Michigan State Preview 2006 - Defense
Michigan State Spartans
Posted Aug 6, 2006

Michigan State Spartans Preview 2006 - MSU Defense

What you need to know ... With one of the nation's best offenses to work with, all the defense has to do is not be awful. It's a D that would like to attack and be ultra-aggressive, but it didn't generate any sort of a pass rush last season and didn't come up with nearly enough takeaways for head coach John L. Smith's liking. The line should be a bit more athletic, but it'll be slightly undersized on the ends. All three starters return to a linebacking corps that has to be more disruptive. Safety Greg Cooper moves to corner, but that means Otis Wiley and JUCO transfer Nehemiah Warrick have to shine as the new starting safeties.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: David Heron, 65
Sacks: Sir Darean Adams, David Harron, 2
Interceptions: Sir Darean Adams, 3

Star of the defense: Senior DT Clifton Ryan
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Greg Cooper
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FS Otis Wiley
Best pro prospect: Ryan
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ryan, 2) LB David Herron, 3) LB Sir Darean Adams
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Proven pass rush

Defensive Line
The Spartans generated next to no pass rush last year from the front four and went through too many lapses against the run. The idea is to put the four most athletic player on the field as much as possible, so Clifton Ryan will move from end to tackle allowing for Justin Kershaw, Brandon Long, and JUCO transfer Ervin Baldwin to try to get some sort of steady pressure from the outside. The ends are a little light for a Big Ten line, but they can move.
The key to the unit: Be disruptive. The Spartans can't make a big jump this year if it's 106th in the nation in sacks and 117th in tackles for loss.
Defensive Line Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- DE Brandon Long, Soph. - 3 tackles
Originally a linebacker coming out of high school, Long is an undersized 237 pounds in a tall 6-4 frame. While he might not be the most physical end around, he has the potential to become a pass rushing terror with excellent speed and athleticism.

- NT David Stanton, Sr. - 13 tackles, 2 TFL
Stanton grew into a key role on the line getting a few starts early on and serving as a key reserve over the second half of the year. Even though he's 6-3 and 291 pounds, he's not a natural tackle having played end in the JUCO ranks, and he's still getting used to the work on the nose. He should bring more of a pass rushing threat to the inside.

- DT Clifton Ryan, Sr. - 34 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 TFL, 3 quarterback hurries
The one sure thing on the line, Ryan is the only returning starter and is primed for a huge season if he can get a little help from the other three starters. He was a huge end throughout his career and now brings his 304-pound size and good athleticism to the interior. While he's not a fast end, he's a quick tackle and should dominate at times.

- DE Justin Kershaw, Soph. - 4 tackles, 1 sack
The 6-4, 252-pound sophomore is tough as nails and has the type of 4.6 speed to develop into a dangerous pass rusher. He's one of the best athletes on the line with enough quickness to be a big linebacker if needed. Slightly undersized, he could end up having to rotate if Clifton Ryan sees time on the outside.

Top Backups
- DE Ervin Baldwin, Jr.
Baldwin could instantly solve the team's pass rushing woes. The 6-2, 252-pound JUCO transfer has good speed and is a natural at getting to the quarterback with 14.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss last year for Reedley College in California.
- DE Nick Smith, Jr. - 7 tackles, 1 TFL
At 272 pounds, Smith brings more bulk to the end along with some decent pass rushing skills. He has been a decent reserve for the last two seasons and now needs to be more of a part of the rotation.
- DT Ogemdi Nwagbui, Jr.
Adding more beef to the inside, the 6-4, 304-pound JUCO transfer from Southwestern College in California made 55 tackles last year and ten sacks. He's still very raw, but he's quick enough to be a big end and strong enough to be a solid backup behind David Stanton on the nose.

There's experience with all three starters returning, but there's nothing special about this group. Kaleb Thornhill is a solid man in the middle when healthy, David Herron is a big veteran on the weakside, and Sir Darean Adams is a fast, productive playmaker on the outside. All three are solid and need to take a step up in their overall production. The backups are fast, but inexperienced.
The key to the unit: Blow things up. Three of the team's top four tacklers are in the linebacking corps, and now they have to use their experience become a far more dangerous force.
Linebacker Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- David Herron, Sr. - 65 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL, 3 recovered fumbles
One of the team's best defenders over the last two seasons with 160 tackles, the 6-1, 252-pound former fullback has the potential to gain All-Big Ten recognition with the size to hit like a middle linebacker and the quickness to be a strong pass defender on the weakside.

- Kaleb Thornhill, Jr. - 63 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL
A good tackler with excellent range, the 235-pound junior needs to find a way to stay healthy to be the leader of the front seven. He has had problems with a shoulder injury and has knee issues, but if he can be on the field at close to 100% for a full season, he'll be one of the team's top tacklers.

