EAST LANSING – Scottie Hazelton was handed a Michigan State defense with some big holes to fill.
MSU's new defensive coordinator took over a group losing seven starters and posted a 2-5 record in 2020 while surrendering a program high of 35.1 points per game.
Entering Mel Tucker's first spring camp, the Spartans had fewer starters to replace, yet Michigan State lost some key guys to the NFL and transfer portal.
"I think that it's normal to go in with one or two big question marks," said Hazelton. "Maybe we have more than that, or we're expecting more guys to come in."
Michigan State's Shakur Brown left following his junior season. In contrast, Naquan Jones and Antjuan Simmons declared for the draft instead of utilizing the extra season of eligibility provided by the NCAA.
However, the Spartans return seven starters on defense, including Jacub Panasiuk and Drew Beesley, who both decided to use the additional season. Moreover, four of the five defensive tackles are back, featuring Jacob Slade.
MSU also brought in defensive end Drew Jordan, a graduate transfer from Duke, with 48 appearances and 21 starts as a Blue Devil.
"I think the more guys that you have that can step on the field and play, the more it pushes them all ... That's the best way to motivate guys a lot of times, is just get them to be able to say, hey, there's another dude right here that can play," Hazelton said.
While the defensive line appears to be the Spartans' strength, it's quite the opposite at the linebacker and cornerback positions. Noah Harvey and Chase Kline are the only two linebackers on the roster with defensive experience. Simultaneously, Kalon Gervin and Angelo Grose are the only corners (on scholarship) returning from last year.
"It seems like in spring; you generally have a shortage somewhere … The good news is when those things happen, is the young guys get a ton of reps," said Hazelton. "And they get a chance to learn and grow, and you build some depth doing those things."
Michigan State added multiple defensive transfers in five cornerbacks Kendall Brooks, Spencer Rowland, Chester Kimbrough, Marqui Lowery, and Khary Crump, and two linebackers in Itayvion Brown and Ben VanSumeren. Those players, alongside the 2021 recruiting class, are set to join the program this summer.
"We can step on the field tomorrow and say, okay; we can put a starting 11 out there and, okay, we're in good shape now," Hazelton told reporters in a videoconference. "Now, can we put out the next 11? Well, we're still going to need to do some work on that; hopefully, we get some guys in that are going to fill that and add to the competition and raise everybody's bar or even maybe take some of those jobs."
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