"I mean, preparation for next year started right after the Ole Miss game for us. So we've been in it for a long time! We're fixing to get ready to finish off summer and go into two-a-days."
There's something different in how the veteran Bulldogs are talking this summer. Take that ‘finish off' part of Chaney's comment. Nobody pretends that working out during these hot months is fun of course, or that there aren't places these college boys would probably prefer to be much of the time. Yet there is an attitude on campus noticeably changed from years-past. Mississippi State players aren't simply trying to survive their summer; they talk and act as if this is one more stage in a year-long preparation process for '07.
So does their coach, who held the first of a series of Monday team meetings yesterday to set a July tone. "He basically said to close out," Chaney related. "Because we've been doing real good in the spring and first summer session, lifting hard and running hard. Now we've got the freshman here, and just set a good example for them and make sure they know they've got to work to get what they want. Ain't nothing going to be given to you around here no more, you have to compete. And that's one thing we have going into two-a-days this year, a lot of competition. If you can't compete you're not going to be playing."
Chaney certainly expects to be playing the first defensive snap on opening evening against Louisiana State. He proved himself as an outside ‘backer his first two seasons, starting 14 of the 23 games participated in, and has 97 career tackles to show for them. Now Chaney is in a new and more responsible position as the middle-man, filling the gap left by All-SEC Quinton Culberson.
He made the move look easy enough in spring camp; still Chaney doesn't claim to be a finished product in all aspects of playing in the middle of, well, everything. So the adjustment to a leadership position continues. "It's all a matter of studying. I should be able to know just about what the offense is going to do before the ball is snapped." A tall order but a necessary part of his job promotion.
Not that Chaney wants to give the impression he is taking the role for granted. Sure he came out of camp #1 in the middle, and his coach publicly wanted to have the starting lineup as set as possible even before August practices open. At the same time Chaney points to the sort of competition he saw in spring drills and continues to notice in the weightroom and on the track. He, Gabe O'Neal, and Jamon Hughes are that first linebacker unit…as of today. But Tim Bailey isn't content to just work on special teams now and is keeping the heat on Chaney. And spring transfer Dominic Douglas is oh-so-close to bulling his way into the first-snap group as well.
So much the better, says Chaney. "I go out there like it's on the line, now! I don't just go bull around, I try to go hard and set an example. We've got starters neck-and-neck for who's going to open up the game. And everybody wants to start! They know Coach Croom isn't going to give anybody a position. With the (backups) it's keep getting reps, correct their mistakes, and know how it's going to be on the field."
Speaking of who is on the field, the middle linebacker downplays concerns about the rebuilt group on the line. Yes, there are big shoes to fill across the front and most of all at tackles. Yet having worked a spring with the revised d-line Chaney is optimistic.
"I feel pretty good. I know we lost some good linemen but we've got a good group of guys. And I think most of them have been here a couple of years. I think they're real good linemen and if they keep their mind on their business we'll be alright. It's just repetition, the more reps the better they get. And all of them weigh about 300 pounds so you're not going to push them around!"
Which is a good watch-word for the Bulldog defense and, for that matter, the Mississippi State team as a whole. The veterans have been pushed around for long enough. Last fall they had chances to push back against a number of opponents and for various reasons couldn't get it done. Now the Dogs see the collective capability as well as the opportunity for some consistent success at last. This as much as anything contributes to the healthy off-season attitude, and why nobody was noted grumbling or annoyed about reporting for weight work on a July afternoon.
"We're working for a goal," Chaney explains. "All of us have individual goals but we've got team goals this year. We're trying to win a lot of games. We're not practicing on the field but every time we lift we're thinking about LSU, and all the teams we've got to play this year. It ain't just what we do on the practice field, it's what we do now."