2013 Michigan State Preview – Defense
legeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Michigan State Spartan Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
The expectations were high after finishing sixth in the nation and first in the Big Ten in total defense, and the Spartans more than met them finishing fourth in the nation in total defense allowing just 274 yards per game. There wasn't much of a pass rush, but the run D didn't suffer a lick giving up just six scores and 1,282 yards – expect more of the same. Linebacker Max Bullough leads a nasty front seven that should continue to dominate against the ground attack, but a steady pass rusher has to emerge. The secondary is loaded with a good combination of experience and promise. The corner situation might be even stronger with the emergence of some great young prospects, while Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond form an all-star caliber safety tandem.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Max Bullough
Tackles: Max Bullough, 111
Sacks: Kyler Elsworth, 2.5
Interceptions: Darqueze Dennard, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DT Tyler Hoover
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Trae Waynes
Best pro prospect: Bullough
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bullough, 2) SS Isaiah Lewis, 3) LB Denicos Allen
Strength of the defense: Run Defense, Linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Inflated Stats
William Gholston might have taken off early to the NFL, but the defensive front will be more than fine. Stepping up in Gholston's absence is sophomore Shilique Calhoun, a high-rising pass rusher who got in a little work last season making six tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss with a team-tying five quarterback hurries. At 6-4 and 248 pounds he's not massive like Gholston, but he's extremely athletic and should show why he was a top recruit.
Back on the other side is veteran Marcus Rush, a strong-tackling 6-2, 250-pound junior who followed up a 58-tackle 2011 with 38 stops with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. A pure pass rusher with excellent timing and burst off the ball, he started out his career as a linebacker and brings the speed to the front. Adding more size behind him is Joel Heath, a 6-6, 277-pound sophomore who's built more like a tackle, but has enough quickness to be decent on the outside.
Junior James Kittridge gets the job of holding down the nose after making 14 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss. At 6-4 and 275 pounds he's not necessarily built for the position, but he's a strong transfer from Vanderbilt with the quickness off the ball to be an interior pass rusher. 6-5, 308-pound Micajah Reynolds is a bigger option who's more like a true anchor. Tough against the run and hard to move, he came up with 19 tackles with a sack, but his job is mostly to occupy blockers.
6-7, 290-pound senior Tyler Hoover is a beefed up end who filled out his frame and should be a huge part of the run defense on the inside. Given a sixth year of eligibility after missing most of 2011 with a broken rib, he came back to make 13 tackles. Now that he's 100%, he should be a dangerous interior pass rusher. 6-3, 300-pound sophomore Lawrence Thomas is more of a true tackle with a great frame and excellent quickness. A part-time fullback who can blast away, the former linebacker got bigger, stronger and is ready to be a factor after making three tackles.
Watch Out For … Demetrius Cooper, the team's best defensive line prospect. At 6-5 and 220 pounds he has to fill out his frame and needs a little time, but he's going to be a whale of a pass rusher with game-changing athleticism and skills. He'll be a major factor in a few years.
Strength: Run defense. The pass rush wasn't anything special, but the production against the run was phenomenal. The front four more than held its own time and again against physical teams.
Weakness: Pass rush. Gholston had an inconsistent and disappointing season, but he was still the team's leading sacker with 4.5 of the mere 20 sacks. The pass defense was fantastic, to the lack of a pass rush didn't really matter, but it would be nice if it was more explosive.
Outlook: This was a major strength going into last year, and while losing Gholston isn't a plus, there's no real concern considering the rise of Calhoun and the experience of Rush. The front four will once again be fantastic at holding up well, and with a potentially strong rotation, expect more of the same.
Unit Rating: 8
Back for another year as the tough guy in the middle and top tackler, senior Max Bullough is the perfect defender on the inside for this defense. At 6-3 and 242 pounds he's big, active and consistent, leading the team with 111 stops with 2.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. With great instincts and timing, he's able to get into the backfield as well as drop into pass coverage whenever needed. The two-time All-Big Ten selection might not always be flashy, but he's ultra-consistent and as good a leader as any middle linebacker in the conference.
Returning to the outside is senior Denicos Allen, the perfect running mate for Bullough making 79 tackles with three sacks and ten tackles for loss. At 5-10 and 220 pounds he's not huge, but as a hybrid safety and linebacker he's fluid with tremendous speed and quickness. A tremendous speedster as part of an Ohio state champion level relay team, he looks like he's shot out of a cannon when he has to make something big happen. Now he has to get healthy after missing time this offseason with a foot injury. Allen will be fine and starting on the strongside, but veteran Kyler Elsworth will step in if he has to. At 6-1 and 222 pounds, the former walk-on isn't big, but he's a good tackler making ten stops last season with 3.5 tackles for loss. Quick, he's good at seamlessly dropping into pass coverage.
6-3, 240-pound junior Taiwan Jones is a burgeoning star on the weakside or Star. A pure outside linebacker with a great burst, he came up with 38 tackles with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss, but he was always around the ball. While he made an impact and should have the spot locked down, he'll be pushed by 6-1, 208-pound senior Jairus Jones, a free safety who exploded this offseason and appears ready to become more of a difference maker in his new spot. He came up with 18 tackles last season in six starts before getting knocked out for the year.
