2010 Michigan State Preview - Defense
Michigan State LB Eric Gordon
Michigan State LB Eric Gordon
Posted Jul 27, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Michigan State Spartan Defense

Michigan State Spartans

Preview 2010 - Defense

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- 2010 Michigan State Defense | 2010 Michigan State Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know: The Spartan defense managed to do a great job of getting to the quarterback last year, but it didn't make a ton of tackles for loss, didn't take the ball away enough, and got ripped apart by anyone with a passing game finishing last in the Big Ten in pass defense and pass efficiency defense. The secondary is full of great athletes and lots of promise, but the corners have to be far stronger. The defensive front will be solid with all four spots generating pressure with promising depth creating a nice rotation, and everything missed will be cleaned up by Greg Jones and one of the Big Ten's top linebacking corps. Jones will be on the short list for every all-star honor a defensive player can be up for and will be the leader and star of the strong run defense.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Greg Jones, 154
Sacks: Greg Jones, 9
Interceptions: Several at 1

Star of the defense: Senior LB Greg Jones
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior SS Marcus Hyde
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Tyler Hoover
Best pro prospect: Jones
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jones, 2) LB Eric Gordon, 3) DT Jerel Worthy
Strength of the defense: Greg Jones, Sacks
Weakness of the defense: Pass Defense, Takeaways

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The Spartans generate pressure from several areas, but Trevor Anderson will still be missed on the outside. The hope will be for sophomore Tyler Hoover to live up to his promise and potential at the rush end with tremendous 6-7, 270-pound size and surprising quickness. One of the team's top recruits of 2008, he made 13 tackles with a half a sack and one broken up pass, and now, if nothing else, he'll be tough to throw over and around. Not just a 3-4 end, he can be a pass rusher.

Senior Colin Neely had a nice year on the other side of Trevor Anderson last year making 24 tackles with three sacks and seven tackles for loss, and now he's expected to be even more of a pass rusher after getting past a shoulder problem. At 6-1 and 258 pounds he's a short, squatty defender who's quick and active. He's strong against the run and is a steady producer.

Looking to clog up the middle will be sophomore Jerel Worthy, a CFN Freshman All-American after coming up with 37 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and nine tackles for loss in an extremely promising first year. While he's not a massive space-eater at 6-2 and 298 pounds, he's extremely quick on the inside and is a proven interior pass rusher with great finishing ability. While it's a stretch to call him an anchor, he'll be the star up front everyone will work around after he gets healthy from a shoulder injury.

Looking to take over on the nose is Blake Treadwell, a feisty 6-3, 272-pound sophomore who saw nine games on the inside as a true freshman making 11 tackles, and now he gets to use his strength to sit in the middle of the line and tries to become a run stuffing two-gap tackler. He's a pass rusher with the lateral quickness to put up nice stats.

Projected Top Reserves: Used as a spot starter and a key reserve last season after getting over a minor knee injury, Kevin Pickelman will be a part of the rotation at tackle. The 6-4, 278-pound junior is built like a 3-4 defensive end, but he's tough in the interior and has the quickness to get into the backfield coming up with 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss, along with 20 tackles, in his limited time. There's a buzz building around Dan France, a 6-6, 283-pound redshirt freshman who has emerged as a key prospect at tackle after a strong spring. Considered a big end coming out of high school, he's a handful on the inside with great quickness off the ball and a nice motor. He's a smart, tough tackler who'll always produce when in.

Junior Johnathan Strayhorn will work in a rotation with Colin Neely on the outside, but he needs to become a steadier force into the backfield. The 6-0, 259-pound end made a sack and two tackles for loss with 13 tackles, but he has the quickness to do far more. He's a beefed up linebacker playing on the end.

The Spartans got a big coup when they signed Micajah Reynolds last year. The 6-5, 302-pound redshirt freshman is the type of nose tackle who can be an anchor for everything else to work around. A great recruit, he's not a Coke machine for the middle of the line; he moves well and will get into the backfield. However, he was a star prospect as an offensive guard and is still working into the defensive position.

Watch Out For … Hoover. He's built like a big 3-4 end and he has the frame and the body the NFL types find intriguing, but now it's time to play up to the potential. He needs to be a pass rusher, and at 6-7 and 270 pounds he needs to be an engulfing run stopper.
Strength: The tackle rotation. Worthy is a good one and Treadwell has the potential to shine over the next three years, but they're not going to have to do it all alone. The Spartans have a slew of strong tackle prospects, led by France, to keep everyone fresh and allow the production against the run to continue.
Weakness: One true pass rusher. This isn't a massive problem considering the linebackers all fly into the backfield and helped the team finish 17th in the nation in sacks, but without Trevor Anderson as the main man, a dangerous outside threat (hopefully Hoover) has to emerge.
Outlook: The line isn't full of all-stars and it might end up shifting to a three-man alignment from time to time, but the size is there to be stronger against the run and there's good athleticism across the board. Being stronger against the power running teams would be nice, but the overall stats against the run will be good as this once again becomes a serviceable and solid unit.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: Senior Greg Jones was the best linebacker in college football last year. While Alabama's Rolando McClain won the Butkus as the leader of a national title-level defense, no one did more for their team than Jones, who led the team (and finished third in the nation) with 154 tackles, nine sacks, and 14 tackles for loss after making 127 tackles with two sacks and 14 tackles for loss in 2008. Not just explosive, he's as steady as they come and is terrific against spread attacks of all types making 15 stops in the loss to Central Michigan and 13 against Texas Tech. He came up with ten stops or more in nine games and spread his sacks throughout the season.

