By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Deontae Skinner’s prodigious talent is evident. Geoff Collins would offer up the last four games of the 2011 season as exhibit A.
During that span, Skinner – Mississippi State’s strongside linebacker – recorded 24 tackles and two forced fumbles.
“The last four games of the season, I would think he was one of the best linebackers in the SEC,” said Collins, MSU’s linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator. “And he’s just continued to build on his confidence, getting in the playbook. He’s really taking his development seriously.”
Skinner has all the tools. The rising junior stands 6-foot-2, 245 pounds. He’s fast, he’s strong, he’s athletic.
But he likes to use his head, too. Collins said “the whole defensive package is making sense to him.” Collins likes to have his players familiar with every linebacker spot, and Skinner knows them all inside and out.
“There’s no dropoff in performance,” the coach said, “and he’s really become a leader of the defense and the whole team.”
Skinner said he does a lot of studying on his own and tries to learn from weakside linebacker Cam Lawrence, a rising senior.
Lawrence first noticed Skinner taking a major step during the Ole Miss game, when Skinner had nine tackles and forced a fumble.
“It’s like, he’d been a good player all season, then he just flipped a switch,” Lawrence said. “He hasn’t missed a beat. He’s carried it over to spring ball. He’s just playing smart.
“He’s always had the physicality, the speed, but now he’s understanding the defense.”
Following a redshirt year, the Noxubee County High School product played in 10 games and made seven tackles in 2010. Then last fall, he took the starting job from Matthew Wells three games in and never let it go.
Skinner was fifth on the team with 69 tackles, and he was second only to Fletcher Cox in tackles-for-loss with nine. Cox, a defensive tackle, left school a year early and is expected to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft later this month.
Skinner has noticed his own progress, and he understands his potential to become an elite SEC linebacker.
“I see myself as a young guy that’s growing, trying to get better,” Skinner said. “I’m good, I know that I have a lot of talent, but I’m not satisfied with myself right now. I’ve got a long way to go.”
He added, “As a linebacker, I’ve got to have speed, I’ve got to be tough. I’m just trying to improve in any way that I can.”
When asked about all the skills Skinner brings to the table, Collins had a few more to add.
“He’s got character. He’s a great human being. He’s a harder worker. He’s got all the intangibles that you want in a player and a kid.”