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Young linebackers showcase skills at bowl practice workouts


Matthew Stevens



STARKVILLE -- The future of Mississippi State University football began last week and was showcased during a open practice session Wednesday at the Palmeiro Center. 


MSU head coach Dan Mullen suggested the first few weeks of bowl preparation will be the first indication to the coaching staff as identifying the talent that can immediately help the program in 2013. 


"This is huge for them because we expect all of them to make significant contributions for us next season," Mullen said Friday. 


"The big thing for them this weekend is to get out of the red-shirt mode and get into competing for the starting job mode. There's a lot of guys on the defensive side of the ball. We will have a lot of new faces on defense next year in the lineup and we need to see that start this week." 


Some of that youthful talent from this 2012 recruiting class that may be battling for significant playing time is at linebacker with senior Cam Lawrence graduating following the 2013 Gator Bowl on New Year's Day against Northwestern University (11 a.m., ESPN2). 


"I see guys right now coming off the field dropping buckets of sweat and you want to look at them and say 'this is what we've been doing for six months of a season boys'," Lawrence said. "They'll get used to this type of speed and conditioning in the spring as well." 


Four-star prospect Richie Brown saw a majority of snaps at middle linebacker while being monitored by not only his position coach Geoff Collins but the player that spent more time in 2012 season in the middle of the Bulldogs front seven in redshirt freshman Benardrick McKinney. 


"I'm not doing too bad and a lot of freshman are getting a lot of reps because of injuries or other factors that have popped up at this time," Richie Brown said. "I'm excited about getting on the field but I still have to learn the playbook right now. We learned right now it's okay to make mistakes as long as their aggressive mistakes flying to the football." 


Brown, who picked MSU over the University of Southern Miss, University of Tennessee and the University of Mississippi, said he and "a group" of freshmen coming into the program were given an option to redshirt or begin their college football career in the 2012 season. 


"(Coach Mullen) gave us all an option and we sat down as a group as said 'hey guys if we stay out this year, our last years together are going to be awesome," Richie Brown said. "We're going to collectively build this thing together and we're all excited about that idea." 


Richie Brown said his teammate that shares his last name, freshman linebacker Beniquez Brown, will embark this week in bowl preparation as the beginning of potentially one of the most dynamic duos in the Southeastern Conference. 


Rated a four-star prospect by major recruiting services, Florence (Ala.) High School prospect Beniquez Brown was the second recruit of Collins since his arrival from FIU and will be expected to be an impact player for the next four years in Starkville. 


"Mississippi State just felt right," Brown said at his signing day announcement in February. "Talking to coach (Dan) Mullen and all the coaches down there, they're going to push me to be the best I can be. Auburn came in late and made a run for it, but there's just something about Mississippi State." 


Brown, a four-star prospect from Long Beach, will be first overindulged, like any other newcomer under position coach Geoff Collins, with information on all three linebacker positions in the Bulldogs system before he's asked to master a single skill in Starkville. 


"The same thing that we do all the time since I've been here is just make them learn all three (spots," Collins said. "Richie's playing the middle right now (but) to play linebacker, you've got to be in charge, and the more knowledge you have, the more in charge you can be." 


Richie Brown joked that while he spent this season on the scout team, he didn't worry about the player he was told to mimic more than his playing number. 


"During a week of practice I would get numbers of guys where the jersey number would be an adult medium and wearing the jersey was cutting the circulation of my arms," Richie Brown said with a laugh. 


"It would look like I was wearing one of those half-jerseys guys would wear 10-15 years ago so I loved being guys that had big numbers so I could wear a jersey that actually fit me." 


Lawrence pointed to experienced players on the current MSU that could step in for his production including junior Chris Hughes and sophomore Matthew Wells. Lawrence led the Bulldogs with 111 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions. The combination of Hughes and Wells totaled just 61 tackles during the 2012 season. 


"I've been watching Chris Hughes making plays with his experience this season but he'll get pushed by Beniquez Brown just because it's hard to hold an athlete like that out," Lawrence said. "The competition at linebacker at every position will be at a high level next year and beyond." 


The MSU depth chart got smaller with the move of Christian Holmes to offense in a h-back role starting last week in bowl practices meaning more plays for the Brown combination of Richie and Beniquez. 


"We've all been razzing on (Holmes) for making the switch to offense because he wanted the spotlight of getting passes because he's such a humble guy to begin with," Lawrence said. "The serious football thing about it is he has great hands for a linebacker so I think he's athletic enough for it to work real well if he gets everything down."



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