April 4, 2014 11:08:41 AM
STARKVILLE -- They're called the Brown brothers.
Yes, it was their idea.
Although they're not related, Richie Brown and Beniquez Brown are looking to create the havoc Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins demands. In an effort to maintain unity in the linebackers' meeting room, both players have encouraged Collins to call them brothers. There are lots of reasons for the decision, but the primary one is they wanted to remain connected.
"Richie is my brother, and we joke about that nickname from time to time," Beniquez Brown said.
The linebackers with the same name, Richie from Long Beach, and Beniquez from Florence, Ala., will be counted on this season to make up for the loss of Deontae Skinner to graduation in MSU's evolving defensive scheme.
"Coach Collins does a good job every day keeping us all at different positions," Beniquez Brown said. "We learn every linebacker position. That way if someone goes down and that situation comes up, we are able to play every position, so we just practice hard and learn all the spots and use anything we can to get on the field."
Richie Brown, who has seen more time at middle linebacker at MSU, and Beniquez Brown, who is projected more as a outside linebacker in space, came to Starkville in the same recruiting class after being rated as two of the nation's most athletic linebacker prospects.
"What I'm trying to work on most this spring is the mental aspect and grind of being a middle linebacker in a league with multiple offensive schemes and high profile athletes," Richie Brown said. "I need to constantly become more mature as a player because the more I'm reacting instead of thinking, the better player I'll become."
Richie and Beniquez earned playing time as redshirt freshmen, combining for 77 tackles. They each had 16 solo efforts, including 7.5 tackles for loss. In an effort to get their experience and playmaking skills on the field, Collins has tinkered with a 3-4 alignment that has both players on the field. Matthew Wells has been used in coverage, while Bernardrick McKinney acts as a fourth pass rusher.
"We are constantly putting these guys in situations this spring to see how they'll react and what will work," Collins said. "They know the majority of our basic stuff by now or, at least, they should, so if we came out here and ran the same stuff every day, we wouldn't be getting better as a collective unit."
In that 3-4 alignment Richie Brown acts as the middle linebacker. The MSU coaches trusts the 235-pound athlete to get the Bulldogs aligned properly after he backed up McKinney, an All-Southeastern Conference selection the past two years.
"What he's doing now is what we expect out of Richie because we want to have a 1 and 1A defense so it doesn't matter what part of the depth chart you're on," Mullen said. "We want 22 starters on defense. What Richie has done to distinguish himself is becoming a natural player out there instead of missing tackles by being that fraction of a second late because you're thinking before just playing."
Richie Brown struggled early last season to recall all the blitz schemes and audibles a middle linebacker needs to remember. He said learning the schemes wasn't the problem. He said it took time to adjust to the game of human chess teams play in pre-snap situations.
"When Dak Prescott would overlook the defense and change the play, I wouldn't have the confidence to switch back on him," Richie Brown said. "Now it's a back-and-forth deal at the line of scrimmage, and it's fun to see that."
Richie Brown was a 2011 Parade Magazine All-American. He turned down scholarship offers from Stanford, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Ole Miss to join his new "brother" in Starkville.
"We have a bond we were going to work together and be here together," Beniquez Brown said. "We created a great friendship from the first day because in every meeting we sit next to each other and we're around each other. We're the Brown brothers."
The "Brown brothers," as Collins refers to them, lead a group of young players looking to make an impact. After the team's scrimmage Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium, Richie Brown sounded like he was ready to take his game to another level.
"We had some young individuals today that didn't know their assignments, and we're going to have to get that taken care of before we see this type of environment again but we have lots of time to do that," Richie Brown said.
Two years ago -- and even last year -- the "Brown brothers" were missing those assignments and were adjusting to schemes. They have taken what they have learned and have emerged as potential leaders this season.
"Little things can add up to a big offensive day, and we can't have that," Richie Brown said. "We know that more than anything now."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.