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2007 Michigan State Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 18, 2007


Preview 2007 Michigan State Spartan Defense

Michigan State Spartans

Preview 2007 - Defense


- 2007 Michigan State Preview | 2007 MSU Offense Preview
-
2007 MSU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Michigan State Preview 

What you need to know:
The aggressive, attacking approach didn't work under the old regime, and now the new coaching staff will want to play it a bit closer to the vest to start, and then will start to make big plays as everyone figures out their roles. There won't be too many bells and whistles in the basic 4-3, but some chances will need to be taken, and head coach Mark Dantonio is great at adjusting and forcing teams out of their gameplans, after not doing much to generate any pressure in the backfield last year. A pass rusher has to emerge, but the overall potential is there to be better with Otis Wiley and Nehemiah Warrick good safeties to build around, while the linebackers should be one of the team's biggest strengths. The line is the key after a few awful years of doing a lot of nothing.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Otis Wiley, 94
Sacks: Ervin Baldwin, 4
Interceptions: SirDarean Adams, 2

Star of the defense: Junior FS Otis Wiley
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Brandon Long
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Andrew Hawken
Best pro prospect: Wiley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wiley, 2) LB SirDarean Adams, 3) LB Kaleb Thornhill
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, safety
Weakness of the defense:
Proven pass rush, tackle depth

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The line has to start generating more of a pass rush, and it'll have to start on the ends. 6-2, 270-pound junior Ervin Baldwin was one of the few who came up with a little bit of pressure with four sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss along with 35 tackles. While he's not the size of a small tackle, he's tough, has 4.6 speed, and has the athleticism of a linebacker. If he puts it all together, he could be an All-Big Ten performer.

On the other side will be 6-4, 245-pound junior Brandon Long, a former linebacker who didn't do nearly enough to make plays with just eight tackles. Speed isn't an issue, and he's strong for his size. Now he has to grow into the disruptive force in the backfield the defense has been missing.

The tackles are solid, led by 6-4, 260-pound junior Justin Kershaw. While undersized for the inside by Big Ten standards, he's tough. One of the best athletes on the line, he needs to do more on the inside, if he stays there, and has to get into the backfield on a regular basis after making just two tackles for loss with 25 tackles. In a perfect world, he gets to move back to end, after starting eight games on the outside last year.

The beef on the inside comes from 6-4, 290-pound senior Ogemdi Nwagbuo, a former JUCO transfer who spent last season learning the ropes. He made 23 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in a reserve role, but he has the potential to be a space-eating anchor. If he's not, the run defense will have problems.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-1, 250-pound senior Jonal Saint-Dic came in with a tremendous JUCO résumé as a potential terror in the backfield, and he wasn't all that bad with 23 tackles and two sacks. While he won't push Long out of a starting job, he'll be a key specialist in the rotation and could see starting time on the other side if injuries hit.

It'll be up to true freshmen to help upgrade the depth.
Antonio Jeremiah is one of the stars of the recruiting class and instantly provides more beef at 6-5 and 295 pounds. He could've gone anywhere, and he should quickly grow into a star tackle with his next-level strength and aggressiveness.

While Jeremiah will be big on the inside,
Ishmyl Johnson will push for time on the outside. The 260-pound end has great athleticism and quickness, and he should be a star against the run right away.

Watch Out For ... the incoming freshmen. The veterans on the line aren't bad as is, but Jeremiah and Johnson might be the most talented players in the front four from day one. Add in 290-pound Oren Wilson and 308-pound Ryan Wheat, and the recruiting class might play a huge role right away.
Strength: Potential. The freshmen will improve the line in time, but veterans like Baldwin and Nwagbuo are good and should grow into most consistent defenders. The coaching staff is focusing on the front four and should turn things around.
Weakness
:
Tackle depth. The true freshmen might be promising, but it's not a plus when you have to rely on them to shine from the start. Kershaw will be good no matter where he plays, but he's not huge. It might take a half a year before the rotation inside is set.
Outlook: After years of bad play, the line has to be better for MSU to have any hope of improving. There was no pressure on the passer last season, and there's no sure-thing pass rusher to rely on going into this year. If Kershaw isn't getting into the backfield, there won't be much of an interior push. This won't be among the better Big Ten lines, but it'll be a bit better.
Rating: 6.5


Linebackers

Projected Starters
:
The potential star of the linebacking corps, which will be the strength of the defense, will be 230-pound senior SirDarean Adams, a former running back and beefed up defensive back playing on the weakside. The "Bandit" in the old defense, he didn't show up his tremendous speed enough to make too many big plays, but he was fourth on the team with 46 tackles and a sack with 6.5 tackles for loss. He's great against the pass, and should be turned loose to do more this year to do more in the backfield.

Back in the middle is 6-1, 240-pound senior Kaleb Thornhill, who finished third on the team with 68 tackles after making 63 as a sophomore. He's a strong tackler with excellent range, but his key is staying healthy after having knee and shoulder problems over the course of his career. While he won't get into the backfield and he won't make too many big plays, he'll be one of the team's steadiest players.

Likely to take over the starting spot on the strongside will be 6-2, 235-pound sophomore Andrew Hawken, who filled in this spring for Thornhill in the middle and could move back if injuries are an issue. Strong and fast, with enough speed to play any of the three positions, he should grow into a regular hitter after making ten stops as a reserve.

Projected Top Reserves: One of the biggest producers in spring ball was 6-0, 225-pound redshirt freshman Eric Gordon, who might be slightly undersized for the inside, but could end up seeing time at all three spots. He'll start out behind Adams on the weakside, his more natural position, and will be a spot starter throughout the year.

