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College football: Bird bulks up to play inside linebacker for Red Raiders

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Posted: Saturday, July 24, 2010 12:00 am

Change has defined Bront Bird’s collegiate career.

When Bird first arrived in Lubbock, Texas Tech converted the former Permian receiver and defensive back into a power-packed, run-stuffing linebacker.

Bird played so well that the Red Raiders burned his redshirt.

And now a new coaching staff led by Tommy Tuberville needs Bird, a senior, to lead a defensive transition by switching positions one more time before he leaves campus.

  “I’m actually playing middle linebacker now,” Bird said. “And I’m loving it, loving the defensive coaches and the system they’re putting in. James Willis, the new defensive coordinator, that guy is intense just looking at you.”

Willis, who served as the associate head coach during Alabama’s national championship run last year, has installed a 3-4, which requires an inside linebacker to shed blocks and make tackles in bunches.

Under former defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil, Texas Tech played out of a 4-3 formation, a scheme that asks defensive linemen to shoot the gap, beat blocks and help the linebackers by making plays in the backfield.

Playing in the 3-4 puts the responsibility on the shoulders of Bird, who has added 12 pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame to compensate for the added contact.

At 6-3, 252 pounds, Bird is now the ideal size for a 3-4 inside linebacker.

“Our strength coaches have done a great job as far as nutrition, as far as lifting,” Bird said. “I’ve gotten bigger, but at the same I’m maintaining my speed, or getting even faster.”

In McNeil’s defense, Bird played the strong side, a position designed to stop the run.

When opponents trotted out multiple-receiver sets, Bird was the first linebacker to leave the field in favor of an extra defensive back.

And in the spread-happy Big 12, Bird had to come off the field a lot.

Under Willis, Bird doesn’t have to leave the field at all.

“I think I could double or triple my snaps this year,” Bird said. “For a guy like me, having to leave the field is obviously pretty frustrating, but I don’t ever leave the field anymore. I love it.”

Switching up the defense isn’t the only thing that has changed since the Mike Leach era ended in scandal late last year.

Under Leach, the only topic the coached cared about was winning.

Tuberville has brought a different message to Lubbock. Take care of the little things off the field, and a player will take care of the details on the field.

And taking care of the details turns into championships.

“When Coach Tuberville got here, he was told us he was here to win championships,” Bird said. “And that got a spark in the room going. We hadn’t heard that before.”

Now, that’s a reason to change.

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