And what a group it is that Mississippi State has grown for this 2014 season. While there certainly isn’t any defensive area that could be considered a ‘weaker link’ even in a strong squad there are stronger points. Linebacking is absolutely one of those this year, and not just because Coach Geoff Collins has two complete rotations of SEC caliber.
State has two complete rotations that play with common cause, thanks to their unique closeness. “We all hang out together outside of football field,” Brown explains. “So when we come on the field together it’s pretty easy.”
At least the Bulldog ‘backers intend to make their job(s) look easy whichever trio is on-field at the time. Brown did so in spring ball when, taking over the only open first-team position, he thrived at outside linebacker. He’s stayed with the top group here in August practices as well.
”I’m just stepping in to Deontae Skinner’s shoes. I’m working hard. Knowing the whole system is what I have to do.”
There actually isn’t a ‘just’ to taking over Skinner’s spot, and replacing his 64 tackles (second only to middle-man Benardrick McKinney). But Brown was being groomed for this specific job along both as a 2012 redshirt and backup last season. Make that alternate rather; because between Brown’s work on special teams and his defensive snaps he got in on 39 tackles with 4.5 for losses. He had the most tackles of any defender not regularly starting during 2013 in fact.Still there are few bigger steps than going from backup/alternate/whatever to first-team responsibility. Give Brown credit. He doesn’t take it for granted now and didn’t in January, or spring ball, or even over the summer.
Such as, how he studies both practice and game video. Brown says he sees this stuff through different eyes today.
“Coming in last year you watched film, but I watch it now different. Being in the starting role I kind of break it down more. I’m becoming better in my film study than I was being a freshman. Starting the summer me and Benardrick went in and broke down film.”
Not just those two first-team linebackers, in fact. “All of us got together and broke it down. So it was just a group thing, learning how to watch film and know what the opponent is going to do before they do it.” Which ought to pay off in a big Bulldog way this fall.
So should the confidence Brown brings to the defense. Not that he ever lacked assurance of his physical skills and mental toughness to make plays at the SEC level. It is simply that having done it for real as a second-year rookie Brown recognizes what he can do and what he needs to do better. When we talk of the momentum Mississippi State gained in their fast 2013 finish, Brown could be one of the lead exhibits.
“After last year getting some playing time at the end, going into this year it’s helped a lot. Now it’s just perfecting my craft any and every day, getting better at technique, and listening to Coach Collins.”
Brown fills the ‘big’ outside slot, opposite Matthew Wells on the other side as the ‘fast’ outside ‘backer. Not that Brown is slow exactly, or that Wells won’t take down big backs too. It’s just how the Bulldog base set matches up with offenses. But base is, well, just a starting point. What Brown and his mates really like is the way Collins mixes up the sets and puts all abilities to use.
Meaning too, Brown might find himself filling the middle one snap when a run is expected…or dashing out past the ends in coverage. Either way he’s confident about getting the job done.
“I feel like being a good tackler in space, filling the gaps. Also being able to cover wide receivers. You’re not always in the box all the time, so it’s fun being out in space from time to time. So it just depends on what the other team is running, and what Coach Collins wants us to do. So you can either be in or out of the box.”
Or in and out of the game. Remember the rotations reference? Mississippi State does have the two full trios to play with in any and all situations. Collins won’t even call the next group second team, but a 1B unit of Richie Brown in the middle with outsiders Zach Jackson and Dezmond Harris. And the linebacker roster keeps growing with the spring move of safety Quad Antoine and the recruitment of young beast like Gerri Green.
This has put Brown in an interesting situation not just in practice, trying to keep his place in the pecking order. He’s now helping accelerate development of even-younger Dogs who want his snaps! But Brown is enjoying being a mentor for a change.
”Just in case they have any questions or anything I can tell them. Me and BMac are working on that, not just to help ourselves but help others too.” For that matter Brown now is confident enough to offer all-star candidate McKinney a few pointers. “We give each other advice. Me telling him some things he might not know, so we just communicate. And we be there for each other on and off the field.”
Being there doesn’t mean having fun at each other’s expense of course. Though, Beniquez claims he never teases his ‘brother’ Brown Richie about being on the 1B team where he is a 1A. “No, it’s all fun! We all play together. Sometimes I might be in with Richie, sometimes I might be in with BMac. We’re all in it together.”
Such togetherness is bound to be great fun. But probably not so much for opponents who will worry about being center of so much linebacking attention. Getting hit by one Bulldog ‘backer will be tough enough, but all of them? Ouch…