Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know:
Mark Dantonio’s defenses don’t try to be flashy and they
certainly aren’t gimmicky. The D wasn’t a rock last year
by any means, but it was decent enough to win with and
now it should grow into something special. With eight
starters returning, plenty of depth, and a few all-stars
to work around, this should be a far better defense than
Dantonio has had since arriving in East Lansing. The
back seven is loaded with veterans led by all-star LB Greg Jones
and his running mate, Eric Gordon. The secondary loses Otis
Wiley, but it’s very big, very experienced, and has the
potential to be among the best in the Big Ten. The question mark
is a defensive front that returns two starters and has a star
pass rusher in Trevor Anderson, but it didn’t do enough to get
to the quarterback.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Greg Jones
Tackles: Greg Jones, 127
Sacks: Trevor Anderson, 8
Interceptions: Johnny Adams, Dan Fortener, Chris Rucker, 2
Player who has to step up and become a star:
Junior DE Colin Neely
Unsung star on the rise:
Junior LB Eric Gordon
Best pro prospect: Jones
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Jones, 2) DE
Trevor Anderson, 3) Gordon
Strength of the defense:
Weakness of the defense:
Size in the front seven, proven pass rusher besides
was supposed to come over from Cincinnati, where he
started his career under head coach Mark Dantonio, and
instantly become a superstar for the Spartan defense.
While he had a strong year with 30 tackles, eight sacks,
and 10.5 tackles for loss, he disappeared over the last
month of the season after coming up with three sacks
against Michigan. The 6-2, 259-pounder has a tremendous
burst off the ball and will come up with big plays in
bursts, but the defense needs him to be a steady force.
Working on the other side of Anderson, in place of
Brandon Long, will be
Colin Neely, a promising 6-1, 245-pound junior who saw a little bit
of starting time and finished with 14 tackles and two
tackles for loss. While he’s built like a linebacker, he
holds up well against the run. Now he has to get to the
quarterback on a regular basis with all the attention
paid to Anderson.
The big loss on the defensive front is on the inside
with Justin Kershaw gone. In his place will be
an undersized 6-3, 255-pound sophomore who made five
tackles in his limited time. While he’s hardly going to
be an anchor against the run, he’s an active, athletic
presence on the inside who should be a regular in
opposing backfields. At least that’s the hope for the
Spartan front four.
6-3, 288-pound junior
came off a decent true freshman season to make 15
tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. A starter in every
game, he didn’t do too much to fill up the stat sheet,
but he was a decent anchor on the nose. With decent size
and tremendous quickness, he has to be more of a factor
in the backfield.
Projected Top Reserves: Looking to make an
impact is Tyler
Hoover, one of the top recruits of last year who was
originally supposed to play right away. He ended up
taking a redshirt season and will now serve as the
understudy behind Trevor Anderson. At 6-7 and 268
pounds, he’s a huge force on the outside with the
athleticism of a tight end and the strength of a tackle.
It’ll be a shock if he’s not a major star in the next
Working on the inside with Kevin Pickelman is
a 6-3, 297-pound redshirt freshman who brings more size
to the tackle position. Expected to become a good
interior pass rusher, he’s quick off the ball and has
the finishing ability, at least in practices, to crank
out some decent sack numbers. More importantly, his size
is a must for the interior.
Looking to find a home is
and undersized 6-3, 228-pound sophomore who made nine
tackles as a reserve linebacker last season. He’ll move
to the end to try to provide even more of a burst from
time to time than Colin Neely.
Watch Out For ... a steady rotation on the
defensive interior. The run defense was fine last year
but it was hardly anything special. To do more, expect
the backups like
Michael Jordan, who made six tackles last season,
and Ishmyl Johnson to see more action.
Strength: Anderson. While he didn’t quite
blow up and become an all-star right away, he’s good
enough to demand attention on every play. With a pass
rushing talent like he is on one side, everyone else
should have room to roam.
Weakness: Overall size inside. It’s not a light
line overall, but having a 255-pound tackle in Pickelman
isn’t a plus. He might be good, but the bigger offensive
lines will be able to beat on the interior unless some
of the reserves can make an impact in a rotation.
Outlook: This is a good, serviceable line
that could be great if Trevor Anderson becomes a major
factor. He’s good, but he has to be great for the line
to be a strength. The front four is good against the
run, but it needs a better tackle rotation to be better
against the power teams. More is needed from the backups
to provide a push for the starting jobs. There will be
plays made in the backfield from all four spots, but not
enough of them.