With all the injury issues Thornhill has had, 6-3, 230-pound sophomore Josh Rouse has to be ready to step in. He's more of a middle man than Hawken, but he could see time on the outside if needed.

On the way is 6-1, 220-pound
Greg Jones to play on the outside. A potential terror in the backfield, the true freshman could see time right away if he can pick up the system. First, he needs to bulk up a bit to play on the strongside, which will end up being his spot.

Watch Out For ... Adams to blow up. He has the experience after learning the ins and outs of playing linebacker, and he has the speed to add the equivalent of a fifth defensive back to the mix. He has All-Big Ten potential if everything clicks.
Strength: Experience. With seven returning lettermen and two good starters back, there's depth, skill, and options to play around with. As proved this spring, there are several players able to play in the middle, while Gordon is a great backup behind Adams.
Weakness
:
Thornhill's health. Yeah, Hawken and Rouse can play in the middle, and so can Gordon, for a stretch, but the defense needs Thornhill to be 100% to be at its best. He might not miss time, but he's had to play banged up throughout the course of his career.
Outlook: The linebackers will be what the coaching staff builds the defense around. There won't be many chances taken in the front four or in the secondary, but the linebacking corps might be allowed to try to do more things to make bigger plays. Adams has to be allowed to use his speed to be a difference maker, while the rest of the linebackers are strong enough to win with.
Rating: 7


Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The quarterback of the defense, and arguably the team's best player, will be 6-2, 210-pound junior Otis Wiley, the team's leading tackler last year with 94 stops, a sack, and 6.5 tackles for loss. Not just a big tackler at free safety, he's also extremely fast with the type of athleticism that should make him a first day draft pick. Solid in pass coverage, he didn't make any interceptions, but he broke up ten passes.

Also returning is 6-1, 200-pound senior Nehemiah Warrick at strong safety after making 45 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss after coming in from the JUCO ranks. While he spent last year getting his feet wet and still learning how to play the position, he's a huge hitter who should be even better against the run. Now he has to do more against the pass.

Both starting corners need to be replaced, but the potential is there for an upgrade. 6-1, 202-pound sophomore Rose Weaver has tremendous upside with size, quickness, and a physical style that should fit the new system, but he needs experience after missing all of last year with a broken ankle.

5-11, 199-pound junior Kendall Davis-Clark was a solid reserve making 39 tackles, but he didn't pick off a pass and didn't break up any passes. Physical, like a safety when he hits, he grew into the team's number one cover-corner this spring and should blossom into a good one with a little more time.

Projected Top Reserves: While Warrick is the starting strong safety, 5-10, 185-pound senior Travis Key can step in and start after splitting time at the position last year making 42 tackles with an interception. While he doesn't pack the punch of Warrick, he's good enough to be all over the field making plays and stepping in to be a force against the run.

5-11, 183-pound sophomore Ashton Henderson saw a little bit of time making two tackles, and now he'll push for time behind Davis-Clark, but is quick enough and physical enough to see time at both corner spots.

On the way is sophomore Jeremy Ware, a 5-10, 181-pound future starter who comes in from South Carolina to provide depth at both corner spots. He's cat-quick with the size to come up with the big tackle, but he'll have to battle for playing time.

Watch Out For ... better play from the corners. MSU has had big, tough corners who were asked to read and react more than attack. Now they'll man up more to jam and push around receivers, and it should make a huge difference.
Strength: The safeties. Wiley is an All-Big Ten performer, while Warrick is a good veteran who won't make many mistakes. These two will flourish under the new coaching staff, and will get heaps of responsibility in all phases.
Weakness
:
Pass rush. Michigan State doesn't have one, and the coaching staff isn't going to sell the farm to get one. That means the corners will often have to sink or swim on their own, and while the safeties will help, they're not going to be allowed to take many chances.
Outlook: No unit on the team has a better shot of making a night-and-day improvement. With good safeties, promising corners, and interesting reserves, the secondary should be better in time. However, unless there's a little more help from the front seven to pressure the quarterback, the overall results will be roughly the same.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The kicking game needed Brett Swenson to live up to his prep résumé as a true freshman, and he came through with an all-star caliber season making 15 of 19 field goals. While he didn't show tremendous range, he hit all four of his kicks from 40 to 49 yards and missed his one attempt from beyond 50. Replacing monster-legged punter Brandon Fields will be tough, and it'll likely be up to true freshman Aaron Bates to do it. He averaged 43.2 yards per punt as a high school senior, but it's asking a lot for him to air it out consistently like Fields did.

Watch Out For ... the battle for the punting job to go on through the fall. Bates is the front-runner, but big redshirt freshman Ed Wagner and bigger senior Kevin Hall will get their chances to win the job.
Strength: Swenson. He had a great first year, but he missed three kicks inside the 40. With his talent, he should be asked to do more from long range and he should be in the hunt for All-Big Ten honors.
Weakness
:
Return game. The speed and potential are there, but the production hasn't been averaging just 7.9 yards per punt return and 18.5 yards per kickoff return. Terry Love and Devin Thomas will get the first shots at improving the situation.
Outlook: The Spartans aren't good enough overall to not be strong on special teams. Swenson is solid, but everything else needs to be better with the punting situation the big issue. Shoring up the coverage units would be nice, and getting more pop on the returns is a must. Expect an overall improvement.
Rating:
7

  

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