Young Mississippi State linebackers get comfortable with mental side of football

8TB6_MSU_primary_logoBy Brad Locke
Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Geoff Collins likes the physical attributes his linebackers bring to the table, but what’s really got him excited during preseason camp is the progress he’s seen from them in the cerebral part of the game.

Collins, Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator, point-ed to sophomore weakside linebacker Matthew Wells as a prime example.

“Matt Wells, the last two years he’s just relied on his athleticism, which is ridiculous, how athletic he is,” Collins said Saturday. “But now you see him anticipating things. The offense will send a guy in motion, he’ll be telling everybody on the defense where that kid’s about to go.

“He’s not thinking about his assignment any more. He’s just out there playing football, and it’s really fun to watch.”

Such intellectual acuity is required by Collins, who is entering his third year as MSU’s linebackers coach. While the starters – Wells, Benardrick McKinney and Deontae Skinner – have developed the ability to anticipate plays, the younger players are still trying to get there.

Beniquez Brown and Richie Brown – no relation – are both redshirt freshmen. They’re just now starting to feel comfortable in the playbook, and now they’re trying to reach the level of their elders. Collins said they’re getting close, and he liked what he saw at Saturday’s morning practice in that regard.

“I thought they took a huge step today, just anticipating things, making the calls, making the checks, moving their keys. That was a big step for them,” Collins said.

Saturday was the first day of two-a-days for MSU, which opens the season Aug. 31 against Oklahoma State. Head coach Dan Mullen has said the beginning of two-a-days brings more of a training camp feel.

It’s during this time that the linebackers will continue to hone their mental focus, led by McKinney. He plays in the middle and has a lot more on his plate this fall.

“He has embraced it,” Collins said. “He knows what every kid on that team is doing.”

With the starters performing at a higher level now, the younger linebackers can watch and learn. Richie Brown feels that in due time, he will reach their level.

“It’s just something you’ve got to get used to,” he said. “Really, the hard part of that for me and Beniquez is we’re just now getting the playbook under our heads.

“For plays that we’re more comfortable with, it’s easier to anticipate.”

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