The defense for Michigan State will have to play well in order for the Spartans to be that dark horse in the Big Ten. We know the offense is going to score a ton of points and the defense must be able to hold their own and stop the other team when needed (especially at the end of the game!). This seems to be a theme with MSU football, but this year I believe the defense will come to play week in and week out, taking some pressure off of the offense. With seven returning starters and a linebacking unit that ranks amongst the best in the nation, the defense will be counted on to make plays and win games for the Spartans.
It all starts with the linebackers and 2 time All American MLB Greg Jones. He plays from sideline to sideline and is a tackling machine. Last year, he was third in the nation with 154 tackles. He was picked as this year’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten, and if he can live up to the hype and expectations, the defense should soar. On his strong side is four year starter Eric Gordon. He had a breakout season last year with 92 tackles, making key plays all over the field. There is so much depth and experience at linebacker that the Spartans may even switch to a 3-4. If this is the case, fifth year senior Jon Misch and sophomore Chris Norman will see plenty of action. Norman is expected to start at the STAR linebacker (weakside LB), which is a hybrid spot that takes advantage of speed and Misch is a backup behind Gordon.
Also, two true freshmen will come in and contribute right away on defense. William Gholston, MSU’s first five-star recruit EVER, played DE in high school, but will be a linebacker/defensive end hybrid for State. At 6-6 250 lbs., he will help with a pass defense that ranked 112th in the country last year. He has the body, athleticism and skill to be a difference maker for 4 years. LB Max Bullough participated in spring ball and solidified himself as part of the linebacking rotation based on his play. He will back up Jones at MLB and should see plenty of action on special teams and in 4 linebacker sets.
The success of the defense will hinge in the most part on how well the defensive line and secondary play. Last year, the defense allowed 42 touchdown passes and had only 6 interceptions. These are both terrible numbers and they must be improved upon for this team to win more games. The good news is that numerous young players return for both units this year. Four year starter Chris L. Rucker returns at the boundary corner, while speedy sophomore Johnny Adams is the projected starter at the field corner. Rucker needs to improve his ball skills because most of the time he is in the right position, but he does not make many plays with the ball in the air. If he can adjust and learn how to play the ball, this corner tandem could become one of the best in the Big Ten. Both safeties, SR. Marcus Hyde and JR. Trenton Robinson, return in the secondary. They have been shaky in the past, but having another year of experience under their belts should better serve them this year. Also in the mix and drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff are two true freshmen, CB Mylan Hicks of Detroit and CB Darqueze Dennard of Georgia. Coach Dantonio said that Hicks could have played last season due to injuries in the secondary, so both will add depth and competition to the position.
The defensive line must be able to create a better pass rush without blitzes and put more pressure on the quarterback this year. Even though the defensive line returns two starters, someone must step up as a difference maker at the defensive end position. The tackles will be solid with talented sophomores Jerel Worthy and Blake Treadwell returning. Both saw significant playing time last year and both are stars in the making. They combined for 48 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 5 sacks a season ago as freshman and they will only get better with time. Gholston should help with the pass rush also, along with returning starter Colin Neely at defensive end. If neither of these guys can get the job done, then sophomore Tyler Hoover and freshman Denzel Drone will have first crack at the starting job.
The Spartans have experience and depth on the defensive side of the ball and this can only mean good things for the 2010 season. The defense should be a solid unit, but whether they can lead MSU to a Big Ten Championship is still yet to be determined…
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Written by David Lesmeister