Which of course means a lot of Mississippi State opponents are going to be made most uncomfortable in the approaching season. After all, White proved his talents last season working from the weak-side slot. So imagine how much more effective he could be in 2010 operating out of his own special comfort zone?
A zone, by the way, that ranges from that stripe running in front of the bench. Each bench.
"I mean, I was just happy to be playing last year, and this year I'm glad I got to move to the middle because I feel more comfortable there," said White. "I get to go to both sidelines so I like it a lot."
Now for most Mississippi State fans this was not an unexpected change of address for White. The graduation of Jamar Chaney left middle ‘backer open, and while senior K.J. Wright certainly could have fit in quite easily the consensus was his skills were best used in an outside slot. This way Wright could keep playing a north-south style in pass-rush or underneath-coverage.
White, now, from the moment he took the field last fall for opening night he simply looked the part of the prototypical middle-man. In fact there were plenty plays where he was effectively the ‘mike' with Chaney on the charge and Wright dropping off. Those snaps didn't merely allow White to fill the middle, they often allowed him to show that sideline-to-sideline range. Startling range for someone packing 245 pounds on a 6-4 frame, too.
The result was 75 total tackles, third-best on the '09 squad, with four stops for losses and a fumble recovered. So had White stayed on either outside slot he would have thrived this fall.
I think I could have. Any position they put me at. They put me at outside linebacker and I did my best and I think really I could have played a lot better if they played me there this year. But it's more comfortable at mike."
The interesting twist is that White has more experience on the side than in the middle. For that matter, at the line of scrimmage. At Vancleave High School "I played defensive end my junior year. Then my senior year I started the first game at outside linebacker; and after that they moved me to middle. I was at home instantly, I definitely played a lot better at middle." Which he did very well at Miss. Gulf Coast Comm. College, too, as a first-team All-American.
But don't think White regrets spending his first Mississippi State season on the weak-side. He says now he'll be that much better in the middle for his experience there.
"What I learned last year was coverage, big-time coverage. I had to learn to cover a lot and I think my coverage skills are a lot better than last year before I got here." It was something of a triumph in spring ball too that when new coordinator Manny Diaz called for pass-situation packages, White stayed on the field now. "That's a good thing!" White grinned at the affirmation of his coverage skills.
"It took about three days in spring when Chris was like they all were, just learning the defense," Diaz said. "Then instantly it just seemed he was born to play the middle linebacker for us. He's tough, he's physical, but he runs really well and can play sideline-to-sideline and run everything out. So we've been pleased with him."
Now, all that remains for him to prove is ability to run the Bulldog defense. The mike-man is regarded as ‘quarterback' on this side after all. White welcomes this added duty.
"I do like that responsibility. And I enjoy calling plays. I just make sure the d-line gets lined up right. And K.J. helps me call plays. If I'm tired he's going to call the play, if he's tired I'm going to call the play. So me and K.J. really are both the quarterbacks of the defense." Oh, an irony: Wright now is holding down White's old job at ‘will' since Diaz has brought another approach on defense. Now the strong-side linebacker is to be a hybrid safety, with either Emmanuel Gatling or Cameron Lawrence stepping into this revised role. The result is to be a faster, more versatile defense in either base or specific sets that can still hold up against the run but offer improved downfield coverage. Which as all recall was often a weak point of the '09 scheme with too many third-and-long conversions.
Now it is up to White to join Wright in directing the defense. "I don't have a problem with that at all. The responsibility just fits me naturally." White said. Oh, and he is going to have to say a lot more in huddles and from the middle of things than he's used to. Maybe the only real question for White to answer is can he talk the talk?
"And I've been trying to work on that. I really have. Hopefully I get better at that. I mean I am a talker, but I'm just not really loud about it. I just talk to people individually more than the whole team."
The Bulldogs had Wednesday off from practicing, with the first day of fall semester classes. Coach Dan Mullen was out of town in the morning for a national sports TV appearance, but will return in time to participate in The Drill, the now-annual campus ‘kickoff' of a new semester on the Drill Field.