It’s time for
become a college football household name. One of the
nation’s best linebackers, the 6-1, 222-pound junior led
the team with 127 tackles last year with two sacks and
14 tackles for loss seeing time on the strongside and in
the middle. He wasn’t expected to become a terror in the
backfield, but that’s what he was as he used his great
speed and range to make tackles all over the place. Now
he’s in for a huge junior season after being one of the
stars on the defense for the last two seasons. While he
doesn’t do much against the pass, that won’t be his job
in the middle after moving over from the outside. He’ll
make every play he can chase down.
Gordon will step into Jones’s spot on the strongside
after finishing second on the team with 85 tackles with
three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss on the weakside.
The 6-0, 223-pounder can play any of the three
linebacker positions and has some of the best wheels in
the corps. With the speed and quickness to do far more
to get into the backfield, and the toughness to hold up
against the run against the power teams, he should put
up huge numbers.
Denson was supposed to step in and start last year,
but he ended up being a key reserve making 31 tackles in
12 games of work. While not all that big a 5-11 and 228
pounds, the former walk-on is a great athlete who’s been
a good producer when given a chance. To keep the job
this year, he’ll have to be a disruptive force in some
way and he’ll have to being more for the pass defense
than Eric Gordon did last year.
Projected Top Reserves:
Adam Decker play? The 6-2, 242-pound senior is a middle linebacker
who made 56 tackles and got eight starts, but Greg Jones
will likely spend more time on the inside this year.
While he’s not the greatest athlete in the corps and he
doesn’t fit the overall scheme, he’s a tough tackler who
doesn’t miss a stop and can get into the backfield
making six tackles for loss last season. If nothing
else, he can start without a problem if Jones moves to
the outside for any length of time.
Playing behind Gordon on the strongside is the very fast
but very small Jon Misch, a 6-2, 205-pound junior
who followed up a 22 tackle season with a disappointing
year. He missed the first half of the season and then
came back to see a little action, but he didn’t make a
tackle. He's built like a safety, and he runs like one,
maybe faster, and he has the athleticism to play on the
weakside if he can't hold up on a regular basis on the
Watch Out For ... Decker to find playing
time somewhere. While he’s not really an outside
linebacker, and the coaching staff will want to keep
Jones in the middle as long as possible, Decker is a
good enough tackler and a tough enough veteran to get
and stay on the field.
Speed. By design, the coaching
staff wanted linebackers who can move. Decker doesn’t
really fit the mold, but the starting threesome of
Jones, Gordon and Denson will be all over the place.
Size. It’s sort of by choice that the
linebackers are smallish and faster rather than big and
bulky, but the starting threesome averages around 225
pounds per man. That’s par for the course in today’s day
and age of linebacking corps designed to stop the
This could be the strength of the
team, if it’s not the receiving corps. Greg Jones is a
special defender who should be on the short list for
most All-America teams, while Gordon will get All-Big
Ten recognition. Throw in Adam Decker in the mix,
especially if he’s a reserve, and this is a
great-tackling, veteran group that’ll be full of
difference makers. There will be several plays in the
backfield and lots and lots of tackles, but the MSU
linebackers don’t do much against the pass.
Strong safety Otis Wiley was arguably the best defensive
back in the Big Ten last year making 78 tackles, four
interceptions and serving as the tone-setting leader for
the secondary. His loss leaves a gaping hole for
to fill. The 6-0, 205-pound junior started one game and
saw time throughout the season making 31 tackles with an
interception, but he didn’t do too much against the
pass. Extremely athletic, he’s more like a free safety,
but he can hit and hold up against the run.
Returning to his free safety spot is
a nice 6-1, 203-pound senior who has been a solid
all-around defender for the last few years making 69
tackles and two interceptions with seven broken up
passes. A key special teamer throughout his career, he
was one of the pleasant surprises of last year and now
the former high school wishbone quarterback could emerge
as a star on the stat sheet.
Back at corner will be Ross Weaver, a 6-1,
204-pound senior who overcame foot problems earlier in
his career to be a steady starter on the field side last
season. With his size and his great range, he's a
physical defender who made 28 tackles and a sack while
picking off a pass and coming up with seven broken up
passes. Staying healthy is always his issue. He missed
two games last year and was out all of 2006 with a
Junior Chris L.
