And it's proving a good fit all around. "I was happy when they moved me," Douglas says of switching from the weak-side job to middle ‘backer. "They gave me a lot of opportunities to make plays, make tackles, get a name for myself. I like it a whole lot."
Now, Douglas had made a nice name for himself already at WLB. He started all 13 games there last season, right out of junior college, and finished second in team-tackles. To Chaney, of course, who won that contest of cohorts 89 to 78. Douglas came out better in tackles for losses, though, more than doubling Chaney 8.5 to 4.0. This was because the weak-side man has more freedom to run and roam on both sides of the line of scrimmage. In fact Douglas came into the year booked to be even more aggressive on a defense that was looking for playmakers.
Then Chaney went down in the waning minutes at Louisiana Tech. The next two games State tried different approaches to fill the middle-spot without shifting either Douglas or SLB K.J. Wright. Against Southeastern Louisiana, redshirt Jamie Jones opened at MLB; against Auburn the Dogs opened in a nickel set with three safeties. Finally, at Georgia Tech, the defensive staff did what they'd hoped to avoid.
"We had no choice," Coach Sylvester Croom said. "We didn't want to move Dominic because he was playing so well outside. Really we were hoping we could move one of those other guys inside." Plus, making one change would result in two or three other alterations through the lineup and rotations. But it turned out while other choices and younger players had the physical ability to play middle ‘backer, only an old Dog like Douglas could bring the right mix of experience and recognition this role required.
Douglas didn't mind giving up the freedom playing outside to show he can handle the demands inside. "Oh yeah, I wanted to move to put an impression on scouts and the fans, too. Show them that I'm diverse. And I think it probably helped the team out on defense, too, having somebody who knows the defense well.
"It's like quarterback of the defense. You have to know what everybody is doing and what the offense is going to be able to run prior to the snap. Of course that's a big leadership role and I believe I'm the person fit for the job."
Douglas wasn't entirely unprepared for the technical demands either. At Hinds Community College he worked in a 4-2 set; and while one of two linebackers in the scheme he more often than not lined up in the middle. So, "It's all coming back to me, make checks and calls and all that type of stuff. It's totally different from junior college to SEC, your keys change, the person you're supposed to watch before the snap changes. You have different checks to cancel out what the offense is going to do."
Still as that 11-tackle night against LSU's physical offense showed, Douglas is picking up SEC checks pretty well. Croom sees some aspects where the former outside guy is still adapting to being right in the center of everything defensive, such as the angles. After all, "You've got blockers coming at you from both directions," the head coach notes. "You have to be able to slide both ways. Where on the outside you've pretty much got one arm free, the inside guy can be fitting left, right, which is inside, outside. Plus the stuff is going to get on you a lot quicker there." Douglas might even be taking things a bit too carefully right now, and Croom hopes to see him be more aggressive—or ‘going downhill'—against the run as he gets more comfortable.
Douglas agrees that State's defensive priority at the moment is improving performance on the ground. Last fall that was a Dog defensive strength. This year? "Coach Croom showed us some stats that said we're number-11 on defense in the SEC, so we're just trying to gap-up the run knowing the secondary is going to do their job in the passing game."
So during the past week's three working days the defense focused on ground matters. But just because the Bulldogs have a free weekend, it doesn't mean Douglas is taking entirely off. In fact he was able to do a little informal scouting earlier in the week by watching Middle Tennessee State's comeback win; and tomorrow he will be watching Vanderbilt host Auburn. It's convenient having the next two opponents showing their stuff live and Douglas has taken advantage of it. "That's they key to the game, try to get a head-jump before anybody else can!" Nor does it hurt that Vandy and MTSU run, to Douglas' eye, "basically the same offense."
And then there is always Douglas' unofficial counselor, both for games played and those to prepare for. Douglas will continue to consult Chaney for any extra tips needed to make this move to the middle work even better.
"He thinks I'm playing well," Douglas says. "He tells me just watch the linemen and the fullback at the same time, be able to read what they're going to do pre-snap on offense. And just try to be perfect on everything I messed up on last week."