Redshirt freshman middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) has often been compared to former Bulldog linebacker K.J. Wright, and for good reason. Now he’s starting to play a bit like Wright.
Over his last two games, McKinney has recorded 16 tackles, most on the team in that span – eight versus Troy, eight versus South Alabama. That brings his season total to 24 – tied for second on the team – with 11 of those solo. So, does this increased production mean McKinney is settling in?
“Oh yeah, I’m getting more comfortable out there, playing with Cam (Lawrence), the D-linemen, I’m getting comfortable out there. Not as nervous as I used to be,” he said.
OK, but what does linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Geoff Collins think? Are the numbers reflective of McKinney making improvement and more closely resembling Wright, or are they just empty stats?
“Being a redshirt freshman starting in the SEC, it’s probably a tough task for anybody,” Collins said. “But the way he’s developed, the way he’s learned how to study – Cam, Deontae (Skinner) have really taken him under their wing, because they know he’s going to play a lot and shown him how to prepare and how to study, how to get ready for opponents. I think that’s starting to show in his play.”
McKinney has been sharing snaps with sophomore Ferlando Bohanna, and his first career start came against South Alabama. Collins expects to see McKinney become a dominant performer in the near future, much as Wright was. Wright now plays for the Seattle Seahawks and occasionally speaks with McKinney, who tries to model his game after the pro.
“I watched K.J. last week against the (Packers), and as I’m watching him play I’m like, that’s just like Benardrick,” Collins said. “The things I’ve heard about K.J. in the past – character, work ethic – Benardrick has all of that and then some.”