"But I would definitely say we're a solid group. Where there were two highly-rated guys and the bottom might bring the average down, I'd say we are so solid a group right now. Especially bringing in Brandon Maye, and with Ferlando Bohanna coming in he's been great. Christian Holmes, Matt Wells, I would definitely say our average is up and that's what makes us a completely solid group now."
Notice Wilson isn't giving himself some of that due credit. But his coaches know how valuable this seasoned stopper is in defensive gameplanning for 2011. So much so that as soon as White left the locker room Wilson, the former walk-on, had his name written atop that depth chart.
With opening day just ahead, Wilson is still there.
"He's done a great job," Coach Dan Mullen said. "Brandon hasn't changed, you know what you've going to get from Brandon from day-one. He has a nose for the ball, is a very natural player out there, and loves the game. And the demeanor is what you want out of a middle linebacker, he wants to be out there and maximizes his ability. That's what I love about him."
The Mississippi State head coach loves Wilson's work enough that prior to this junior year (the media guide listing is his academic ranking) the Tuscaloosa native was awarded one of the scholarships Mullen gave a handful of worthy walk-ons. "It was definitely a blessing," Wilson said.
"It takes a lot of relief off my parents, they don't have to worry about where the money is for tuition or different things like that. I thank Coach Mullen for that." In return Wilson is giving the Dog defense a steady man right in the middle of things. Fans observing spring practices came away echoing what staff members said; how Wilson was having by far the best camp of any linebacker, and maybe of any defender period. Nothing has changed since, as Mullen said before.
This does not mean Wilson has coasted through preseason taking number-one status for granted. Far from it, middle linebacker has actually been maybe the most competitive of the three spots. The deepest, too. Clemson transfer Maye may work a couple of practice positions but clearly wants the mike job. Bohanna redshirted last fall and is ready to see the field for real. And not to be forgotten is veteran backup Jamie Jones, who also has practiced both middle and weak-side in camp and would be comfortable filling either slot.
The result isn't just a lot of bodies to throw at any offense, Wilson. These are guys not content with reserve roles any longer, they want rotation snaps. Even better, a starting job, and Wilson is in their way.
So much the better, he says.
"Especially being in this program, its all about competition. Competition brings out the best in everyone. So whenever I mess up and they go out and do well it makes me go ‘ah, I've got to push myself to make that play next time.' The depth now we have, the competition is bringing us up, and it's all making us better players on defense."
Something else that is upgrading linebacker efforts is now promoted coordinator Chris Wilson and new linebackers coach Geoff Collins want to play the game. Sure, former coordinator/LB coach Manny Diaz earned his reputation for aggressive defense. But Wilson had almost equal say in the overall gameplan, and he is not dialing anything back in 2011. If anything this Dog defense might be a little bit more on the attack.
"Coach Wilson last year was behind the scenes I say," Wilson said. "He knows all the zone pressures with the run and all the situations. He's a great guy, and especially with bringing in Coach Collins and those two gelling I think we'll be great." There are other very good reasons to suggest the intensity could be turned up another notch. Specifically, an interior defensive line that ties up more blockers than usual, and a secondary capable of covering everybody, everywhere.
No wonder Wilson and his cohorts can practically see a green light to go after the ball with greater abandon. "With Banks and Broomfield on the outside we can lock them up and get after the quarterback with the front seven. With the secondary being experienced I think this defense is going to excel. It gives the linebackers a chance to blitz more, and more man-to-man pressures."
All things linebackers love to do anyway. Now, how much leash Mullen and Wilson allow this opening game is a fair question because scouting material on Memphis is somewhat scarce. Even personnel familiar after last year's blowout Bulldog win in Starkville must be placed in a different context because the Tigers have junked the pro-style offense for more of a spread-type system. Maybe State plays things carefully at first…or perhaps Wilson sics his squad on ‘em without hesitation.
Either way Wilson is not worrying himself unnecessarily at this preseason point.
"We can only control what we do. So it's going out and executing our plays and everything will fall into place." A winning place, he means, which is as close to a consensus as just about any opening weekend game around the country. Certainly Mississippi State fans are counting on a strong start…or is it taking the success of 2010 into a new year and onto another level?
"I definitely would say so," Wilson said. "Especially with the atmosphere now, I would definitely say the consistency is here now. The fan base, you should have seen the other day there were tents everywhere and thousands camped out."
And student fans don't camp overnight outside a stadium three weeks before the first home game—or for that matter adult fans don't snap up all season tickets three months before—unless everyone is expecting much more than just an average season.