"I think pretty much everybody knows the whole defense now," says White, the starting weak-side linebacker. "We've got the whole defense in and I'm pretty confident in the defense."
And Mississippi State has corresponding confidence in White. He is one of Coach Dan Mullen's carefully-selected junior college transfers for 2009, recruited to provide immediate aid in a specific role. White has successfully lived up to expectations which obviously were pretty Dog-gone high, because the very first day he reported to the spring practice field he was slotted with the first team.
He's still there. Barring misfortunate between now and then, when the Bulldog defense takes to Scott Field in two weeks White will take his stance on the offense's open end along with strong-side starter K.J. Wright and all-conference middle linebacker Jamar Chaney. Such standing so early in a career could cause a bit of cockiness in some transfers. Not this one, as White has just the right sort of pride about the position.
"It's a big honor to play alongside Chaney and K.J. because they're two really good linebackers, and I appreciate playing beside them."
Those two Bulldog veterans likely will be saying the same about their newest partner on the weak-side. White is stepping into an interesting job, too, one that was unsettled much of the 2008 season. When Chaney was lost after the opening game and Dominic Douglas eventually took his place in the middle, the WLB spot was shared by three other starters the last nine games. All three Dogs who got to open contests there are back for '09 bringing their own varied strong points.
Still State wanted a more complete package to line up at ‘will' and juco star White fit that bill. He earned first-team All-America honors last fall at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, topping 100 tackles in the dozen games with two interceptions and a fumble-return touchdown. His resume also shows consecutive Mississippi juco state championships and the 2007 national championship.
And now he is number-one at State's weak-side linebacker slot…though he admits not knowing exactly why he's posted at will. Nor does he care particularly. "That's just where Coach Torbush put me. I think really every linebacker we've got can play all three positions, and that's what we do kind-of." At the same time he's found being a will suits him. "I like weak-side, I get to blitz on the outside a lot," White grins. Certainly he anticipates the opportunity to do just that in September as opposing offenses set their protections against known quantities Chaney and Wright and presumably take their chances with the new guy. That shouldn't last long once White shows what a 6-4, 235-pounder with both speed and agility can do blitzing through that open end.
Not that White believes he'll be getting every such opportunity. He's the starter, sure, but this is one of the deepest linebacker corps State has enjoyed in many years. Veterans Karlin Brown and Terrell Johnson have shown they can handle various responsibilities at will. For that matter Chaney can step out and Wright move into the middle without missing a beat or a blitz. Bo Walters and Jamie Jones are capable middle-men in their own right, while redshirt Mike Hunt and now freshman Deonte Skinner have gotten plenty of preseason snaps on the strong-side. It's made for great camp competition at all three slots, not to mention much of Torbush's innovative ideas how to mix-and-match all this available personnel.
"As a defense we've been working hard, and we don't really care who starts as long as we just play and rotate in and be the best we can be," says White. And while he does low-key comments about his first-team status the pride does peek through at times…though he won't use that word. "I'm satisfied!" is how he'll put it.
Torbush is equally satisfied with what the transfer has contributed to that lengthy gameplan. White finds it fun, too, having the defense's overall coordinator as his own coach. Usually. "It's positives and negatives, mostly positives! We get to spend a lot of time with him!" And no, White is too smart to report those negatives, though his seen-it-all boss would likely just laugh along with the linebacker.
Not often during practices, though. State's first spring session of the Mullen regime was rightly regarded as grueling, but White says it was just a prelude to the real work in August. "Oh, this camp has been a lot harder than the spring because they've been trying to get us ready for the games." So, does he mean tougher mentally or tougher physically?
"Both! Mentally and physically they've been trying to push us to the limit and trying to get us better. We come out here and work hard every day try to get the best we can be. We try to push each other as hard as we can to try get each other better."
Based on reviews provided by players and coaches alike, the Bulldog defense has come out the better in most practices and scrimmages. ‘Domination' might be putting it too strongly but on the whole the defensive squad has the unofficial lead on their offensive counterparts. This despite constant additions installed by Torbush that negates arguments the defense has less to learn than the offense.
"We run a bunch of different fronts and try a bunch of different defenses to try to keep them thinking, so they don't know exactly what we're doing. Hopefully that will work against the opponents this fall." At the same time White is a team-player and sees what is going right on the other side of the practice line of scrimmage. In fact his evaluation of offensive progress makes for encouraging reading.
"Oh, the offense in my opinion is going to be hard to stop for opponents this fall. Because there's so much mis-direction. Like, the ball can go right, left, up the middle, deep. As a defense you never know where the ball is going so it makes it hard to stop." Unless, that is, you have extra inside information that offers an edge in intrasquad scrimmaging. "Yeah, we've been stopping them pretty good," White smiles, in keeping with a defender's attitude that anyone with the ball is a legitimate target regardless of uniform.
"But the only reason is we've been playing them for two months now so we have an advantage! But when they go out and play this fall the opponents only have one week to practice, so I think the offense is going to do good."
In two weeks everyone will have the chance to see how good these Bulldogs can do, offense and defense alike. White agrees that by now players can't help thinking ahead to playing the game for-real, clock running and video board showing replays of State success. That anticipation will only increase Saturday when for the first time since April the Dogs work out on the home field. Though, White adds, Coach Mullen isn't ready for everyone to adopt a game-week attitude. Not now. Not yet.
"He always reminds us we're still in training camp," White says. "So he keeps bringing it up." Which is fine...as long as the coordinator doesn't use the remaining weeks to pile too much more new stuff on his player's playbooks.