Since it is equally clear which side of that line everyone wants to walk, this spring has been—usually—a good one for Mississippi State. For the defense in general as Diaz returns to take charge; and for the linebackers in particular under their new position coach. He gets the thumbs-up from rising star outside ‘backer Beniquez Brown, anyway.“We’re coming along pretty good under Coach Diaz.” They key now is not settling for the pretty good. Or should we say, going from alright to all right? Brown can buy that idea.
“So we try to perfect on our craft and get better every day and get better and get used to his attack scheme, of how he wants to play defense.”
More on scheme in a moment. Getting better was the defensive theme a week ago, after a less than impressive first scrimmage showing. Maybe to fans in the Scott Field stands things didn’t look so bad for the first defense. They held their #1 counterparts to a couple of touchdowns and a field goal, after all.
To Diaz? Things looked so bad, according to Brown.
“After that first scrimmage Coach just really kind of broke it down and took us back to the basics. Get us comfortable in what he wanted to do, and from the beginning going over things. That’s the only way you’re going to get better in what Coach teaches you, is really reps. So we went back over it last week and the scrimmage was a whole lot better Saturday.”
Not on the scoreboard per se as the offense had its share of plays, too. Still Diaz and his Dogs came away much more satisfied about execution and effort. In fact, the latter might have been more important in context of how Mississippi State’s defensive attitude is adjusting for 2015.
Brown said the difference came in A) stopping the run quickly, and B) going on the attack at the line of scrimmage. “Not sitting back, really just taking it. Trusting one another.”
“The first scrimmage we really were just running to the ball and not setting an edge. The second scrimmage we set an edge and trusted each other and just get downhill running to the ball.”
Which brings us back to scheme. Actually the better word for it could be style. Diaz brings his own preferences and prejudices about how to O against the X’s of course. It is the MSU mindset where things change after two seasons—really, four counting co-coordinator years—with Geoff Collins calling the plays.
“Just really Coach Diaz is a real aggressive guy,” said Brown. “He doesn’t want to sit back and watch things happen. He wants to attack the line of scrimmage. Just really be downhill defense.
“Coach Collins wants you to see the whole field, kind of bounce, bounce, watch things. Coach Diaz isn’t that guy, he wants us to attack things at the line of scrimmage. And he demands a lot out of us every day.” It surely shocks no Bulldog fan to hear, that this pack of defenders bought into the attack idea as soon as Diaz said the word.
As for Brown himself, this third varsity season adds a word to his job description. Leadership. Not that Brown didn’t take some serious steps in that direction last fall. Stepping up after a freshman year in alternate duty, he started a dozen games of the 13 played and accumulated 62 tackles. Brown also had a pair each of sacks and interceptions. All the numbers would have been higher if not for the 1A/1B rotation, too.
But he’d still have come up second in team tackles anyway, with Benardrick McKinney setting the pace at 71 in his own rotation at middle-man. McKinney is moving on a year early and every Bulldog teammate will be watching the NFL draft, ready to cheer him on to the next level.
And, the current linebackers will be calculating just what share of McKinney’s stats they can grab this fall. Interestingly though, Brown isn’t thinking much about numbers this spring. There’s something else McKinney has left behind that needs picking up. Right, leadership.
“I feel like it,” said Brown of the role. “My play, I feel I earned just really how I play. But with B-Mac leaving and all the other guys that we had I feel I have to be a more vocal leader. So as the spring progressed I feel I’ve become a more vocal leader. And we have other guys on the team that are great leaders as well.”
Bulldog fans can see for themselves how Brown, his soul brother Richie Brown, Zach Jackson, and the rest of the linebacker corps are leading the defense into 2015. The Maroon-White Game begins at 11:00am Saturday to conclude spring camp and send State on into the short summer. Tuesday’s entire interview with Beniquez Brown follows.