STARKVILLE – Matt Wells possesses a lot of tools, but until recently he was lacking in one critical area: Confidence.
He’s got that now, and Mississippi State’s defense will be the better for it. Wells, a junior, is stepping into a starting role this fall at weakside linebacker, replacing the departed Cam Lawrence.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Wells has starting experience under his belt – seven games the past two years – and has shown an ability to make plays all over the field.
“The thing in the past with Matt, he’s been a ridiculously fast, explosive kid, but didn’t have a ton of confidence,” defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said. “So once he adds that part to his game, he’s one of the most explosive kids in the SEC, now the confidence has caught up with that.
“I think the sky’s the limit for Matt.”
Wells has played a safety/linebacker hybrid role in the past. In high school, he was a star running back at Lawrence County.
So while he’s listed as a linebacker, he can’t really be pinned down as such. He does enjoy the position more than he used to, though.
“Yeah, I am enjoying the position,” Wells said. “It’s linebacker, but I do other things also. I like coming off the edge, blitzing, inside, outside.”
Collins will continue to use Wells in different ways, but being a starting linebacker in the SEC requires strength and toughness. Collins said when he cut up the tape of last season and studied Wells, he saw a player who can hold his own in that regard.
“He was making plays in the box as well as when he was out in space,” said Collins, who’s in his third year of coaching the linebackers. “He made two great plays in the bowl game in space, but one of the best plays he made was when he was in the core, he was lined up over a guard, and made a great play in the bowl game from that position.”
Last season, Wells drew four starts and finished with 34 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, a sack and an interception. He can cover receivers – which he said he particularly enjoys – and middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney called him a “hard-nosed football player.”
Teammates can see the confidence that’s grown in Wells, and they’re expecting big things from him.
“At first when you don’t really know what to do, you’re kind of a little shy,” defensive end Preston Smith said. “He’s done broke that shell.”