During his last two years at Noxubee County, Deontae Skinner made countless plays at defensive end and also some at outside linebacker. Now in his third year at Mississippi State, the 6-foot-2 and 235-pound Skinner is returning to familiar territory.
Currently listed as the backup at sam linebacker, Skinner is also drawing some reps at defensive end. During State's first spring scrimmage, Skinner had a couple of tackles for losses from the defensive end slot.
"I am have just been trying to make plays," said Skinner. "Coach (Chris) Wilson is playing me some at defensive end and I am just trying to make plays. It's going pretty good and I am just learning the plays and getting ready for the fall.
"We still have a lot of new guys and young guys on defense, including myself. So there is a lot of learning still going on and guys trying out at different positions. We have a lot to clean up but we're getting there."
Naturally, the change to defensive end will provide some challenges for Skinner. Yes, he's played there before in high school but not in the talent-laden SEC.
"It's a lot different than high school," said Skinner. "A lot has changed because I was standing up a lot in high school and now I have a hand on the ground. I know the concepts of it but it is a lot harder now. But I am learning."
Skinner is also doing his share of learning at linebacker as his mates are with first-year position coach Geoff Collins. The goal this spring, and later in the fall, is for the Bulldog linebackers to know all three linebacker positions - sam, will and middle.
"Mostly, it is really the same," said Skinner. "We have different assignments on different plays and all three guys could have the same assignment on some plays. But Coach Collins is making sure we know all three linebacker spots so we all know what we're doing and what the other person is doing."
In 2010 as a redshirt freshman, Skinner got on the field mostly on special teams and saw some reps as a backup sam linebacker. He played in 10 games and collected seven tackles, and made steady progress last fall.
In fact, in State's regular-season finale in Oxford, Skinner helped set the tone early with a punishing tackle on the game's opening kickoff.
"What comes easier for me is just the fact I am older and I can play faster now," said Skinner. "Now I know how to play the game in the SEC and it's a challenge every day you step out here on this field."
And now a year older and wiser, Skinner says his personal expectations have risen dramatically. More importantly, Skinner said the entire team's expectations have gone to another level.
"My expectations are real high for this year," said Skinner. "Last year we went to the Gator Bowl but we want to be better than that this year. We want to get to Atlanta and play for the SEC championship and be the number one defense in the SEC. We also want to have the best linebackers in the SEC."