Neither bravado nor disrespect leads Melvin Coleman to downplay the challenge Towson's passing attack presents to Morgan State in today's 1 p.m. game at Minnegan Stadium.
Perhaps Coleman's been-there-done-that attitude accounts for his blasM-i response when queried on his thoughts of Jamal White, Towson's preseason All-American receiver.
"There's nothing there that I haven't already seen," said Coleman, who led the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in interceptions last year with six and faced the conference's most formidable offense in a loss to Florida A&M; last week. "Going against [receiver] Jacquay Nunnally, the guy who's going to break Jerry Rice's records -- playing man-to-man coverage on him a couple of times -- I've already seen what I need to be seeing."
Out of the no-huddle "Gulf Coast offense," Florida A&M;'s Quinn Gray threw for 390 yards and four touchdowns against the Bears, who were without cornerback Micah Ramseur, as he served a one-game suspension for desertion.
Today, Coleman and his mates in the backfield -- Ramseur, Justin Thomas and Sam Massey -- will try to stop a Towson attack that is balanced (also averaging 254 rushing yards) and returns most of the receivers from a passing game that accounted for 4,000-plus yards in 1999, including White, who caught 82 passes for 1,322 yards and eight touchdowns.
It is also an offense that offers different obstacles than the one the Bears faced last Saturday.
"They don't run as many free-lance routes as we saw last week," MSU defensive backs coach Dexter Davis said. "[Towson] runs more disciplined and precise routes, which will require that we be more disciplined. So, it will be another good challenge."
Next week, Morgan State plays Howard, also competent through the air. The irony is the season's first three games might sully the reputation of what is perhaps Morgan State's best position group.
"It's going to be too early to tell," Coleman said, calling the early challenge an opportunity rather than a burden. "It's not pressure, it's an opportunity to make a lot of plays. ... Just an opportunity to build my stats up early."
There are burdens, however. In Tallahassee, Thomas, the other safety, was playing his first full game for Morgan State, and it was the first start for Jamar Williams, Ramseur's replacement.
The season opener against Florida A&M; was also the team's first game on a regulation field, so some defenders didn't know where the hashmarks were. The front seven, needing to pressure the quarterback, couldn't have melted soft butter with the heat they put on Gray.
"If you give a good quarterback some time to sit back and read, he'll pick you apart," Thomas said. "Even on tight man coverage, you can't stay on a receiver forever. Something's going to break down."
If the Bears' secondary can clear these hurdles in the next two games, it will be because of Coleman, a former walk-on who coach Stanley Mitchell describes as his "coach on the field."
"He's a student of the game," Mitchell said. "I look for him to help the young guys -- not just the corners, but the linebackers, too."
Coleman's experience comes from starting parts of two seasons before a strong junior year in 1999. He has healthy numbers, but his statistics haven't been good enough to get him all-MEAC first-team honors after last season or going into this one, a fact that rankles him.
Despite such snubs -- "that's what makes me go" -- he has enough talent to not fear anyone.
"You have to have that attitude," he said. "You have to go out and say, 'I'm going to be better than he is.' "