Now that overview might come across a bit contradictory. He knows his role but not his exact job? Correct. That is an accurate representation of Mississippi State's way of setting up for another new season. The role of guys like Skinner is to get themselves ready to play the defense, more than it is to simply fill a position.
Or, perhaps, positions?
Because based on both spring practices and training camp repetitions the third-fall sophomore is being measured for maybe more than normal linebacking duties. That is the benefit a body like Skinner can bring to a defense still developing the best mix of size and speed alongside the interior people. "I've got good size," agrees the 245-pounder.
Size of the sort Mississippi State lost when K.J. Wright and Chris White graduated. As reported ever since, the revised defensive staff has adjusted its 2011 approach with a distinct tilt towards speed. The outside linebacker depth charts have been topped, typically, by veteran Cameron Lawrence to one side and either Chris Hughes or Matt Wells on the other. All were defensive backs once upon a time and while they have been bulked-up accordingly—Lawrence for example was 230 pounds before serious preseason sweating began—this still isn't a big bunch of ‘backers.
Thus the interest in Skinner, who had a solid spring and seemed to pick up from there in August. Though all depth charts have to be taken with a whole box of salt at the moment, Skinner is contending for snaps not just as a backup to Lawrence. He has a real shot at rotation work on this (out) side.
Know what else? His competitor is assisting the process.
"Oh, it's good," Skinner says. "Because me and Cam talk a lot; whenever one doesn't understand something we're right there for each other. It's a grind for both of but we're there for each other."
There might be another option. In the ongoing effort to put the best ‘situation' squads on the field, Skinner has had some looks as a defensive end-type. Not full-time perhaps, but along the lines of how State played some games last fall with a big linebacker (Wright, typically) playing at the line of scrimmage. In fact Skinner has been told to put a paw on the ground at times, like he did back at Noxubee County High.
"Well, from the spring it was something kind of new to me. But whatever he asks for me to do, I do it. I'm just working whatever Coach Wilson wants me to do. It helps me with some technique. But I know in college it's a lot of different things you have to learn. It helps me a lot playing it in high school."
The larger point is not so much the position Skinner is, ummm, positioned. It is how coordinator Chris Wilson wants to maximize the play-making potential of this whole unit. And since this defense is already so stout up-the-middle with all-conference caliber tackles, a reliable middle linebacker, and excellent safeties, the goal is to complement them with outside execution.
Skinner says that with Wilson's promotion to coordinator there have been some changes to the systems. Nothing huge, of course; just shifts in a few aspects everyone has had to process over the course of camp.
"We started out slow but we're getting adjusted to it. It's different from last year but we're picking it up pretty good." The real adjustment actually was more from fitting in new or at least newer personnel to restock starting jobs and rotation roles. Which meant Skinner, Lawrence, Brandon Wilson, et.al., have had to do some ‘coaching' of their own with redshirts and rookies.
"The chemistry with the young guys, they're catching on real quick. They get in their playbook and we're there with them so when they need somebody. They're coming along real fast. We've got a lot of young players so we have pretty good depth."
That is worth remembering. Obviously replacing standouts such as White, Wright, or Pernell McPhee is not automatic. But that is the annual adjustment defenses must make. Besides, Skinner might remind, departures should simply mean opportunity for the next generation of Dogs to grab their opportunities and play up to established standards.
Hopefully the trick now is not finding the best available body; it is picking him from a quality corps. Skinner takes the positive approach.
"I feel all our linebackers have size on them. We have defensive ends that are different sizes. We've got small guys and big guys, we've got big guys that can run and small guys that can run," he says. "I think our defense is really good and we're going to come out and have a great year."