's getting it down.
"Fred just has that type of discipline," Payton said. "It’s a battle with us every day. I love competing against him because he’s going to make me better and I’m going to make him better."
Thing is, Peters' own talent and improvement on the field is just one part of the equation that the Bulldogs need from him this season. In addition to Peters, State will be forced to rely heavily on youngsters and inexperienced players to contribute in the secondary. As one of only three seniors on the roster listed as either a corner or safety (and the one of the three that almost certainly will get the most playing time), Peters is being counted on to be a leader in addition to a top performer. It appears he's embracing the role.
"He’s a guy that leads by example and grasps the defense and gets other people to jump onboard," Washington said. "I’ve been proud of him on that. He’s taken this defense and has really grasped it and brought things in and communicated with a bunch of the other guys on working on technique and doing all the little things right. So I’ve been proud of Fred and obviously it has shown on the field by him making plays and bouncing around and showing leadership. He’s done a good job."
All the preseason praise for Peters' efforts will mean very little if he can't back it up once the season starts. Last preseason, former MSU defensive coordinator Bob Shoop often threw kudos in the direction of Peters. And while Peters responded with a solid season, playing in all 13 games with 10 tackles and an interception, it perhaps wasn't quite as successful of a year as Peters would've drawn up after arriving to Mississippi State as a four-star safety from the junior college ranks.
Don't mistake anything. Yes, Peters surely would've loved to put up more impressive numbers in year one with the Bulldogs, but he's still incredibly glad his path led him to Starkville.
"I took the (junior college) route because I really didn’t have that many offers coming out of high school," Peters said. "But I’m glad I went juco. It made me get more offers than what I had in high school, so I had choices. So I came here and I ain’t going to lie. It’s been the best fit for me."
Just as Peters says Mississippi State was the best fit for him, in the 2020 season, it's starting to sound as though Mississippi State is going to be just as thrilled to have Peters fitting into and patrolling its secondary. Any way you slice it, the Bulldogs are a team in desperate need of defensive backs to step up and show out. Early on, Peters appears to be one that's answering the call.
"He's going to be a leader we rely on back there," Arnett added.
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