In Brown’s case, the fun is dialing back his own practice demands and observing others at work. Or if necessary, doing a little position coaching himself. It’s what comes with being lead Dog in this 2016 linebacker corps.
Otherwise, bye-week is for seniors and starters to do more watching than working.
“It’s taking care of some of the guys that play a lot, and younger guys getting a lot more reps. It’s kind of a developmental practice.”
As a fifth-year senior, middle linebacker Brown is just about as developed as a Dog gets. Through four games he 28 tackles, which now leads the defense, with 2.5 stops for losses and a sack. The numbers aren’t spectacular maybe. But that’s more due to both an adjustment to a 3-4 base defense with more linebackers on the field; as well as an impressive group of younger ‘backers getting to the football first.
Thing is, this combination of seasoned leadership from mike-man Brown and obvious talent all around him hasn’t gotten the expected results. All the good plays made by Bulldog linebackers and for that matter the entire unit sometimes are negated by a single breakdown, missed tackle, even just a slightly-wrong angle of attack.
The victory at Massachusetts exemplified issues. Nine of the 14 Minuteman possessions ended with punts, turnovers, or on downs. The other five produced touchdowns.
The other three games had their own split-decisions defensively. Mississippi State put up entire scoreless halves against all three, only in the other halves to allow 58 points. So, open date was as much about figuring why this all-or-nothing performances by halves.
Brown has his own evaluation.
“I’d say just little mistakes. Communication, getting lined up. Silly, small things that have been thorns in our sides the last four weeks. But we can be a really good defense. We’ve seen how good we can play, at the same time we can be really bad when we miss-communicate.”
Since the middle linebacker is central to all communication, Brown takes it upon himself to get this cleared up. He also thinks the on-or-off nature of the defense so far shows reason for optimism…and concern alike.
“It’s a little bit of both. I’d say it’s encouraging knowing we can be really good. At the same time it’s a little frustrating saying we can be this good but yet we’re biting ourselves in the butt. But overall I think it’s something we can improve on.”
Back to that communication thing…or maybe chemistry? Even Dogs who have practiced and lifted and studied together can always learn a little more about operating together. With unique status as the married man of the unit—the entire team, too—Richie and Erin have unique opportunities too.
“We had the linebackers over for dinner the other night, that’s the way we interact with teammates. I’ve hung out with them before but not that I’m married it’s a little more time-consuming. She cooked a big meal and they loved it, won’t stop talking about how awesome she cooked!”
Back on the field, something else Mississippi State has been improving on is the turnover ratio. Sure, the defense can’t do a lot about giveaways on offense. But they can surely try to take the ball back away. As Louisiana State it was a forced and recovered fumble by linebacker Dezmond Harris which ignited a fourth-quarter rally.
Last week, three interceptions changed the game entirely and put the offense in position to score. Or, for the defense to do it themselves. Cornerback Jamoral Graham’s interception and touchdown return was the first points by the Dog defense of 2016.
“It was awesome,” Brown said. “Defense loves pick-sixes. That’s what gets a defense fired-up.”
But for a few days Brown and team have been able to cool it down. The ’16 slate brought the only open date after just one month. So Mississippi State has an eight-game stretch ahead. It begins with what looms as the ‘hinge’ game of the season, when the Bulldogs host Auburn.
For all sorts of reasons this West meeting has set a tone for both teams, actually. That alone would make the matchup intense. For Brown though there’s the added incentive of preparing for the Tigers’ always-challenging schemes and calls.
Intense yes, but also fun, Brown called it.
“I like it. I like preparing for Auburn. They’ve got a good offensive scheme. They’re very unique, I think they’ll be a good competition, a good team to play against.”
Also, this week Brown was named a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy. This honor recognizes the best scholar-athlete in college football, with the finalists to be named November 1. Those will all receive $18,000 post-graduate scholarships and vie for National Football Foundation scholar-athlete of the year at the December 6 awards dinner.
Brown’s former teammate, cornerback Taveze Calhoun, was a 2015 finalist. Brown graduated in spring 2016 with an industrial technology degree and 3.52 gpa. He is now working on a masters in business administration.
Meaning, open date isn’t completely open. Brown also has other, outside obligations that mean it won’t be an entirely kick-back weekend.
“We’re going to see family, other weekend we see in-laws, the things you have to go do!”