It didn’t take Todd Grantham long when he first arrived at Mississippi State earlier this year to be defensive coordinator to look at Gerri Green and know what Green should be doing.
Green, who spent the 2016 season playing an inside linebacker position for the Bulldogs, was a bit out of place Grantham thought.
“He’s made to be an outside backer,” Grantham said of Green. “That’s where he belongs. He’s an edge guy. He’s got good burst. He can run. He’s got some explosive ability off the ball. He can play all the coverages you can play from an outside backer position.”
With Grantham’s evaluation, Green’s immediate fate was sealed. He was back on the edge, where he found success as a freshman back in 2015 when he was picked to the All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team.
Two games into his role as an outside linebacker again, Green is playing like a man who has found his way back home.
“It’s exciting being on the edge and being an outside linebacker,” Green said. “Coming off the edge and making plays, it’s fun. I just love the role.”
Green is causing all kinds of problems for opposing offenses through the year’s first couple of contests. He is tied for second on MSU’s team with 10 total tackles. He has also recorded two tackles for loss, notched a pair of sacks and forced a couple of fumbles.
He’d also have a touchdown this season if not for teammate Jeffery Simmons. Last Saturday night at Louisiana Tech, Simmons blocked a punt that rolled into the end zone. Green went for the football and had it between his hands before Simmons swooped in and picked it up.
“I’ve been trying to forget about that,” Green joked. “I should have fell on it the first time.
“Maybe it can be like basketball and I can get an assist.”
Not picking up that football is about the only opportunity Green has missed this year so far. He’s thriving and MSU head coach Dan Mullen is loving every minute of it.
“If you look at (Green’s) body type, (playing outside linebacker) fits his body type well,” Mullen said. “He’s got length, he’s got size and he’s got athleticism. That makes him tough. He’s got the size and instincts to be an outside backer as well as the physicality to be able to hang in there on the run. He’s got athleticism to disrupt the pass game some. I’m happy for him because you see him playing at a much higher level now.”
It’s not hurting Green’s cause that he’s getting pushed by several other talented players. Grantham and Mullen love rotating defenders in and out of games to keep guys fresh. Green, Montez Sweat and Marquiss Spencer all share time at outside linebacker and Green says that is making all of them even better.
“We make it fun by competing,” Green said. “No matter who is in the game, we just tell each other, ‘It’s my turn to go make the play.’ If someone gets a sack, the next person is like, ‘It’s my turn.’ We trust each other. We hold each other accountable. If we mess up, we don’t make it a big deal. We just look ahead to the next play. We know the next guy knows what he’s doing.”
That team-first attitude is prevalent on the whole MSU defense. Green says that’s what has turned the Bulldogs defense into one of the Southeastern Conference’s best units early on this season.
Through two games, MSU ranks fourth in the league in scoring defense, third in total defense and first in pass defense. It’s a stark contrast from last year when opponents often piled up the points and yardage on the Bulldogs.
“The main thing to me is the unit is closer (than last year),” Green said. “The guys on the team, like last Saturday, we were down 9-0 and just stuck together. It was our first adversity this season, but we stayed together and continued to grow in that moment.”
Green and the MSU defense gets its next big challenge on Saturday against No. 12 LSU. It’s a test Green is looking forward to. He has gotten on the field against the Tigers in each of the last two seasons, only to see the Bulldogs lose a pair of close games. In Green’s freshman year, State lost 21-19 in Starkville. Last season, the Bulldogs had a comeback attempt come up short in Baton Rouge as LSU won 23-20. Green is no psychic, but he’s betting MSU will be in for another tight fight.
“Both games I’ve played in (against LSU) have been close, close games,” Green said. “I just know they are a tough team and both of us are going to come out and fight. We have to be on our best and give it our best all night.”
At his spot on the outside, Green is in his best possible position to do his part to help State try and upend LSU. No matter where Green has been on the field, inside linebacker or outside, he’s loved playing the game of football. Yet he just might be having more fun now than he ever has before and it’s showing every Saturday so far this season.
“Outside, I just feel more free,” Green said. “I’m able to go make plays.
“I feel comfortable and confident.”