He doesn't do too much against the pass, mostly because that's not really his role, but he's active enough to work on the outside if needed with just enough raw speed and quickness to handle backs on short to midrange routes. While he's as tough as they come and he's a peerless tackler, the knock on him at the next level is his lack of size. At a generously listed 6-1 and 235 pounds, he's a bit small to be the centerpiece of an NFL defense, and he doesn't have the raw wheels to be a killer of a pro 3-4 outside linebacker. Even so, he'll likely be someone's early second round pick who makes tackle after tackle as a do-it-all playmaker.

Overshadowed by the talents of Greg Jones, senior Eric Gordon doesn't get nearly enough publicity even though he's a tough-tackling defender who finished second on the team with 92 tackles with 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss playing most of the year on the strongside and seeing some time on the weakside. Only 6-0 and 228 pounds, he's tough for his size and he can play any of the three linebacker spots with the speed and quickness to do even more to get into the backfield. He came up with 14 tackles against Northwestern and did a great job throughout the year as a great running mate to Jones.

The new starter in the mix, taking over for third-leading tackler Brandon Denson, will be sophomore Chris Norman at the Star position after making 11 tackles as a reserve. He bulked up a little bit to get to 226 pounds on his 6-1 frame, and now the star outside linebacker prospect of last year should be ready to put up some huge numbers. He's smart, fast, and is great in the open field and won't miss many stops.

Projected Top Reserves: A spot starter last year, 6-3, 206-pound senior Jon Misch knows what he's doing as a key backup on the strongside. While he's not all that big and is built like a safety, he's one of the faster players in the linebacking corps and does a great job of getting to the ball and is a guided missile when he gets a chance making 29 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss in his limited action. The key will be to stay healthy having suffered a broken foot as a sophomore and being banged up a bit throughout his career.

Is he a defensive end or a linebacker? No matter what he becomes, William Gholston , the 6-7, 237-pound top recruit, will become a major factor. The brother of former Ohio State star, Vernon Gholston, William has the same sort of pass rushing ability with tremendous closing skills. In a perfect world he becomes a 3-4 outside linebacker and gets used in a hybrid role, and he might be just good enough for the coaching staff to adjust the defense to put him in the spot. How dominant was he as a senior? 115 tackles, 27 sacks, and 44 tackles for loss.

While Max Bullough wasn't the recruit that William Gholston was, he was still a big-time get for the Spartans. The 6-3, 238-pounder is the heir apparent to Greg Jones in the middle of the defense with the range and the hitting skills to be a major producer from the moment he steps on the field. Extremely smart, he'll one day be the quarterback of the defense and he should be a leader as soon as Jones is off to the NFL.

Working as a bit of a hybrid of linebacker and safety at the Star position, redshirt freshman Denicos Allen will do a little of everything as a backup behind Chris Norman. At 5-10 and 215 pounds, he's not a linebacker, but he's a tough tackler and has the quickness to get all around the field. Fast, he was a part of an Ohio state-champion level high school relay team.

Watch Out For … Gordon. Jones will get every accolade in the book and is a mortal lock for the Butkus if he's even adequate, but Gordon has put together a nice career as well. He'll help Jones get in on everything and will come up with some spotlight games of his own being used more as a pass rusher as well as a run stopper.
Strength: Greg Jones. He's a special linebacker who did everything to keep together one of the Big Ten's top defenses last year and is a leader and a star to work around. There's a chance he finishes his career with 500 tackles and 20 sacks.
Weakness: Pass coverage. Considering this is a smallish, quick linebacking corps built around athleticism, the pass coverage from this group, including Jones and Gordon, a safety-like linebacker, is lacking. The group is asked to do more against the run than it is to help out the secondary, but that might have to change after the Spartans finished last in the Big Ten in pass D.
Outlook: With Jones and Gordon, the Spartans have a tremendous two-some to solidify one of the best linebacking corps in the Big Ten. Throw in the potential of Gholston and Bullough, and the Spartans have the makings for a devastating group if everything comes together. This is a great-tackling group of difference makers revolving around one of the best players in college football.
Unit Rating: 9


Projected Starters: The Spartan secondary has to be better and it starts with the corners. Senior Chris L. Rucker is the team's top cover-corner, but he struggled throughout last year despite making 58 tackles with a sack, seven broken up passes, and an interception. The 6-2, 195-pound veteran has good size and is great at getting physical, but he needs to be more consistent and he needs to be even more of a ball-hawker. He has come up with a decent career so far despite getting knocked out of his true freshman season with two detached retinas, but he has been around long enough to know what he's doing and he should hold down one side of the field.

