Peters' growth, Cleveland's return positives for MSU

Jamal Peters
Staff Writer

It took a little while, but cornerback finally feels like home to Mississippi State’s Jamal Peters.
Peters, who started his Bulldog career as a safety in 2015, is about to begin his second season at corner.
“I’m very comfortable now,” Peters said. “I’m not nervous now when I line up in front of somebody. I mean, at that moment, either you’re going to win or I’m going to win, but nine times out of 10, I’m going to win because of how my mindset is now.
“I wasn’t just a bad corner (before now), but you could tell I’d never played it before. After spring and now, coming into fall camp, I’m a different person.”
A comfortable Peters is fantastic news for the Bulldogs and, particularly, their secondary. Suddenly, after being plagued by injury issues and inexperience at corner a season ago, the position appears to be becoming a spot of strength for MSU.
Peters has adjusted. Lashard Durr has a year of Southeastern Conference experience under his belt. Cameron Dantzler is healthy and prepared to make a splash after redshirting his true freshman season in 2016 with an ankle injury.
Then there’s senior Tolando Cleveland. Cleveland missed all of last year after tearing the ACL in his left knee in the preseason. Now he’s back and his years of experience are paying dividends for MSU.
“There are a lot of guys in the (film) room turning on a game of a (Mississippi State) team that was No. 1 in the country a few years ago,” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. “Everybody is looking at the film and there is Tolando Cleveland on the field making plays.”
Cleveland’s MSU tenure actually stretches a year further back than that special 2014 campaign. He has been through it all. He has seen it all. Now, he’s helping pass it all along to the other corners.
“If (cornerbacks coach Terrell Buckley) isn’t in the meeting room, (Cleveland) is making sure everyone is in there and everyone is on time,” Peters said. “(Cleveland) is basically like a coach. That’s the way I look at it.
“He helps me a lot. He stays on me every day.”
Pushed by Cleveland, all of MSU’s corners are hoping to help the Bulldogs’ pass defense bounce back. Last year, State surrendered 281.5 passing yards per game. Buckley says to correct that, it’ll take a total team effort from everyone, not just the corners.
He likes the ability of the cornerbacks to make plays.
“In the passing game, everyone thinks it’s just the corners and that’s not the case,” Buckley said. “We actually had more picks (last year) from our corners than there has been in a long time. We made some plays and scored some touchdowns and did some good things last year.
“Overall though, there’s still little detailed stuff that we have to fix.”
With about three weeks left until the season kicks off, patching those holes remains Buckley’s goal for his group.
“Everyone is lacking consistency to kind of take them to the next level,” Buckley said. “Everyone is having one great day and one bad day. That’s what we’re grinding them on.
“This is an offensive game now. I used to tell corners that you have to be twice as good (as opponents). Now you have to be five or six times as good.”
Buckley says the potential is there for his group to live up to his expectations. The returning players like Peters, Durr and Cleveland, plus the infusion of talent from guys like Dantzler could make MSU’s corners a strength of the team. The key word there is ‘could’ though, says Buckley.
“We could be (good),” Buckley said. “Now we just have to get there.”