Watch Out For … Shane Jones and Jon Reschke. Two of the best players in a talented recruiting class, they're ready-made to get involved in the equation right away. The 6-1, 225-pound Jones is for the outside with pure football skills and a knack for making a big play – he's smart and a natural. The 6-2, 230-pound Reschke will one day take over for Bullough in the middle. A huge hitter with great range, he's a future all-star.
Strength: Talent. Bullough and Allen form one of the Big Ten's best 1-2 linebacking punches, Taiwan and Jairus Jones appear ready to come up with big years. Not just statistical stars, they're all playmakers who come up big when they have to.
Weakness: The backups. Who's ready to step in if something happens to Bullough? Elsworth should be fine if Allen's foot isn't right, but there's a big, big drop off from the ones to the twos.
Outlook: The linebackers were phenomenal last season, and now most the key parts are back and there might even be an upgrade with either Taiwan Jones or Jairus Jones ready to shine. There's athleticism, toughness, experience, and lots and lots of excellent production.
Unit Rating: 9
The veteran secondary welcomes back an all-star to center everything around. 5-10, 200-pound senior Isaiah Lewis finished second on the team with 80 tackles with two picks and six broken up passes. While the veteran strong safety needs to do more when the ball is in the air, the one-time top recruit has NFL skills with great range and instincts.
The secondary should be settled, but there are more playmakers ready to shine led by sophomore Trae Waynes, a star this offseason who appears ready to become one of the team's best playmaking corners. At 6-1 and 178 pounds he's a tall, thin prospect who came up with five tackles, but showed this spring that he'll be a ball-hawker. One of the team's faster players, he has Wisconsin state championship-level sprinting ability and will be all over the field.
However, Waynes will probably move to more of a nickel or dime role once senior Darqueze Dennard is back after suffering a hernia. The 5-11, 188-pound veteran finished sixth on the team with 52 tackles with three picks and seven broken up passes on the way to First Team All-Big Ten honors. A good tackler, he's tough, fast and active as a top cover-corner who can erase the opposing No. 1 target – he's terrific when the ball is in the air.
Like Waynes, sophomore Arjen Colquhoun is a high-rising prospect at corner, likely on the field side. At 6-1 and 195 pounds he's built like a safety but will be a physical defender in space. A top safety prospect out of high school, "Canadian Flash" has raw track-star speed making him ideal for the outside.
6-1, 196-pound junior Kurtis Drummond took over a safety job with Trenton Robinson done, and he came through with 53 tackles and two picks. An all-star caliber defender with terrific range and quickness, he's versatile enough to play anywhere in the secondary, but he's growing into a whale of a free safety.
Watch Out For … Jaylen Powell, a nice prospect and the best of a good lot of incoming defensive backs. At 6-2 and 185 pounds he's a great-sized safety, and while he could end up working as a receiver, he's too physical and too good to move from the defensive backfield. Smart, he'll someday be the leader of the secondary.
Strength: Pass defense. There weren't too many top passing teams on the schedule, but there weren't any hiccups allowing a mere 176 yards per game with just ten touchdown passes and 14 picks. Indiana (3) and Nebraska (2) were the only teams to throw for more than one score against the MSU secondary.
Weakness: Pass rush. The Spartans didn't get much of a push up front, and there isn't a sure-thing pass rusher going into this season. Overall, the stats were a bit misleading with no one on the 2012 slate who could bomb away. The secondary wasn't exactly extended.
Outlook: The secondary is loaded with veterans and talent. The emergence of Waynes and Colquhoun boosts up the corner situation, while Lewis and Drummond form a terrific safety tandem that should combine for close to 150 tackles. There will be times when a hot quarterback puts up big numbers on this group, but overall the numbers should be great.
Unit Rating: 8
It's going to be a transition with the loss of longtime steady kicker Dan Conroy, but senior Kevin Muma has a huge leg after serving as a fantastic kickoff specialist over the last three seasons. He has to prove he can be consistent, but there's no questioning his distance.
Junior Mike Sadler turned in a tremendous season putting a whopping 31 kicks inside the 20 and averaging 43.3 yards per kick. An academic all-star and with Ray Guy Award potential, he has a 42.4-yard average over his first two seasons putting 56 inside the 20. He has a great leg and good accuracy, and now he has two years of experience under his belt.
It's an open casting call for the return game. The kickoff return game needs to be stronger after averaging just 19.6 yards per try. Nick Hill averaged 21.6 yards per try, but he might need to used more as a running back. Hill also averaged 8.9 yards per punt return.
Watch Out For … Michael Geiger. Conroy was a terrific veteran who was the main man over the last few years. Muma might have the leg and the potential to do a nice job taking over, but Geiger is the talented newcomer who might be needed right away. He has 50+ range and great concentration – he doesn't get fazed.
Strength: Sadler. Not just one of the best punters in the nation, he could step in as a placekicker if absolutely needed. He's a weapon for the punting game and a huge help for the defense.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. Even with Muma's huge leg, the coverage team struggled allowing a massive 24.2 yards per return. It was a problem in 2011, too.
Outlook: Considering how many close games the Spartans seem to play, the placekicking is a big deal and needs to be solidified. Sadler is an all-star and there are more than enough athletes to choose from to find a few nice returners.
Unit Rating: 6
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