Between cornerbacks Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks and safeties Nickoe Whitley and Corey Broomfield, Mississippi State has a good bit of turnover-causing potential in the secondary.
To add to it, defensive coordinator Chris Wilson is hoping his defensive line will be putting extra pressure on quarterbacks, which should, again, lead to turnovers.
But, perhaps forgotten in the middle, co-defensive coordinator Geoff Collins’ group of linebackers has as much potential for big plays as anyone.
“The big focus for us the whole offseason has been getting turnovers,” Collins said.
Now, of course, focusing on something and actually doing it are completely separate things, but the linebackers coach thinks he has guys who can do it.
Freshman Benardrick McKinney, who will be starting at middle linebacker, has a huge frame, standing at 6’5″, 240 pounds. And when he stretches his arms out, he looks like the linebacking version of Jarvis Varnado.
Fellow linebacker Deontae Skinner is another big-bodied, long-armed weapon for Collins on the field, a guy who came on very strong at the end of the 2011 season and, according to his coaches, is primed for a breakout year.
Then there’s Matt Wells, a linebacker in a safety’s body, who stands only 6’2″, but as Collins said, “his wingspan, he’s got long arms.”
It’s that one word which keeps popping up that gets Collins excited about his linebackers.
“The big thing is their so long,” he said. “The longer you are, the more chances there are for tipped balls, being able to get the ball out at weird angles. That’s a big focus for us.”
I can’t imagine a linebacker would lead the team in interceptions this season, as now-senior Cam Lawrence was the only linebacker to pick off a pass in 2011, but the guys in the middle may very well be the keys behind big plays and turnovers for the Bulldogs
In addition to perhaps a few interceptions, Collins appears to have a lot of potential for tipped passes, forced fumbles and errant throws falling incomplete or picked off as quarterbacks try to avoid those long, outstretched arms.