Now to be clear, per NCAA schedule the Bulldogs have to wait another day before they can really bang the bodies. That will only add to the Friday intensity when Richie Brown and his linebacker buddies can play more than practice tag.
And, when this area of the Bulldog defense can best display everything and everyone Coach Manny Diaz has to scheme with in 2015. Sure, the linebackers coach/coordinator came a year late to work with Benardrick McKinney, Matt Wells, and Turtle Holmes.
Diaz also arrives in time to direct a group which should be as good and in the long run could become better. Brown, the fourth-year junior stepping into McKinney’s starting job, is completely confident.
“It’s fine. We have great depth. We’ve all played together before, we love playing together. We’ve got good team chemistry that we’ve had for a while. And we’re only getting better, too.”
OK. It’s not really correct to say Brown is ‘stepping into’ the middle linebacker position now. He’s been there, already and a lot. In fact Brown was one good reason why the now-disdained rotation system was developed. He was too talented and too ready to hold in simple backup duty.
Now, he’s got the starting job clean and clear. But Brown doesn’t see this promotion as that big a deal.
“Yeah, last year we all starters. That’s how we viewed it and that’s how it was. I mean the playing time, if you add special teams plays to the 2s we played more than the 1s! I mean we’ve got a lot of reps under out belt. We know what we’re doing out there. Last year definitely helped getting all those reps.”
Spring training showed how comfortable Brown is as an undisputed #1. It also revealed how confident this older Dog has become in filling another 2015 duty. Brown has become an on-field instructor, too.
It’s a responsibility he accepts as easily as he reads an offense.
“Yeah, when you can teach it that’s when you know it. That’s the best part. When you can teach it that helps you understand it better, when you can teach guys the whole defense.”
It’s quite a class in session this preseason. The top trio of Brown flanked by classmate Beniquez Brown and senior Zachary Jackson have a pretty gifted group to teach. “They’re good guys, they’re good athletes,” Brown said.
“I’m really seeing what they can do now. The first few practices, especially when we put the pads on, we’re trying to see who they really are, and they looked good today.” As in the first day of full gear, he means. Brown is in accord with Coach Dan Mullen that camp only begins when pads start popping.
This is also when what varsity Dogs saw in summer’s informal work turns fully official. It’s one thing to run around in June shorts taking tips from elders. It’s another for a redshirt or rookie to stare at a top-notch Bulldog offense, read it and react rightly.
Prof. Brown has issued a Satisfactory grade, so far.
“The difference right now is we have young guys, lots of young guys we haven’t played with yet. They’re gaining our trust right now. We’re just seeing what they can do right now. That’s the difference, getting them reps and learning how they are.”
Trust. Brown uses the word often and he means it seriously. Because, he said, it matters that much.
“You can’t have a good defense if you don’t trust each other. Everybody has their 1-of-11 to fill, their part to do every play. So if you’ve got a guy out there you don’t trust, how are you going to play when you think you have go help somebody else? So it’s really important to gain that trust.”
To be clear there are trusted ‘backers behind the top team. Deandre Ward is seasoned, and Dezmond Harris is back from his mid-2014 injury. “We missed him last year,” Brown said. Still it is all those youngsters already grabbing attention. J.T. Gray even got varsity action as a true ’14 frosh after Harris was sidelined, but he’s realistically more like a redshirt.
Traver Jung is a juco, a good one but still new to senior college ball. And Leo Lewis and Tim Washington are fresh out of high school. So there are several pupils for preseason teaching here.
And of course there is Brown’s own backup and soon-to-be challenger. Redshirt Gerri Green could have played as a true rookie; he will play now as a redshirt, even if it means taking Brown off the field. That’s all fans need to know about Green’s potential.
“Gerri’s done really good. He’s a great specimen, he’s an awesome guy. He’ coming along really great and I think he’s going to be a really good player. And he’s understanding it better now.” What it all adds up to, is “We’ve got some serious depth at linebacker now with young guys.”
Serious depth for what now becomes serious practicing. As in hitting days, both drills and scrimmaging, with Brown and his position-partners setting the contact-tone.
“It’s good,” said Brown. “The linebacking corps, up to us three to help lead.”