STARKVILLE – Mississippi State junior linebacker Richie Brown is not surprised at all at the numbers he has put in the first two games of the young season.
Brown has made 22 tackles in a win over Southern Mississippi in week one and a loss against LSU at home last week. He led the team with 11 tackles in both games.
The 22 tackles is the most by a Bulldog since Mario Haggan had 30 in the first two contests of the 2002 season. Haggan finished that year with 119 tackles. He played for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos, and St. Louis Rams
“I’m getting a lot more playing time this year, a lot more opportunities to go out and make plays and I’m trying capitalize on it,” Brown said.
Brown became a starter this season after Benardrick McKinney did not return for his senior season and instead opted to play at the next level. Earlier this year, McKinney was drafted by the Houston Texans in the second round with the 43rd overall pick in the NFL Draft.
Entering this season Brown had played in all 26 games of his career and made 88 tackles. He had 38 stops as redshirt freshman in 2013 and 50 last season.
First-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz says he is pleased with Brown’s performance and said he has played a very high level in the first two games.
Diaz is also not surprised with Brown’s production because many of the plays are designed to go to him, the MIKE or middle linebacker.
“Schematically we’re trying to be more active at linebacker and having to get those guys involved on more hits on the ball carrier,” Diaz said. “Our MIKE and WILL (weak side) linebackers should lead the team in tackles, no matter who is playing that position.”
Diaz made a conscience effort in the spring and in training camp to make sure Brown and the other linebackers knew there role was going to increase and that they were going to be involved in a lot of plays.
The Bulldogs had three linebackers lead in tackles last season under Geoff Collins who left for the same position at Florida, so it’s nothing new. McKinney led MSU with 71 tackles, Beniquez Brown had 62 as a sophomore and Christian Holmes had 60 in a backup role.
Richie Brown says he has been expecting more and more plays to come his way.
“They’re trying to get the ball to our tacklers, that’s what our defense is focused around, getting our linebackers in on tackles and defensive backs do pass coverage things,” he said.
Brown has 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and a pass defended to go along with his 22 tackles this season.
Before the season started, Brown said he was ready for the starting role and he has shown that in the first two games. But it’s not all about starting for him.
“I’m just trying to help the defense out whenever I can,” Brown said. “Whatever they need me to do, I’m trying to be there to do it. I fill my gaps, I try to get the double teams off our defensive line and help them out.”
Brown’s leadership role has also increased this season. Being a middle linebacker puts Brown in the middle of the play, so he gets to see a lot of things develop before, during and after the play.
Trailing 14-3 at halftime last week to LSU, MSU coach Dan Mullen challenged his players to step up and make plays and get the team back in the ballgame. MSU scored 16 points in the second half and held the Tigers to only seven, but fell just short.
Brown demonstrated his leadership abilities in the second half.
“Me and the linebackers, we kind of took it upon ourselves to make sure we stood up and got the defense rolling because we’re involved in most everything as linebackers,” Brown said. “We really had to step it up and get our defensive line rolling, get our DBs (defensive backs) rolling and get everybody focused and locked in.”
Brown looks to add to his tackle total Saturday when the Bulldogs (1-1) host the Northwestern State Demons (0-2) for a 3 p.m. kick on the SEC Network.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.