Sept. 12, 2013
Auburn cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith says cornerbacks have made major progress (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - For Melvin Smith, Auburn's cornerbacks coach, Saturday's game against Mississippi State will be a reunion of sorts. He'll visit some good friends, some players he helped recruit and some players he helped grow.
After the game.
Last season, when Mississippi State beat Auburn 28-10 in Starkville, Smith was wearing maroon. He celebrated three interceptions. And now he wears blue.
"There are some really good people and really good football coaches on that staff, starting with the head coach," Smith said. "All the guys on defense, I've coached with them. I'm really close to all of them. I'm close to that whole staff and a lot of people over there.
"I look forward to the game. I look forward to seeing them after the game. I'm not a big visitor before the game. Obviously, there are a lot of kids on that team I recruited and a lot of kids I developed. It's a special feeling."
Smith joined Sylvester Croom's staff at Mississippi State as secondary coach in 2006. He concentrated on cornerbacks, starting in 2007. In 2009, Dan Mullen took over as head coach and retained Smith as cornerbacks coach.
Last season, cornerbacks Jonathan Banks and Darius Slay were second-round picks in the NFL draft. Slay was chosen by the Detroit Lions with the first pick of the second round and Banks by the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Smith said his focus won't be altered by the familiar faces across the field.
"Yes, it's different," Smith said, "but it's the SEC. I always try to stay in the moment."
Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Smith's knowledge of Mississippi State's players and schemes will be helpful.
"Sometimes a guy doesn't look fast on tape and he is," Johnson said. "Sometimes a guy looks fast and maybe he isn't. I think he'll be a big help. He certainly knows a lot about their offense."
Smith inherited veteran cornerbacks in seniors Chris Davis and Ryan White and fourth-year junior Jonathon Mincy. He says they have performed well in Auburn's 2-0 start but must improve to face the challenges to come, starting Saturday.
"I'm feeling better," Smith said. "We really have to clean our eyes up. You can't be lukewarm. If you are double-minded, you are unstable in all your ways. I see improvement. We are a work in progress, but I like the direction we are going. I really do."
True freshmen Kamryn Melton and Johnathan Ford and redshirt freshman T.J. Davis got playing time in last Saturday's 38-9 victory over Arkansas State, and Smith liked what he saw.
"Johnathan Ford made a tackle the other night," Smith said. "I got a chance to play Kamryn Melton five or six plays toward the end. He graded out a champion, didn't make any mistakes in those five or six plays. T.J. got a chance to play. I was excited about them getting in the game."
And, Smith said, they'll get better as they go.
"I get excited about working with young DB's," Smith said. "It's my job, but it's my hobby, too. I love coaching corners."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: