Mississippi State sent both Benardrick McKinney and Matthew Wells to the NFL and graduated Christian Holmes.
The Bulldogs must be pretty barren at linebacker then right?
Quite the opposite actually. MSU is stacked at the position for new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
Rising junior Beniquez Brown is back as the group’s lone returning starter but was joined this spring by two experienced linebackers in Zach Jackson and Richie Brown.
Beniquez Brown shined in his first year as a starter last year and has one of the best football IQ’s on the roster. The 6-foot-1, 238-pounder has notched 101 tackles during his first two seasons and is always around the football. A lot of what Beniquez Brown did last season was overshadowed by McKinney’s success but this year he will have a chance to spotlight his talent.
Jackson is the unit’s only senior and has played behind Wells throughout his career. Like Wells, Jackson began his career as a safety but added weight and is now a speedy outside linebacker. The 6-foot-2, 212-pounder struggled in coverage last year and was an area he worked on during the spring. He was solid in the spring game against the run making two tackles for loss.
Richie Brown is always fundamentally sound and has had a nose for the football dating back to high school. Richie Brown is highly intelligent and didn’t seem to have any problems stepping into the leadership role of playing middle linebacker this spring. Expect him to have a breakout year for the Bulldogs.
Redshirt freshman Gerri Green is a player I’m very excited about. Having scouted him in high school, I thought he was an absolute steal during the recruiting process. Now with a year in a college weight room and removed from injury he will finally get his chance to show it. Green is what you look for as a prototype at 6-foot-4, 248-pounds and can move exceptionally well at that size.
I believe that Green and sophomore Dezmond Harris will be the next wave of linebacker stars to come through Starkville once the Brown “brothers” graduate. Harris was held out of spring practice while still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the Auburn game.
It was Harris’ second major knee surgery since his senior year of high school. If he can bounce back the way he did from the first one then his future is still very bright.
Sophomore J.T. Gray is just a tackling machine. Gray won’t be the biggest linebacker at 6-foot, 196-pounds after shifting from safety but pound-for-pound holds his own with anyone. He led the spring game with nine tackles and was a huge boost to the Bulldogs on special teams last year as a true freshman.
DeAndre Ward was a heartwarming story as a sophomore last year when he received a full scholarship after walking onto the team. With more linebackers being added, it will be hard for him to find many reps on defense but he can be a strong asset for State on special teams. Ward is yet another converted safety having success as an athletic linebacker.
Junior Quadry Antione also packs a wallop at 5-foot-11, 225-pounds as a safety turned linebacker. Antione enjoyed a solid spring and even recovered a fumble in the spring game but I have heard through the grapevine this summer that an injury will keep him out of action for quite a while.
Kelan Chairs is a hardworking walk-on that made a lot of big plays while working with the third team defense during the spring. Chairs also had nine tackles and made the game-winning interception during the spring game. Another walk-on, Josiah Phillips, has really changed his body making the transition from being a quarterback.
When fall camp arrives, junior college transfer Traver Jung along with high school signees Leo Lewis, Tim Washington and Keith Joseph Jr. will join the fray for playing time. The good news is that none will have to play right away due to a numbers standpoint but some may simply be too good to keep off the field.