Linebacker is a position Mississippi State is fairly stable at exiting the spring.
The Bulldogs have two full units of linebackers they fell comfortable putting out there in any situation which bodes well in keeping guys fresh and also in case of an injury.
The linebacking corps reflect the personality of defensive coordinator Geoff Collins and are intense and aggressive when attacking the football. While those traits exist in every linebacker, their skill sets are very different and unique.
Collins has a nice variety of versatility among his linebackers whether it be a tall and thick guy like junior Benardrick McKinney in the middle or long and rangy guys like senior Matthew Wells and junior Zach Jackson on the edge. I really like the combinations at his disposal.
I expect this to be McKinney’s final season in Starkville. At 6-foot-5, 245-pounds, he has everything an NFL is looking for physically and when you combine that with his speed then you’re talking about a guy that will likely go very high in the draft.
McKinney is another example of a diamond in the rough that Dan Mullen‘s staff has identified in-state in the recruiting process and turned into a star. I remember meeting McKinney as a tall, skinny high school senior outside of the Palmeiro Center and had no idea at that time what a huge addition he would be to the Bulldogs in the future.
Wells was a great high school running back at the high school level at it took a while for him to grow and develop the mentality to play linebacker. But once he attained those two aspects, nothing has slowed him down since. Wells possesses the speed to cover slot receivers and tight ends as well as being able to create a pass rush off the edge.
Jackson has bounced around from linebacker to safety and is now back to linebacker. At 210-pounds, Jackson isn’t the biggest of Collins’ group but he proved last season and spring that he is fully capable of making big plays at the position. He had several strong practices this spring and will not only be able to give MSU a solid player on special teams but also a contributor on defense as well.
Senior Christian Holmes is another guy who has bounced around a few positions during his career. The experiment of him as a tight end appears to be over as he practiced the entire spring at linebacker. “Turtle” has made his biggest impact on special teams but his ability to play on both sides of the ball last season at a moment’s notice proves how highly intelligent he is as a player.
There was some questions if Holmes would return to the team for his final season having already graduated. I believe him coming back for one more year might go unnoticed in the big picture but it is a huge moral boost for the program as he might be one of the most likeable characters on the roster.
Beniquez Brown got his first taste of playing time last season and the confidence he gained from that experience was exemplified on the practice fields this spring. Beniquez Brown is a playmaker which isn’t surprising looking at his high school tape as a running back. The Bulldogs had to fend off a lot of big names during the recruiting process to land him and I think the best is yet to come for him.
Beniquez Brown led both teams in the spring game notching 10 tackles.
I’ve said the same thing about sophomore Richie Brown for years, the guy is simply a tackling machine. He rarely delivers a highlight-worthy blow to the ball carrier but if there is a tackle that needs to be made, Richie Brown gets the guy on the ground. He’s a highly intelligent player and it’s a shame he’s had to miss the past two spring games due to concussions suffered in the final week leading up to the game.
You hope that those blows to the head do not jeopardize his promising future like it has for Ferlando Bohanna. It was good to see Bohanna back out on the practice field this spring but much of that time was spent in a coaching capacity. It remains to be seen if he will be able to return for his senior campaign this fall.
Dezmond Harris might be the redshirt freshman I’m most excited about. He has looked phenomenal in both bowl and spring practices and I think is a star in the making. Harris appears to be fully over the knee injury he suffered in high school and is making up for lost time. He hasn’t played in a live game since his junior year of high school so he’ll have two years of rust to shake off when he takes the field.
But once he adjusts to the speed of the game at the collegiate level under the lights then I believe the sky is the limit for Harris. When he gets a little game experience under his belt, I think he will be a good replacement in the rotation following the graduation of Deontae Skinner.
Redshirt freshman Kelan Chairs and sophomore DeAndre Ward are a pair of two pretty good walk-on options as well. Chairs made seven stops in the spring game including one for loss while Ward had four tackles as well as a pass breakup.