Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Senior Linebacker Meshing with New Dog Defensive Staff and Schemes

Funny thing, how with age spring semester break transforms from party time to a, well, just a break. Richie Brown has reached that point…and he’s just fine with it all.

“I have a wife, she’ll be working here,” the senior linebacker said. “So I think she’s going to take a couple of days off and we may go home and see mom and pops or her mom and pops. We’re going to figure it out.”

Yep, real exciting stuff. Thing is, now that he’s reached that mature (and married man) stage, this last college spring break leaves Brown a bit itchy. For football, that is. The Old Man of Mississippi State’s defense got to pull on the togs one day last week, and he says practicing was better than any vacation.

“It’s a lot of fun, I’m excited. I missed football. Obviously I needed a (off season) but there comes a point where you start missing it again. And it’s always exciting.”

This 2016 spring is that much more exciting than usual for Brown. Yes, that sounds odd. After four spring camps the thrill ought be long-tone, right? Not to mention 39 career college games played, 207 total tackles, and this past season as the starting middle linebacker. It all ought be routine at best for a Dog like Brown, boring at worst.

Not this senior spring. Not with an entirely new defensive coaching staff, bringing their own new ideas about how to align and direct their players. This, this is really exciting stuff to Brown. Never mind he’s already played more games at Mississippi State than most State staffers are likely to work in their own tenures.

“I think it’s good. I’ve taken something special from every coach that I’ve had. So I’m looking at this as an opportunity to learn something new from these other coaches as well.”

Most obviously of all his own position coach and overall coordinator Peter Sirmon. This hire by Coach Dan Mullen is rightly regarded as a home-run in the industry, based on Sirmon’s work not only in college coaching and recruiting but his professional linebacking career, too.

That latter bit is a big hit with Brown. “I love him. I think he’s a great guy.

“It’s always something special about an ex-NFL football player to have a good connection with the players. Because you feel they can relate to you a lot more. So he’s a great guy, I love what he’s about. I’m learning more about him every day and what I’ve seen so far is he’s good.”

He’s also a breath of fresh air in the defensive playbook, to mix a MSU metaphor. After six seasons operating from a structure installed by Manny Diaz in 2010, developed further by Geoff Collins until Diaz’ return for ’15, there’s change in the spring wind.

Sirmon, and line coach Brian Baker, have lots of experience in odd-fronts. This does not mean Mississippi State has dumped the four-front, and Mullen stressed last week the defense is only becoming more multiple. One day of practice though showed a higher percentage of 11-man sets with a nose tackle, two big ends, the usual three linebackers…and something in-between.

It’s an outside sort of linebacker, but in defensive-end size. In fact Sirmon has moved a couple of ’15 ends to his linebacker practice group, Will Coleman and redshirt Anfernee Mullins. Others could get tested here as well in weeks to come. To be sure this set was only used against offensive passing sets so nobody knows yet what the base is for first downs and run sets.

It doesn’t matter to Brown either or any way who is spotted where.

“Right, and I think that’s what coach is trying to do. He’s putting guys in different places, seeing if they can make plays. And if we have guys that are going to make plays we’re going to try to put you in a position they can play.”

While coaches put those play-maker in initial positions, guess who tells them where to shift once the offense gets over the ball? Right. It’s a responsibility Brown enjoyed as a junior, reading the formations and adjusting his defense as he thought best. But up to now he’s only had to do so with an odd-front in special situations.

Now, it could be his primary system. Either way Brown is comfortable with the on-field coach job.

“I’ve got to direct everybody. I’ve had to do that for a while! I’ve got to get my d-line settled, if my will-linebacker doesn’t know what he’s doing, if the safety is asking questions, it’s kind of up to me to make sure I facilitate things right.”

There’s more exciting about this spring than developing a new system with a new lineup, or the honest enjoyment of just learning something different at this stage of his football life. This is the next step in Brown’s own development as already he can think a calendar-ahead to 2017.

“Absolutely. Especially with next year. I’m going to be going on to the NFL so I think it’s important for me to learn how to adapt to a new defense like (snaps fingers) that! And to pick it up, learn different aspects of the defense, learn every position. I think it’s a good challenge.”

A challenge he’s eager to resume once every Dog returns to town. Brown agrees it was odd, having one practice and then breaking for vacation.

“Yeah, that’s weird, it’s something that I’ve never done before. But I think it’s good. I think it’s going to give us a good foundation, we kind of got the basics of it down. So when we come back we can get rolling with things.”

Picking right up where his teammates left off, having thought about football allll during their breaks, right? “Yeah, I doubt they’ll think about it too much,” mused Brown. “I hope they will, but…”


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