The defensive line and the secondary are ingredients that will make the Mississippi State defense strong this season.
Add the linebackers to the mix and the Bulldogs can be considered solid across the board.
“The big thing we didn’t have (a complete defense) last year, you need to have 22 players that are legitimate SEC players that can come in regardless of the situation and regardless of the time on the clock and win SEC games,” said Collins. “Last year. I don’t know if we had 22 guys every game that could do that. We’re really close to having that depth that you need to be able to compete and be really successful in this league. That’s what the goal is.”
As for the linebackers, it all starts with senior Cam Lawrence.
“You can see the kids are starting to gravitate to Cam,” Collins said. “How did you know that? What did you see? It’s because Cam can recognize things with just the smallest of a split, or a tight end or a back checking pre-snap. He takes all that information in.
“I had him read the book by Malcolm Gladwell ‘Blink’ over the summer. It’s just about processing information without even consciously being able to do it. Cam has always had the ability to do that and he’s taken it to the next level and tried to help the younger guys, a Chris Hughes, a Christian Holmes, start to learn how to do those things.”
While Lawrence is the leader of the group, he is followed closely by a handful of linebackers, all fighting for starting roles.
“That’s a fluid, fluid question first-unit,” Collins said. “I would say there were five guys that played with the ones. We’ve been rotating guys in and out with every group, and every position actually. Each one, each kid regardless of what year, what position, they’ve played every position this preseason. Even Matt Wells has played about three positions.”
Who are the top five?
Collins starts with Lawrence, Deonte Skinner, Matt Wells, Benardrick McKinney, Chris Hughes, and Ferlando Bohanna got some reps.
“It might even be upwards of six that played running with the ones in-and-out,” said Collins. “Even Zach Jackson, I think, got a snap or two with the ones so it might have been upwards of seven so it was good.”
So far, the names mentioned are familiar names and guys who’ve been around the program. However, they aren’t the only ones making a name for themselves as linebackers.
“The first two days were in tee-shirts and shorts and running around without our helmets on and they did really well,” Collins said of freshmen Richie and Beniquez Brown. “The second when we put on those full pads, the eyes just lit up a little bit. They’re like OK, this is the SEC, I get it now, but I’ve been pleased with both of them because they are who we thought they were.
“They are just learning and adjusting to the game because they were always the biggest, the fastest, the strongest their whole lives. Now they get here and there’s Deonte Skinner and Benardrick McKinney sitting in the room. There’s Cam Lawrence sitting in the room so it has helped them at a very early stage elevate their game.”
With seven athletes fighting for playing time this season, this may be the deepest of all the units on the 2012 team.