"I missed a lot of spring because of my hamstring," said Quinton Culberson. "But it's getting a lot better and I'm almost at 100 percent. It bothered me when I got hurt because I was still learning new things about middle linebacker. I know the system but I wanted the extra time to always keep getting better."
While Culberson was and is still learning the little things to improve his play at middle linebacker, one thing he didn't have to learn is a new position.
In his rookie year of 2003, Culberson started the first eight games of the season at cornerback before a broken leg cut his season prematurely. The next year, Sylvester Croom took over for former Bulldog head coach Jackie Sherrill and moved Culberson to outside linebacker.
And finally, last year as a junior, Culberson settled in at middle linebacker and the dividends immediately paid off. With his 6-foot and 238-pound frame, Culberson was allowed to roam freely on the gridiron, and ended the year with a team-best 78 tackles.
But his first love was his first position.
"It felt good not to have to learn another position, to be honest," said Culberson. "I know all the calls and am very comfortable at middle (linebacker). My favorite is still playing cornerback and it always will be. But linebacker is better for me because of my size and my speed. It all worked out for the best."
And that's not to say he hasn't grown fond of his current position.
"As an outside linebacker, I had to cover more guys and take on more blocks," said Culberson. "But at middle, it gives me a chance to make more plays and be all over the field. I don't have to be on just one side and it gives me a lot of freedom to just bust out and make plays."
And it's also the position Culberson will more than likely line up at if and when he makes it to the next level - the NFL.
"God-willing, I think they will play me at outside linebacker," said Culberson about the next level. "(Coach Croom) and I haven't talked about (the NFL) but I know he would put a good word in for me. But I have to have a good season, too, and that's the main part.
"But I just need to do what I need to do for us to get a winning season and a bowl. By all the guys playing at their best level, it helps the team and the program and will help you at the next level. You do that and then just let the chips fall where they may."
Culberson is currently doing his work off the field and in the class room. As a physical education major, Culberson is set to graduate next year.
"We are working hard this summer, running those gases and 110 (sprints)," said Culberson. "I mean, the whole team is working hard and we know the more work you put in, the better you are on the field.
"But that's just it for me this summer, taking two classes and working out. My day starts around 10 and ends about five or six. I'm just working out and going to class."
Of course, being a senior under Coach Croom means added responsibilities, on and off the playing field.
"I mean, I am a senior leader and Coach Croom expects leadership from his seniors on and off the field," said Culberson. "We play as a team and not individuals and Coach Croom wants the seniors to show the others how things are done in this program.
"Under Coach Croom, everybody knows there is more discipline and more of a team concept now. Guys are doing what the coaches say and seeing the results. Then you just let the rest come to you."
Culberson has been able to get a close-up view of the 2006 collection of Bulldog linebackers. He knows that Gabe O'Neal and Anthony Littlejohn are solid and proven it in the rugged SEC. He's also likes what he sees in one particular newcomer and a redshirt freshman.
"Jimmy Miller and Timmy Bailey are working out now with us and working hard," said Culberson. "I think both will help our depth. We have some guys, myself, Gabe and Anthony (Littlejohn), who have a few years of experience so we expect to be better. I know the rest of the guys, the freshman and all, will have to come in working just as hard.
"I think with our experience back and feeling comfortable in the system makes us a lot stronger. With Titus Brown at defensive end now, he will take on a lot of blocks and help us linebackers out a whole lot."
Culberson's expectations for the team are just as high, if not higher, than his expectations of State's linebacker corps. He was disappointed in last year's 3-8 mark, and wants to atone for a career of losing seasons as he begins to close the final chapter of his collegiate career at Mississippi State.
"I thought we should have made it to a bowl last year," said Culberson. "There were two or three games we know we should have got. But this year, we have almost everybody back, the defense should be solid and the offense will be better. We expect to be in a bowl and win some games this year.
"The key is to be better on special teams, have more discipline on the field and cut down our penalties. We do those things then everything else should be fine, too."
From a rookie cornerback to a senior middle linebacker, Culberson has seen his share of changes in the maroon and white. But he longs for time to almost stand still as his senior year kicks off in August.
"It seems like I just came off that broken leg against Kentucky (his freshman year)," said Culberson. "And now I am a senior. Man, do I wish I had another season!"
Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at email@example.com.