By LEE ADAMS
Last season the Mississippi State Bulldogs had a strong group of starting linebackers with K.J. Wright, Chris White and Emmanuel Gatling, who started all 13 games.
This season, the Bulldogs have to find three guys who can replace those three who recorded 252 tackles in 2010.
Many believe that Clemson transfer Brandon Maye, who recorded 231 tackles during his three years at Clemson, will help fill one of the three spots, but head coach Dan Mullen isn't sold just yet.
"He (Maye) has got a long way to go to get a spot and playing time," said Mullen. "It's a fierce competition out there on the field. He has a lot of work to do to compete and get on the field."
Maye started 33 games in his career with the Tigers and could see playing time this season. With a little over two weeks remaining before the first game, he could make an impact right away if he impresses the coaches.
The rest of the linebackers fighting for positions only a few of them have game experience.
The ones with the most experience are Jamie Jones, Chris Hughes and Cameron Lawrence. Between them, they played in a total of 29 games and recorded a combined 49 tackles.
Jones enters his senior season with a career total of 18 tackles in 31 games and has spent most of his time on special teams and reserve linebacker. Lawrence has a similar career as he served on almost every special teams unit last season while being a reserve linebacker. The junior was credited with 31 tackles last season including a sack at LSU. Also, he forced a fumble in the Bulldogs win over Florida.
Hughes played his true freshman year in 2010, seeing playing time in 11 games. During those 11 games he split time between special teams and reserve linebacker and recorded 13 tackles.
What experience these three have could make them front runners for the starting three linebacker positions, but the younger guys can't be overlooked.
Some of those younger guys who are Christian Holmes, Deontae Skinner, Ferlanda Bohanna and Matthew Wells, who were redshirted in 2010. These guys are hard at work just like the older guys and Mullen has noticed that work during camp.
"They're coming along," said Mullen. "They're coming along a lot faster because now they know that the clock's ticking and they know they are going to get to play and it's great to see guys like Bohannon and Wells playing that outside hybrid spot for us."
Mullen also noticed that some of them kind of let up last year once they thought they were going to be redshirted but they have stepped up their games during camp.
"Once they hit the the redshirt year last year, some of them pulled off on the throttle a little bit, and then spring ball there's not the sense of urgency, it's just 'hey it's fun to be out here playing,'" said Mullen. "Now they realize, that we're a little over two weeks away from kicking it off and it's going to be for real so there's a little more sense of urgency out of those guys."
The sense of urgency is starting to set in at all positions and Mullen will be keeping a close eye to see who deserves to win the starting linebacker positions on September 1.