- Sir Darean Adams, Jr. - 60 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 TFL, 3 interceptions
The former running back is fast enough to be a big defensive back and tough enough to be one of the team's top tackling linebackers. He played a little strong safety this spring, but he's a linebacker. With his experience and knowledge of the D, he should be better in all phases.

Top Backups
- Adam Decker, RFr.
A very smart, very quick option the weakside, the 6-2, 240-pound Decker should be an excellent tackler once he gets a chance to show what he can do. He'll play behind David Herron on the weakside, but could move over to the Bandit spot to get a little more size on the field.
- Steve Juarez, Sr. - 13 tackles, 2 TFL
He's not going to hit like a ton of bricks, but the former JUCO transfer has nice range and good size in the middle. After he gets a little more work on his technique and can shed blocks a bit better, he should be a good option behind Kaleb Thornhill.
- Tom Dance, Soph.
Part safety, part linebacker, the 6-1, 212-pound sophomore will see time this year as a speed option at the Bandit position. His 4.4 speed could move him back to the secondary if needed, but he'll be used as a pass rusher and coverman behind SirDarean Adams.

Defensive Backs
This could very quietly grow into one of the team's strengths as the season goes on. With cornerback an issue, Greg Cooper will move over from safety to provide experience and size on the other side of the smallish Demond Williams. The safeties are a big of an X factor, but there's huge upside with talented Otis Wiley on the verge of being a top producer at free safety and JUCO transfer Nehemiah Warrick bring some big-time playmaking skills to strong safety.

The key to the unit: Pick off passes. The secondary only came up with six interceptions with departed free safety Eric Smith making three of them.
Secondary Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- CB Greg Cooper, Sr. - 48 tackles, 1 sack, 2.5 TFL
The coaching staff experimented this spring moving Cooper from safety to cornerback to bring more experience and provide a possible number one cover man. He's decent in coverage with 4.4 speed and is physical enough to be a force against the bigger Big Ten receivers. Technique is going to be an issue early on.

- SS Nehemiah Warrick, Jr.
"Nemo" comes in from the JUCO ranks and should instantly be a star. With the range of a free safety and big-time confidence, he was a leader right off the bat in spring ball. He's far from polished and he'll make a few huge mistakes over the course of the season going for the knockout punch, but his aggressiveness will also lead to a few game-changing plays.

- FS Otis Wiley, Soph. - 18 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception
Fast, smart, and very talented, the sky's the limit for the 6-2, 208-pound sophomore. Wiley should be a star his 4.4 speed and next-level athleticism get into the starting mix after spending last year as a good reserve and special teamer. It'll be a shock if he doesn't turn out to be one of the team's top tacklers.

- CB Demond Williams, Sr. - 29 tackles, 1 interception, 2 broken up passes
The only returning starting corner, Williams has to be a lockdown defender right off the bat until Greg Cooper gets his feet wet on the other side. The former JUCO transfer stepped up his play this spring and looks like he'll be more consistent both on the field and in the classroom after having issues last year. He's only 5-9 and 175 pounds, but he can move.

Top Backups
- CB Ross Weaver, Soph. - 8 tackles, 1 broken up pass
The 6-1, 201-pound sophomore has tremendous upside and should be a key player in nickel and dime packages. He'll start out playing behind Greg Cooper but if he can show more consistency, better technique, and good all-around playmaking ability, he could see some starting time.
- CB Cole Corey, Jr. - 6 tackles, 1 sack
At 5-10 and 203 pounds, Corey is a much bigger option than Demond Williams at one of the corner spots. He's not as quick and isn't the same lockdown cover corner, but he's good enough to see a little time.

Special Teams
There might not be a bigger pair of kickers in America with 6-6, 214-pound placekicker Todd Boleski and 6-6, 232-pound punter Brandon Fields combining to bring two of the biggest legs around. Fields has All-America talent, but he has to rebound from an average season. Boleski's range is just inside of the parking lot, but he'll have to fend off freshman hotshot Brett Swenson this fall to solve one of the nation's worst placekicking situations. Demond Williams is a special kickoff returner, while Terry Love is a quick, experienced punt returner.
The key to the unit: Bolseki and Swenson have to be consistent. Then again, after Spartan kickers went 5 of 16 last year on field goal attempts, anything will be better.
Special Teams Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- PK Todd Boleski, Soph.
If true freshman Brett Swenson isn't ready, Boleski will get a shot to solve the woeful placekicking problems. He has a huge leg with an easy range of 55 yards, but he'll have to show he can be consistent when the pressure is really on.
- P Brandon Fields, Sr. - 40 punts, 1,664 yds, 41.6 yards per kick, 11 inside the 20
At some point, Fields is going to put it all together. He was one of the nation's best punters as a sophomore, but he often outkicked his coverage. Last year he lost some of the blast on his kicks in an inconsistent season. Even so, he has NFL potential and could easily bounce back and be a threat for the Ray Guy Award.

Related Stories
Michigan State Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
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Michigan State Preview 2006 - Offense
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