Second Senior Season Right Choice For Chaney

Had injury not interrupted, Jamar Chaney would be exerting himself preparing for his first NFL preseason. Instead he's sweating through a fifth college summer. "But even in the pros I don't think they're working harder than what we're working right now!" he says.

Not that Chaney is complaining, mind you. In fact, and as strange as it might sound, delaying departure for professional football one more season has proven to be an unexpected benefit for this Mississippi State linebacker. Sure, Chaney agrees, he'd thought he would be done with the college game by this point. But is he complaining about his re-scheduled circumstances?

"Not at all. I'm happy, I think it was a blessing in disguise for me to come back and be here this year and get a chance to play under Coach Mullen and his staff. Because those coaches are going to be big at this time of my career."

The coach he's most involved with at the moment of course isn't teaching Xs-and-Os. It's pounds and reps and tenths-of-seconds with strength/conditioning coach Matt Balis as Chaney and the 2009 Bulldogs labor through this first month of their summer session. And ‘labor' is accurate. As a fifth-year senior Chaney has cycled through his share of strength coaches here at State.

"It's the third one," he counts. "But he's by-far the hardest one we've had."

Now understandably every strength coach is supposed to be tougher than the predecessor. Yet there's legit evidence Balis is demanding more of these Dogs than ever before, in keeping with Coach Dan Mullen's overarching theme of making Mississippi State competitive in every facet of their practice and play. Certainly an old hand like Chaney is best-qualified to comment on the topic, and this staff grades out tops to the senior.

"He's pushed me way beyond, I didn't think I could train as hard as he's been pushing me. But I'm happy to have him at this part of my career. He's making me better and better and more and more conditioned. And just given me that mindset that I can do anything, don't ever give up."

Chaney might have given up this shot at a bonus senior season of course. Having played as a 2005 true freshman, when he busted the left ankle late in last year's opener at Louisiana Tech he had time to rehab and progress into this spring's NFL draft pool on schedule. But Chaney nixed that notion before the campaign ended, and even a coaching transition did not change his course.

Fortunately for all involved, it turns out. From initial meetings with his new boss and incoming coaches Chaney recognized: this was going to be a good fit and good timing. "Yeah, because they're all about winning. Coach Mullen has two SEC Championships, two national championships. Playing for these guys, they know what it takes to get to that level.

"They also have coached a lot of players that have gone on to the next level and been high draft picks and are in the NFL. So whatever they tell me I'm going to do."

Especially the coach who won't call any fall plays but has full authority during the summer. Balis might well be demanding and intense, but he is consistent in both aspects and makes the situation crystal-clear for everyone in his program.

"Anything he asks you to do you're going to be able to do it. And he'll demonstrate it for you if you can't. he's just trying to get you mentally tough." Inevitably there have been some shortcomings; Chaney said there have been cases of guys who decide they're too tired to continue, or even falling out entirely. "Coach Balis doesn't like that kind of stuff." But what he does like is when those Dogs get back into the act, as well as when the survivors push just a bit farther the next time out.

"You can see the difference. Because everything we do is about being mentally tough, competing, not giving up. When you're tired, when you've run twenty-five gassers or you're in the weight room and doing pull-ups until you can't do any more…keep going, don't quit, give it all you've got."

What Chaney has got to work with at the moment is 242 well-distributed pounds, a half-dozen over his listed bulk last summer and right in the middle of the 240-245 window he intends to play at. If any wonder, the ankle doesn't bother him, though it's unlikely he'd admit it if otherwise. Still his spring practices looked just as sharp as before the injury with no physical or emotional ‘rust' to knock off. Chaney opened as the first middle linebacker and save for days he needed a break, or when the staff just wanted to get backups more varsity snaps, he held the top job easily.

Nor was he really worried about protecting the healed joint. "I just wanted to see how it felt when somebody fell on it, after that happened it was full-go for me." Besides, he relates, the new coach made sure his veteran linebacker got challenged to show his stuff early. "The first day. Coach Mullen made it simple the first day we got out there, we were playing ‘bull in the ring'. I mean, just going at each other, you either hit or get hit. I wasn't looking for nobody to hit me so I was going 100%!"

Chaney goes into this bonus Bulldog season forecasting 100% progress from his linebacker corps, too. The first group of middle-man Chaney, strong-side K.J. Wright, and brand-new weak-sider Chris White looked immediately ready for SEC action, and while Chaney's a bit more cautious he agrees it is a worthy trio.

"I think we have a good unit with me, Chris, and K.J. And Jamie Jones and Bo Walters, all the guys pretty much looked good out there in spring. And most of them have game experience. Me, Chris and K.J. ran our forty times the other day and we've got a fast group of linebackers. It's going to be good to see what we can actually do when we step out on the field." By the way, while Chaney was almost exclusively still a MLB this past spring, he did line up to a side in some special sets. And Wright took late-camp turns as an alternate middle. Of course Chaney debuted as a Bulldog on the weak side before making the move to the middle in '07 as a junior. He hasn't had a shot at ‘sam' so far but wouldn't mind it either.

"I believe I can play sam, they haven't ever put me down there but I know I can get in front of the tight end and take him on, that's what I played in high school."

What Chaney is now playing, or at least practicing against, is a vastly different offense. This might be the most interesting aspect of his staying around for another season, because a spring facing Mullen's schemes can only give him extra experience to show off for professional scouts. In fact, he says, "The hardest thing was probably going up against our offense, they throw so much at you so fast that you have to be on your toes. The first day we're out there at practice with five-wides, reverses, and all that. You don't get used to that until almost the last week of spring practice.

"Yeah, it'll do a lot to prepare you. I mean, I don't think there is nothing we're going to see in a game that we don't see in practice. Coach Mullen has a lot of different ways to come at you, they're going to attack and stuff like that gets you ready for a game. And we're going to be ready."

The getting-ready continues for another six weeks before August camp. Even if no coaching is allowed Chaney and Company can ‘coach' themselves in schemes installed over spring; the goal being, as he puts it, "getting to where I'm not thinking and going; just reading and reacting." This also means introducing a couple of new kids, true frosh d-linemen Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox, to the sets and system. "They can start learning the defense right now," club captain says.

"We pride ourselves on working hard each and every day. So when we do get done with all the summer workouts we don't have any regrets, that ‘I wish I had done this or had done that'. We're going to get after it this summer, then when it comes to two-a-days build on where we were in spring. Because we're nowhere close to where we want to be at. But by the time we play Jackson State we'll be there."


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