“Coach (Geoff) Collins kind of took the pressure off us and put it on himself. Coach (Manny) Diaz really just puts the game in our hands.”
Yes, you read rightly. Beniquez Brown and the rest of the Mississippi State defensive squad want the ultimate responsibility loaded onto their shoulder pads. Why not? They’re who have to go make the plays anyway, right?
Right, Brown agreed. This game is called on the sidelines but settled between them, after all. Besides, under Diaz’ management style the schemes can become complex…while the objective is simple.
“He tells us this every day this is a go-make-plays defense.”
This is exactly what the junior linebacker loves to hear. Then, go do. Brown has certainly shown in the past two Mississippi State seasons he will make plays. After getting in on 39 stops with 4.5 tackles for losses as a freshman alternate, Brown moved into the 2014 starting lineup and thrived.
He tallied 62 tackles with 7.0 for losses and 2.0 of them sacks. Add in a pair of interceptions and it was a superb sophomore season all around. All that kept Brown from bigger numbers was Collins’ 1a/1b rotation approach that limited total snaps.
This oughtn’t be an issue any more. Even on a linebacker unit with excellent SEC depth and some pretty precocious pups ready for their own turns, taking Brown off the field in the big games will take a really good reason. Or a bad one.
Brown does downplay suggestions this is ‘his’ defense with Benardrick McKinney and Matt Wells moved on to the NFL. His chief competition for tackles will come from new starting middle ‘backer Richie Brown, old hand Zach Jackson on the other out-side, and youngsters J.T. Gray, Gerri Green, et.al.
Fact is, though, 2015 should be this Brown’s time to shine. To lead, too.
“I just take a big hold to it. And I take it as a compliment, just come in every day really just ready to work. I know I’ve got guys behind me that are following me and watching everything I do. So my mindset every day is to come in and work hard.
“Because last year we had a lot of seniors guys that led us, now that those guys are gone we have to step up and take bigger roles. All we have to do is replace them and get better, and be better than we were last year.”
By no means was the ’14 defense a lackluster lot. It wasn’t the record-setting offense alone winning ten games. Still there was a post-season sense that more should have been done on defense, reinforced by big numbers allowed in the pair of ‘bowl’ losses. That sense certainly contributed to Collins’ own exit and the return of Diaz.
”Just as a whole Coach Collins was a great coordinator,” Brown said. “But Coach Diaz, he likes us to be more aggressive.” Which is a theme beloved of any defender worth his scholarship. Yes, the previous coordinator liked to talk creating chaos. But as Brown noted, real emphasis was on the sideline call.
Now, it’s up to this talented team to take coaching recommendations, process against what they read on the other side of the line, and just go after the football. Not reckless, exactly, but relentless surely.
“And makes sure we’re physical, downhill, and don’t sit back and watch things,” Brown said. “Go make plays. So we try to cause turnovers, try to get deflections and everything.”
If Brown’s personal pace has sped-up since becoming a starter, ironically the game unfolds a little more slowly now. It’s his comfort level, his confidence in recognition and reaction. Yes, Brown was outstanding as a soph starter, second only to McKinney in tackles remember. Still there was a little haste to his actions at times, much like the freshman daze.
“At first I was kind of pushing myself kind of hard to hurry up and learn the defense,” he said. “So I could teach everybody else. In (last) spring it was kind of fast trying to learn and get out of old habits and stuff of Coach Collins’ ways.
“Now I’ve got Coach Diaz’ ways under my wing. It’s slowed down for me and I’m taking it day-by-day and getting better as the camp goes on.”
Preseason practices are in the thick of two-a-days with the work down on the Farm this week. Camp is now closed to outside observation so reviews must be taken on faith. But none doubt Brown’s delight with everyone going full-pads for most days.
Full-gear and full-contact, he said, “Showed us where we were at as a defense. Because Coach says you’re not really showing me what you can do with just your jerseys on. Now he’s seeing the guys that are physical and ready to play.”
The Bulldogs don’t have to be fully-ready for a while yet. That doesn’t mean taking things easy…as if this defensive squad would want to anyway. They have the new boss to impress, to prove they are up to the responsibility and opportunity Diaz offers.
“It’s really as he says a big play defense and we try to grasp that.”