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March 22, 2011It was just another spring practice but yet there was extra work, or extra running to be exact, being put in by the Mississippi State linebacker corps. The reason for running was simple, said rising sophomore Chris Hughes.
Yes, the Bulldogs do have a new defensive coordinator in Chris Wilson and a new linebackers coach in Geoff Collins. But the expectations have changed dramatically, and Hughes and his position mates are experiencing that every day in practice.
"If we don't come out with that intensity every play in practice, then we are running afterwards and staying late," said the 6-foot and 220-pound Hughes. "And we did that once and Coach Wilson and Coach Collins are just driving home that point and trust me, it's getting across quickly."
Of course, Hughes and the Bulldog linebackers have plenty to "prove" even this spring. Gone are the likes of Chris White, K.J. Wright and Emmanuel Gatling and only rising junior Cameron Lawrence returns with any starting experience.
Yes, Hughes has already heard plenty of doubting words off the field. But those words are serving as good motivation, too.
"Coming into this spring, all we've heard is that linebacker is a weakness of our team," said Hughes, a Mobile, Ala., native. "So like the other guys, I kinda have a chip on my shoulder and trying to prove myself out here."
In 2010, Hughes was one of three true freshmen that got a rare taste of SEC football. He played worked his way onto special teams and then found himself in the linebacker rotation late in the year. Hughes played in 11 games and had 13 tackles, including one tackle for loss, and also forced one fumble.
"It was a great opportunity and not many get that opportunity to play as a true freshman in this league," Hughes said. "But I tried to stay humble and I didn't feel like I was better than any other freshmen in my class. I just went out and kept working hard every day to see that field and help the team."
In fact, Hughes was one of several linebacker prospects signed by MSU in 2010. Unlike Hughes, last fall saw Ferlando Bohanna, Matthew Wells (also playing nickel safety right now) and Christian Holmes all redshirted. While Hughes is still the same age, he said he is passing down the experience he garnered last year to his fellow classmates.
"I came in with new guys and now we have some guys in our class that are redshirts that will now play and help us this year," said Hughes. "So at the same time, I am trying to help them and let them know what I saw last year on the field. It was good to play behind those guys last year and now I am taking everything I saw from them and passing it on down. We have good linebacker tradition here and we want to keep it going."
However, Hughes is also in learning mode as well this spring. As noted, he is playing for a new position coach and defensive coordinator. But while he often lined up at will linebacker last year, he is currently manning the top spot at sam linebacker this spring.
"They moved Cam over to will and I moved to sam," said Hughes. "It is new material to learn but I got into the playbook early. So I pretty much have the adjustment down now and it's not that big of a deal now with the changes and all.
"At the sam spot, you gotta have real good hips and you are playing in space more. But Coach has every linebacker learning every position so there will be no doubt the best three linebackers, regardless of position, will be playing."
And to make sure he gets one of those coveted spots, Hughes said he is using the rest of the spring and offseason to work on weaknesses and keep fine-tuning his strong points.
"I feel I have good vision and good instincts," said Hughes. "I just want to get better at breaking down and wrap up better on my tackling. I want to be more consistent and more fundamental with my tackling."