Skinner, Defense Buy Into Spring Havoc Theme

He really doesn't need to respond. Deonte Skinner's expression says it all when he hears ‘havoc'. "Yeah, there's something about that word that gets us fired-up!"

Which should mean Mississippi State's defense in general, and linebackers in particular, will be burning it up this spring. Because havoc is position coach and coordinator Geoff Collins' watchword. Since his January promotion to run the entire defense Collins has cried, so to speak, havoc for his corps.

And they hear. "I like that word!" says outside ‘backer Skinner. OK, so he likes it. But what is Skinner's own definition?

"Havoc is just causing chaos. I mean there's so many things you can do on one play; you can get a tackle for loss, a sack, cause a fumble, recover a fumble…and you can score with it! So when I hear that word that's what I think of, all those things."

Skinner is one Bulldog both equipped and experienced to wreak some good old havoc in this defensive identity. In his three varsity seasons the senior has had a hand, or both, in 138 tackles with 14 of those for losses and three forced fumbles so far. Skinner has played in 36 games and started 23 of them in the past two years.

So the Macon, Miss., native could serve as Collins' template for havoc plans. It certainly suits his idea of how a Bulldog should play.

"It's just fun," Skinner says. "I like this defense the way Coach Collins calls it and I just love playing it."

Or just practicing it for that matter. Through the first five sessions of this spring season Skinner has enjoyed himself, whether in his role as first-team outside linebacker on the field or a ranking old Dog in the meeting room. He and Chris Hughes are the group's upperclassmen for '13.

"I think practice is going real great. The young guys, they're coming along and they're learning everything real fast. Tempo is really good. So I think practice is going pretty good so far."

Of course it is supposed to go good for a senior who has been in the system this long. Still his coaches are pleased Skinner hasn't shown any signs of ‘senioritis' here, when the temptation to coast through his final spring is strongest for a fellow who knows he has a place in the lineup.

Not Skinner. He's accepted the challenge, or the obligation, that comes with seniority to set a standard. After all, somebody has account for the tackles and plays and just plain pace set the past two years by Cameron Lawrence, who graduated after a 291-tackles career.

Skinner sees that responsibility falling on him, as well as cohorts like Benardrick McKinney, Matthew Wells, Hughest, "We're just coming together, and it's just learning another step, you know? I mean with Cam gone that's going to be a big loss with his experience and with all the tackles he got. But we're trying to pick up his slack and get the job done and win games."

Speaking of responsibility…what is it like having one's position coach in overall charge now? "It's pretty much pretty good, you know?" grins Skinner. Of course Collins was co-coordinator the last two years so that staff adjustment is going smoothly. And Skinner hasn't seen any drastic changes in practices early on.

"He's still spending time with us because he's coaching us, but just having him running the defense is helping put us in position, knowing our assignment and knowing everybody's assignment. I think it's still the same. Coach Collins, his mind works fast. He just knows everything on the defense and it's working really good."

Much in the same way, the core defensive plans seen this spring are quite similar. It is still a four-lineman, three-linebacker base as before, with the only alterations to-date coming in red zone or goal line situations. Then an extra big lineman might move in and a linebacker leave…or one of the big ‘backers like McKinney move up to the line of scrimmage and an extra safety sub-in. The chances of expanded sets increase now that most base installation is done and the Bulldogs are about to start serious scrimmaging.

"It's pretty much the same. Coach Collins is going to be Coach Collins," Skinner says. "We're putting in some new things and running things different than last year. But not too much different. All our assignments, it doesn't matter what you're playing outside or inside, you've got this job or that job on a certain play."

By the way, Skinner—who was the strong-side linebacker last season—isn't stuck in a scripted position this spring. He said the approach so far has been to line up as either the left or the right OLB. Not because Collins doesn't know who goes best where, but so as to show all linebackers what the field looks like from any angle.

"Coach Collins really has us playing all positions. Because of our skill set he knows we can do it and he trusts us. And we're going to get the job done for him. This spring it's just trying to fit in. When you get so used to playing one position it's kind of new to keep moving. But once you get experienced it just comes natural."

With age and experience, leadership is supposed to come more naturally, too. This is where Skinner and McKinney know they must set a standard for themselves first and then the corps. "Me and Benardrick have the leadership, we've played in a lot of games."

"A lot of guys who didn't are going to be playing this year, and I feel like we're going to lead these guys and we're going to get the defense where it needs to be and get the job done." And who might be some of those guys being led? Ferlando Bohanna and Ivan Muniz have been in the system themselves and know where they fit, so the spring focus now is on the talented, redshirted Browns.

"Beniquez and Richie, they're great players," says Skinner, who has taken on tutoring duty with pleasure. "They feel real great asking me things. They've seen all the work I've put in so whenever they have a question I tell them they can ask me. I know it, so they feel free to ask me and I'm there to answer for them."

"I feel like they're going to help this team. Not just at linebacker, but with Coach Mullen and being linebackers they're going to have to play on special teams. Because that's something that I did. And I feel it's going to help them with their game and help them be good on defense also." Skinner certainly sets an example on kicking plays, a job he would hate to hand over even to gifted youngsters.

He also looks the part of a SEC linebacker. True, even as a redshirting freshman in 2009 observers commented on the kid's condition. Now here Skinner is, grown-up and into the position he was designed for. Though he said by now it's more a matter of reshaping than bulking up.

"I gained a few pounds. My weight comes and goes. One day I can be 245 and another day 238. I lose weight and gain weight." Expect to lose a little when spring finally warms up.

Or when practices heat-up with more full contact periods as well as the consecutive weekend scrimmages ahead. Thursday session will put more pieces in places in advance of Saturday's noon game-type event at Scott Field.

"The next practice is going through everything we've went over. I'm not sure today was the last install or not, we're just going to review things before the next practice, refresh some things. And help the younger guys play faster. When install is done it seems they can play faster and they don't have to think about the next play or their assignments."

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