There were moments last December where it seemed Mississippi State was destined to lose Dan Mullen to a number of different schools. Shortly after the Bulldogs managed to keep Mullen on board and breathe a collective sigh of relief, it was announced that one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2010 season, Manny Diaz, was departing for the big bucks Texas was eager to provide.
If that wasn't enough bad news, State also lost linebackers K.J. Wright, Chris White, and Pernell McPhee. Those three guys will very likely being playing on Sunday in the very near future. To say those three guys left a hole in the defensive line would be a huge understatement. It's more like a freaking canyon.
Fortunately, Mississippi State did manage to keep their remaining co-defensive coordinator, Chris Wilson, on board and I feel confident he'll be able to keep the aggressive defense rolling right where it left off.
Of course, he can't do it alone. Players will have to step up and fill the void and it seems that the intensity level has been steadily building across the board during spring practices as evidenced by the increasing number of injuries beginning to plague the team.
Having said all that, I think that if the success of the Bulldog defense continues the way I believe it will, there is another man to thank.
Collins joined the MSU staff in January. He is the former defensive coordinator of Florida International and proved many times over during the season how versatile his defense could be. Even more impressive is how he got there. In 2009, the FIU Panthers were ranked 199th nationally in total defense. After Collins took the reigns in 2010, the FIU defense was number one in the Sun Belt.
I read a recent article by Brandon Marcello that highlights the boost of energy Collin's brings to the team.
"He provides us with a lot of energy, so when he's out there you always hear him," defensive back Corey Broomfield said. "He has that squeaky voice. He gets you going."
There has also already been some similarities noticed between the relationship with Collins and Wilson and relationship between Manny Diaz and Wilson from a season ago:
"It's like they've known each other their whole life," defensive end Sean Ferguson said. "I guess they spent a whole lot of time when they're not here, getting ready to be out here."
I think that Chris Wilson is the key to keeping things rolling on defense for the Bulldogs, but having an upbeat, energetic guy like Geoff Collins along for the ride can be nothing but a plus.
The entire staff seems to be energized and their coaching styles have clearly had an influence on the high intensity practice sessions. Dan Mullen likes what he sees:
"When you put that staff together, it is a lot about personalities and how they're going to interact with each other on the field," Mullen said. "I love coaches who get after people and run around."
The first taste Bulldog fans will get of their 2011 defense will be April 9th for the annual Maroon and White game. Kickoff will be at 5:00 p.m.