On the other side of Rucker will be sophomore Johnny Adams, a nice-looking young player who has shoulder problems and ended up missing all of last year, but he's expected to be ready for the start of the year. Even though he's a bit thin at 5-11 and 170 pounds, he's a tough tackler with next level speed and big play potential. He came up with 21 tackles and two picks as a true freshman and he's expected to provide an instant boost.

Junior Trenton Robinson stepped up into a starting role during last year making 67 tackles with two broken up passes and a pick. He had problems with an ankle injury and missed two games, but he still finished fourth on the team in tackles highlighted by a 14-stop year against Purdue. At 5-10 and 190 pounds he's not huge for a free safety, but he's a great hitter and has excellent range. He was a top corner prospect, and now he has to use his athleticism and his ability to do more against the pass.

Senior Marcus Hyde started eight times last year, but he wasn't consistent and he was a backup for a stretch. The 6-0, 202-pound strong safety made 46 tackles, but he struggled way too much in pass coverage and wasn't the replacement the team needed for the loss of Otis Wiley. He's built more like a free safety, is great against decent ground games, and he can run, but he needs to prove he can do something when the ball is in the air.

Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Dana Dixon was named the Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year, and now the 6-2, 173-pounder will play a big role in the corner rotation. Tall, lanky, and fast, he has an interesting mix of skills and ability with the quickness to potentially be used as a return man. He'll start out working behind Johnny Adams, bout he could quickly see starting time.

Redshirt freshman Jairus Jones was one of the team's better recruits last year considered a top safety prospect from Florida. A great tackler who loves to hit, the 6-1, 215-pounder has the potential to be a big factor at strong safety and has just enough athleticism to be used at free safety. He's way too good a prospect to keep off the field.

5-11, 190-pound true freshman Isaiah Lewis is one of the team's top recruits with the potential to be a factor at safety right away. A great punt returner and good ball-hawker, he's a phenomenal athlete who's a willing tackler. The coaching staff will be fast-tracking him to be a part of the rotation.

The secondary needs as many athletic playmakers as possible, and the hope is for redshirt freshman Patrick White to make an impact as a backup free safety and possible nickel defender. After coming to MSU as a receiver, he turned into a star on the scout team before moving over to the defensive side. He has defensive back experience from high school and is a natural at going after the ball. Extremely smart, he has the potential to be a quarterback of the secondary.

Watch Out For … a fluid depth chart. The Spartans need production out of the secondary and aren't going to sit and spin on a starting foursome that isn't producing. This was a good area of recruiting over the last few years, and now there's promising depth.
Strength: Youth. There are plenty of new faces in the mix, and that's not a bad thing considering the secondary was 112th in the nation giving up 268 yards per game a year after allowing 213 yards per outing. Getting Adams back in the mix is a plus.
Weakness: Interceptions. Considering the pass rush was among the best in the Big Ten, the secondary didn't take advantage of the extra time. The Spartans tied for second-worst in the nation picking off just six passes.
Outlook: A disaster over the last two seasons, there's too much speed and too much athleticism to not be better after getting ripped apart by anyone who could throw a forward pass. It's a physical group that's nice against the run, but it has to be far better at picking off passes and has to do something to be a difference maker.
Unit Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: While there will be a battle for the starting kicker job, sophomore Dan Conroy has an edge after being used a little bit on kickoffs and hitting a 43 yarder against Montana State. While he doesn't have a cannon for a leg, he has accurate midrange ability and he should be a decent replacement for Brett Swenson, who hit 19-of-22 field goals. However, he'll have to battle hard to keep away Kevin Muma, a high school all-star and a great recruit with a big leg who should be able to bomb away from deep. He'll get any chance to take over.

The MSU punting game was decent last season with senior Aaron Bates averaging a rock-solid 41.6 yards per kick putting a whopping 23 kicks inside of the 20. He has a nice leg and a few years of experience, and while he might not quite be an all-star, he has the consistency the team needs.

Receiver Keshawn Martin was the main man for the return game coming up with a phenomenal year on kickoff returns helping lead the Spartans to the top spot in the Big Ten after averaging 28.9 yards per try with a score. He was also decent on punt returns, though not nearly as strong, averaging 7.4 yards per pop.

Watch Out For … the kicking battle to go on well into the first part of the season. Both Conroy and Muma can kick, but the consistency has to be there. The issue hasn't been settled.
Strength: Bates. While Martin is a weapon, especially on kickoff returns, Bates is one of the biggest keys for the special teams with 40+ yards per boot every time out and with the great accuracy to put the ball inside the 20.
Weakness: Brett Swenson. MSU played five games decided by six points or fewer with four of those decided by three points or less. Considering Swenson connected on 19-of-22 shots, the new kicker has some big shoes to fill.
Outlook: The special teams have always been great, at least in most areas, under Mark Dantonio, and with a little bit of tweaking, this year won't be any different as long as the Conroy/Muma situation is settled in a hurry. Everything else is great.
Unit Rating: 8

- 2010 Michigan State Preview | 2010 Michigan State Offense
- 2010 Michigan State Defense | 2010 Michigan State Depth Chart
- Michigan State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006