By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – There appears to a gaping hole in the middle of Mississippi State’s defense, but that doesn’t mean there’s something missing.
The Bulldogs are in search of a new middle linebacker after losing their top three players at that position. There are plenty of candidates, though, because linebackers coach Geoff Collins makes sure his guys know each position.
Benardrick McKinney and Ferlando Bohanna are getting most of the reps there right now, but the outside linebackers have to know the spot, too.
“It builds depth. I think we have seven scholarship guys, and I feel right now any one of us could play any position,” said Cam Lawrence, a rising senior who started at weakside last season who led the team in tackles.
Deontae Skinner is the returning strongside starter, but he said it’s not too difficult to figure out the other spots. Collins said Skinner is “mastering” all three positions.
“I feel pretty comfortable at all three positions, because our defense is very simple,” Skinner said. “Once you know your own position, it’s not hard to learn the next one, so I’m feeling very good about all three of them.”
Collins likes the options he has at all three spots, especially at strongside with Skinner (6-foot-2, 245 pounds) and Matthew Wells (6-1, 225).
“He can match up on tight ends,” Collins said of Skinner. “If offensive linemen try to come block him, he can be physical …
“Then you’ve got a Matt Wells who’s ridiculously athletic that can play man coverage on slot receivers, is a great blitzer. So they give us different aspects in their game and complement each other really well.”
During Thursday’s practice – the fourth of spring and second in full pads – Lawrence had a pass break-up and could have leveled the receiver, and Wells made a nice interception.
Despite what might be missing in the middle, the Bulldog linebackers don’t act like a group that’s lacking anything.
“I feel like we’re the leaders on the defense,” Lawrence said. “If anyone would’ve come out to practice today, that would definitely have been obvious.”