Rucker was the team’s best cover-corner last season
making 45 tackles with two interceptions, four broken up
passes and a sack. He was starting to come on in his
true freshman season before getting knocked out with two
detached retinas, but he was a solid producer throughout
last year with nine starts. At 6-2 and 197 pounds he has
good size and is great at mauling receivers off the
Projected Top Reserves: Senior
Kendall Davis-Clark will end up somewhere at safety. Hurt for most
of last year, and out this off-season, the 5-11,
210-pounder has had a hard time staying on the field.
But when he’s on the field he’s a producer making 27
tackles with an interception and three broken up passes
after making 72 stops and four sacks in 2007. An elite
athlete, he was an Ohio state high school champion in
the 100 and 200 meters.
Johnny Adams will be a key starter at corner in the
very near future. While he’s wispy thin at 5-11 and 165
pounds, he’s a tough tackler making 21 stops to go along
with two interceptions and four tackles for loss. He has
next-level speed and the big-play ability to be on the
5-11, 183-pound senior
can play anywhere in the secondary. He made five
tackles in a reserve role, and didn’t do anything
against the pass, but he can see time as a backup corner
or could serve as a decent free safety option.
Watch Out For ... shuffling at safety. If
Davis-Clark is ready, he’ll play somewhere. Fortener
isn’t going to get off the field, so there might be a
steady rotation among the safeties if Hyde turns into a
Strength: Breaking up passes. The
secondary gave up yards in chunks from time to time, but
it was solid on a regular basis. Quarterbacks only
completed 53% of their passes while MSU came up with 14
picks and 50 broken up passes.
Weakness: Yards allowed. It’s not like MSU
played a who’s who of passers outside of Georgia’s
Matthew Stafford and Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen, yet it
finished seven in the Big Ten allowing 213 yards per
game. The returning group will be better, but it’ll
still likely allow around 200 yards per outing.
Outlook: The secondary doesn’t have an
Otis Wiley-like star, but it should be rock-solid with
four good players with starting experience and a safety
in Marcus Hyde who should become more of a factor.
There’s good speed at all four spots, but the key to
this group is its size. It’s a big, tall secondary that
isn’t going to get pushed around by anyone. With so much
experience and decent talent across the board, this
needs to be a bigger strength after a decent, but not
Senior Brett Swenson was a top recruit who
bounced back from a relatively shaky sophomore season to
his 22-of-28 field goals including a 50 yarder. The
second-team All-Big Ten selection came through clutch
with a 4-for-4 day in the win over Wisconsin and had a
three game stretch going 10-of-10. Three of his missed
came against Michigan and he two of his six misses on
the year came from beyond 50 yards.
The punting game has been average over the last few
seasons with junior
following up a mediocre first season by averaging 42
yards per kick with 22 put inside the 20. He has a big
leg and he learned to hang it up high a little better
MSU went from having one of the best kick return games
in the country, thanks to Devin Thomas, to having one of
the worst averaging just 19.7 yards per try. RB
will likely get the first look, but there are
several speedy options to try out.
Otis Wiley was a strong punt returner averaging 10.4
yards per try. Now it’ll likely be up to
Keshawn Martin, who got three tries but wasn’t able to do anything.
He’s such a tremendous athlete that he’ll be certain to
bust off a big play or two.
Watch Out For ... Bates to be even better.
Thrown into the fire as a true freshman, he was fine,
but he wasn’t consistent. Last year he was blasting the
ball even better and doing even more with his accuracy.
This year it should all come together in what should be
another all-star season.
Strength: The kickers. Bates and Swenson
each earned second-team All-Big Ten recognition and
should be a major plus once again. They have the
experience and the legs to form one of the Big Ten’s
Weakness: The return game. It didn’t show nearly
enough pop last year. A star return man has to emerge
who can become a weapon. There weren’t any really big
returns last year, and now it’ll be an open casting call
to see who can become the main man.
Outlook: The kicking game should be the
best in the Big Ten with PK Brett Swenson all but
certain from everyone inside the 40 and punter Aaron
Bates growing into a solid all-around kicker. The return
game has to be far better with someone needing to emerge
who can break off a big one here and there. The coverage
teams have been fine, but nothing special.