Bowl Camp Preps Brown For 'Backer Battles

Richie Brown had to imitate a whole lot of linebackers this fall with the scout team, many of them among the nation's elite. Who was the best or hardest to mimic, now, "I can't say for sure. But I liked the ones that had the extra-large jerseys!"

OK, that requires some ‘splaining. When Mississippi State assembles its scout squad for a new week's differing schemes the imitated player's numbers change too. Meaning each Monday linebacker Brown was handed that corresponding jersey…which didn't always fit. "Because some of them had numbers that were mediums and larges, all we had in the equipment room.

"And they were way too tight, my arms are losing circulation! So whoever had the biggest jersey is who I liked!"

The good news is Brown's days on the scout squad are coming to an end, and he'll never have to wear an opposing jersey again. Or the metaphorical redshirt either. This freshman is on the fast track to varsity status as soon as the Bulldogs return from Jacksonville. He and we can know that by how linebackers coach and co-coordinator Geoff Collins regards this rookie during bowl camp.

"It's been a lot of scout," Brown said of the three regular-season months. "A lot of scout. But here in bowl practice it is all you. Like the coach tells me every day in practice, ‘who runs the defense Richie?' And I'm like, it's me, Coach."

Because, well, it really is him. Young Brown is being measured as the man to take charge of the Bulldog defense someday as middle linebacker. Never mind what the Mississippi State staff said back in February, on Signing Day, when they praised him as an all-purpose linebacker. Anyone familiar with his prep record, and records for that matter, saw Brown brought the look of a prototypical middle-man.

And guess where he fit in as soon as pre-season practices began back in August? Yep. "He's had me there all season," Brown said. "I like taking charge of the defense. It's a fun position and you have to take on more blocks but its all part of the fun."

"I feel it's my natural position. I like the middle because I can go both ways. I feel I'm in the middle of the field and love being able to go either way to make plays. But wherever they want me, that's where I'll go."

It's gone well for Brown at mike-backer here in the evaluation stage of bowl camp where he has assumed control quite naturally. To be sure he practiced plenty back in August before assuming the scout-position. Funny thing though, Brown himself sees a world of difference between that first-fall freshman and someone who has been through a redshirting season.

For one thing, he's heavier. "I weighed probably 225, and I'm up to 238, 237 right now. I'm probably the heaviest linebacker now actually." Actually, he's correct by just a couple of lbs. "I think it's me, and Skinner, and Benardrick, the three heaviest right now," Brown said. Yet he doesn't look any heavier today than in August. "I know, I carry it well I guess!" Not that Brown laughed when trying to squeeze into some smaller guy's shirt, of course.

Happily the position Brown plans to play is not too big for his maturing talents. It's the awareness of how to play college linebacker though where this freshman has grown most.

"It's ridiculous. You don't realize how much one year of football can really change you. You think now wow, if I could go back to my senior year of high school you could be five times the player you are now. Just by these little concepts you've learned, and hard work, relentless effort, pursuing ball. And all these fundamentals they teach you that really are the biggest part. Because just an inch can be the difference in a play."

All true enough…yet for a fellow with his big prep reputation it could not have been easy standing off to a side and watching the varsity play real games. Brown agreed, there were some in his freshman class who were dubious about redshirting. At first anyway.

Today? "I think we're all to a point where we're glad we're here and not just playing for the coaches. We're playing for each other and happy to be together." And by ‘together' Brown means keeping the bulk of this 2012 incoming class intact for the next four seasons. Most notably another linebacker bearing the proud Brown name.

"Beniquez, he's my brother!" bragged Richie, foretelling the day both Browns are paired on the field and making plays. "We're going to make a good linebacker duo one day and we kind of have pride in that," he said.

"You know, our last names are the same so we kind of get a little charisma going there! And we're Coach Collins' first two actual recruits. So we're happy about our future together and we're going to play for each other." With Beniquez most likely as one of the outside ‘backers while Richie holds down the middle and organizes the show. Add-in some of the other '12 newcomers who sat this season—Quadry Antoine, Deontay Evans, Will Redmond, and so on in the secondary, as well as defensive linemen…the senior squad of 2016 is already taking shape in Brown's mind.

"All of us here are really glad we stayed back. And we think gosh, our last couple of years together, we're going to be awesome. Some of us might leave, who knows who can have what opportunities. But we're excited about the years together and we all say man, we're all glad we had an option to do this. It's a really good deal when you look at it."

For now though there is one more 2012 game to play and a lot of current seniors to send-off with a final victory. Specific preparation for Northwestern begins Monday, with Brown returning to scout team status. It is what he and his classmates, as well as a lot of sophomores and juniors, did this week which will pay off come spring.

They've been almost liberated, Brown said. "It feels awesome to get a chance to actually run our defense and do everything that I've been watching other guys do." For that matter, do what he saw opposing teams do on scouting tape. Why, it should give Brown a leg-up on learning how to game-plan for a real opponent.

"And you learn a lot of offenses, too. A lot of reps of the plays and you learn what they look like, even though you're doing fundamentals. As soon as you get out here you feel you're faster than ever because you haven't been able to go full-full speed during these scout periods. It's awesome."

As well as a hint of things to come as the calendar turns over for the last game of this season and first day of the next when Brown can get busy winning his place in the 2013 plans. "So I have to get out there and lead the defense when I'm out there. And it's my job to make sure everybody is enthusiastic and energized. If the defense doesn't do good, it's on me.

"I'm just going to work hard Coach wherever wants to put me. I'm willing to make plays wherever I am. And Coach always says special teams first so I'm making sure I go hard in special teams, too."

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