He hasn’t even coached his first game with the new title, but Mississippi State’s Geoff Collins might be the most talked about defensive coordinator in the SEC this spring.
Although, it’s just as much for what’s happening off the field as on, as many of his hand-written recruiting letters have hit twitter and the internet for their, well, uniqueness.
Just a shade over 40 years old, Collins doesn’t exactly the fit the mold of grey-haired, old-school defensive coaches, which is exactly what Dan Mullen wanted for his players and team.
“I just love Coach Collins,” sophomore cornerback Cedric Jiles said. “He’s got a lot of energy. That’s what we need on defense, excitement and energy. Last year, we didn’t really have excitement. Everybody was just running around, playing with no life, and he’s bringing life to the team.”
The idea, Mullen said and Jiles implied has been carried out, was to take Collins’ energy he already had as the linebackers coach the last two years and infuse the entire defense with it as he became the coordinator.
“He’s got a lot of energy, a lot of excitement,” Mullen said. “I want a defense that plays with that energy and that excitement and intensity running around.”
It’s a borderline cliché for a new defensive coordinator to talk about such things, how his defense will play faster, they’re going to get to the ball and simplify things.
In Collins’ case, however, there seems to be truth to the claims.
His players all over the field have noticed as he’s branded the defense with his ‘Mayhem’ mantra.
“That means just cause havoc,” senior linebacker Deontae Skinner said, “on any play. You could get a forced fumble, tackle for loss, scoop and score, just cause havoc. Anything you can do to cause havoc, force a turnover, anything. That’s what it means when I hear it.”
Said Collins, “The big thing is just getting them to fly around and have an identity, have a little juice, a little swag and have fun out there. I think they’re starting to do that.”
Beyond immeasurables like swag and flying, two significant changes have been implemented with the change in coordinator.
First, Collins and Mullen have stressed versatility on the defense, both as individual players and as full defensive schemes.
Their goal is to find the strengths of players and use different packages to highlight them, knowing they can run completely different plays when the big-bodied Skinner is in, as opposed to a leaner and faster Matt Wells at linebacker. Even better is finding players like those who, at any given point, can fill needs of other positions for a play by dropping down to defensive end or up to safety.
The other and perhaps biggest change is that, under Collins, the entire defense meets as a unit every single day.
“Every time we install a defense, it is as a defensive unit,” Collins said. “So we go over the practice, show tapes of loafs or great effort, turnovers or busts we had, just so we’re all on the same page and it’s one unit going at it together. That’s the biggest thing.”
While reviewing everything as a defense, Collins is hoping to instill both pride and responsibility in his players, not only for themselves, but for their teammates.
His goal is to have his guys, most particularly his leaders, take the energy he brings and run with it, leaning on, for example, an experienced vet like junior corner Jamerson Love to help a learning youngster like redshirt freshman corner Will Redmond.
“When we’re out there at practice and it starts getting quiet,” Collins said, “I look at the guys who are leaders and say, ‘Let’s crank it up. Get them going.’ When the last six plays of the scrimmage are going on and the twos are in, I want them coaching guys. The big thing is when a Will Redmond is out there, I want Jamerson to have just as much pride in his performance as his own.”
Results on the field in the fall will be the real barometer for Collins’ success, but his players in the spring certainly think he’s doing well in the early stages.
Skinner, entering his fifth year at MSU, is now under his fourth defensive coordinator, though it will be his third season with Collins as his linebackers coach.
He appreciates the others, of course, but, “there’s no other coach I’d rather be playing for,” he said.
“He’s really the coach I just love playing for,” Skinner said. “Coach Collins is just the same guy every day. He always preaches about getting better and he wants you to be the best player that you can be. He’s gonna find and know what you’re best at so you can be the best player and perform.”