Michigan State Football: Defensive Depth Chart Prediction
In a year where the defense failed to meet their own expectations after finishing first in the nation against the run and landing in the top-10 for scoring defense and total defense in 2018; Michigan State leaves the season behind losing eight defenders who entered the year as starters and are now looking for their replacements.
Last week, Spartan Nation projected what the offensive side of the ball would look like come kickoff against Northwestern on September 5.
Now, we focus on the defense.
Starters: DE Jacub Panasiuk, sr.; DE Jack Camper, jr.; DT Naquan Jones, sr.; DT Jacob Slade, so.
Reserves: DE Michael Fletcher, r-fr.; DE Drew Beesley, sr.; DE Zach Slade, so.; DE DeAri Todd, jr.; DT Jalen Hunt, r-fr.; DT Dashaun Mallory, so.; DT Simeon Barrow, fr.
Raequan Williams, Mike Panasiuk, and Kenny Willekes are all gone and will be hard to replace.
Michigan State's top returner is Jacub Panasiuk, a two-year starter who will become a leader for the Spartan defense and is the most obvious choice to replace Willekes.
The senior has 80 tackles, 18.5 for a loss, four forced fumbles, and eight sacks in 38 games as a Spartan.
MSU used rotated four players at defensive tackle last year with Naquan Jones and Jacob Slade seeing the majority of the action.
Both of them are now poised to take over as the starters.
Slade posted 14 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, and one sack in 13 games last year. Whereas, Jones, a redshirt senior, has 54 career tackles, 7.5 for a loss, and three sacks throughout his time in East Lansing. However, beyond them, Michigan State has little experience at the position.
Dashaun Mallory is the only other defensive tackle with in-game experience, and even then, it's a small sample size (two games, one recorded tackle). Jalen Hunt and Simeon Barrow, both young and talented players, should battle for playing time at DT.
Starters: Middle LB Noah Harvey, jr.; Weakside LB Antjuan Simmons, jr.; Strongside LB Chase Kline, so.
Reserves: Middle LB Luke Fulton, r-fr.; Weakside LB Jeslord Boateng, so.; Marcel Lewis, r-fr.
Michigan State's Joe Bachie was ineligible in October after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, ending his career at MSU. Tyriq Thompson, a two-year starter graduated, while Brandon Bouyer-Randle and Edward Warinner both transferred.
In his first season as a starter, Simmons led the Spartans with 90 tackles, and after Bachie was no longer eligible, Harvey joined the starting lineup.
If Harvey takes over at middle linebacker this year, Chase Kline, a redshirt freshman, should become the starter on the strong-side. Fulton is also a candidate for the middle; however, he didn't play in 2019.
Jeslord Boateng was Simmons' backup and played in 11 games this past season, whereas Lewis saw snaps in three total contests – eventually taking a redshirt.
Starters: CB Shakur Brown, jr.; CB Kalon Gervin, so.; SS Xavier Henderson, jr.; FS Tre Person, sr.
Reserves: CB Julian Barnett, so.; CB Davion Williams, so.; CB Chris Jackson, so.; S Dominique Long, sr.; S Michael Dowell, so.; S Darius Snow, fr.
Former Spartan Josiah Scott left for the NFL, and Josh Butler graduated, leaving two big holes in the secondary.
Shakur Brown missed six straight games in 2019 due to an injury before returning for the final five. He's the Spartans' most experienced corner and should be a starter. So, who will be alongside him?
Julian Barnett finished the year with 13 receptions and 182 yards in 13 games but is currently listed as a CB on the 2020 spring football roster. He can play both positions, and I'm assuming he will play a more significant role on defense this fall.
I have Gervin ahead of Barnett on the depth chart, although the two are interchangeable. The redshirt freshman had eight tackles in 10 games, along with one start against Ohio State. Both should battle for the spot.
Tre Person will most likely take over for David Dowell at the free safety spot, and Michael Dowell can be used in a multitude of ways and will find himself getting more playing time in 2020.