There is an old adage in politics that has a challenger asking the American people if they are better off on Election Day than they were on the past election day.Â If the Spartan Nation sets aside unrealistic expectations and simply asks if this program is better today than when JLS was fired the answer is simple and easy:Â Without a doubt.
Last season was a disappointment, but it was not a set back.Â Avoiding a set back was critical in year three.Â For the 2010 season I am predicting the Spartans record at 8-4.Â Here are five critical reasons that I think you can be fired up for Spartan Football as the season inches closer.
1)Â Â Â Â Â A better defensive line will make the defensive back play significantly better.Â People ranted and raved about poor production in the defensive backfield last year and it lacked production no doubt.Â What some fail to recognize is that when the Spartans failed to get up front pressure from the front four they had to blitz.Â They blitzed often and when you canâ€™t get pressure you have to.Â If I were the DC, I would have blitzed also because the alternative of no pressure would have made the year worse.Â The front four of the Spartans will be much better and with a blitzing LB making it a five man rush, the Spartans will see more six man coverage in their backfield and that is good news.Â How many routes did teams run when a LB was blitzing and a hole opened in coverage?Â The Spartans front four has been great this summer and that improvement will help the DB.Â
2)Â Â Â Â Â Better kickoffs.Â Brett Swenson is a great kid and money as a field goal kicker.Â No one was able to beat him last year, but Kevin Muma, Dan Conroy and Mike Sadler are all better right now than Swenson was last year. They are battling for consistency this summer.Â I expect kickoffs to be better and that not only helps with field position for the defense, it allows the offense to get the ball back with better position and shortens field goals.Â
3)Â Â Â Â Â Depth.Â The Spartan depth is young, but amazingly strong.Â Let me give you an example.Â Had Greg Jones sustained an injury last season and been unable to play the Spartans would have been sunk.Â We all know one player does not make a team, but a loss of Jones would have been significant and the team would have gone from six wins to as few as four.Â In 2010 of course, we donâ€™t want to see it, but a Jones loss could be sustained and I wouldnâ€™t lower my prediction for wins one bit.Â The same can be said at multiple positions.Â Sure that depth is young, but that depth is finally here and with each rep, practice and game improves.
4)Â Â Â Â Â Brad Salem.Â Anyone with a brain knows the critical importance of the running game in a Mark Dantonio system.Â Last year it wasnâ€™t good.Â Brad Salemâ€™s impact on the running game is beyond significant.Â He is the single biggest addition to this team this season.Â More than any recruit, more than any defensive or offensive scheme changes.Â Salem has restored confidence and swagger to his running backs.Â Donâ€™t believe me?Â â€œCoach Salem has had such a big impact on me.Â Edwin and I are close and have really become students of the game.Â Not just what running backs do, but the entire team,â€ Larry Caper.Â â€œI canâ€™t tell you how big he has been for me.Â I am a better running back because of how he teaches the game and I think people will see what he means right away,â€ Edwin Baker.Â â€œCoach Salem has really got those guys learning to trust us and know that we will take care of our end even if they donâ€™t see it when they cut,â€ D.J. Young.Â Salem has his unit trusting him, hungry for more and on their own watching extra film, studying and working out.Â He is cut in the mold of Mark Dantonio in that he wonâ€™t brag about himself, but his quiet confidence has been instilled in his backs.
5)Â Â Â Â Â Better Offensive Line.Â D.J. Young was very good at the right tackle last year and will be an upgrade over Rocco Cironi in 2010 at the critical left tackle spot.Â Joel Foreman is the best LG in football and is only improved in 2010 with more practices and reps. Many feel (myself included) that John Stipek outplayed Joel Nitchman last year.Â Regardless, he had the best off-season of any player on this team and think about this, Nate Klatt his backup is a star.Â Klattâ€™s inability to beat out Stipek is more praise for Stipek than a knock on Klatt.Â Klatt is a tremendous football player and will have a phenomenal career.Â At the right guard Chris â€œMAGNUSâ€ McDonald is an upgrade over Brendon Moss.Â Moss had mental mistakes that really hurt.Â Magnus is stronger, faster, and will make some young mistakes, but will be a major upgrade at that spot.Â Jâ€™Michael Deane has won the RT spot at this point.Â He is not better right now than D.J. Young was last year, but he is a solid player and combined with solidifying the left side with Young the tackle combo is better.Â Donâ€™t forget Ruhland, Hueter, Deyo, McGaha and Barrent.Â All of them are capable of playing and playing at a high level.Â If there are injuries or failure to develop anywhere on the starting unit, all of these fine young men are ready and there will not be a let down.
Those are five big reasons to be fired up.Â Tomorrow we will look at five concerns to be watching for in 2010.Â