Mid-way through the month of June, most of the focus and attention surrounding Michigan State football pertains to the program's recruiting efforts, which have been very fruitful.
However, behind the scenes, the Spartans who are already enrolled and on campus have been going to work in the midst of summer conditioning.
As the 2022 season-opener against Western Michigan approaches, Spartan Nation has been breaking down each position group and identifying one thing we like, one thing we don't and something to keep an eye on.
With just a couple position groups to go, we move on to the most-criticized unit on Michigan State's roster a year ago: Cornerback
One Thing I Like
Michigan State's cornerbacks were mostly inexperienced in 2021, and the group took it's lumps. However, every major contributor from last year's position group is back this season, and they bring with them a lot of experience.
The Spartans also hit the transfer portal and brought in a talented option in former a Georgia Bulldog, Ameer Speed. The graduate senior brings with him first-hand experience of what a national championship defense looks like and he's expected to play a major role for Michigan State this season.
Speed took first team reps at corner throughout spring practice opposite redshirt sophomore Marqui Lowery, who appeared in seven games and started two in 2021.
Senior Chester Kimbrough took first team snaps at nickelback this spring. He appeared in 12 games with 11 starts in 2021, and finished the year with 40 tackles, three pass-breakups, one sack, an interception, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Michigan State also returns senior Ronald Williams and sophomore Charles Brantley, who appeared in eight games in 2021 before suffering a season-ending injury in his lone start against Purdue.
I like the pieces that the Spartans have at corner, but perhaps the biggest development this offseason was head coach Mel Tucker's decision to personally coach the cornerbacks room this Fall.
Tucker has extensive knowledge as a defensive backs coach, having served as a position coach with those units at Miami (OH), LSU and Ohio State in the late 90s and early 2000s, winning a national championship with the Buckeyes in 2002.
Tucker was also a defensive backs coach in the NFL from 2005-07, before being promoted to defensive coordinator. Upon returning to college football in 2015, Tucker served as the DBs coach at Alabama. He has an excellent track record coaching this position, and it's sure to provide improvement for Michigan State in 2022.
One Thing I Don't
Bringing everyone back from a unit that struggled the prior season is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, it's great to have all of that experience back but, on the other hand, these players need to make vast improvements at their position in order for the Spartans to reach the level of success they're striving for.
Michigan State was dead-last in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (337.7) in 2021. It was the Achilles' heel for the Spartans in losses against Purdue and Ohio State, and was a big reason why they fell behind by 16 points to Michigan.
I think this unit will improve in 2022, but how much they improve will determine how successful Michigan State will be defensively this Fall.
One Thing To Keep An Eye On
Michigan State aggressively recruited defensive back talent in the 2022 recruiting cycle, and that's continued so far with the 2023 class. The Spartans landed three-star corners Caleb Coley and Ade Willie last cycle, and already have commitments from four-star Chance Rucker and three-star Eddie Pleasant III in 2023.
Obviously, it's going to take time for these freshmen and prospects to make their way on to the field, but it will be interesting to see if Michigan State can return to the days of the "No Fly Zone", or at least resemble those times.
The defensive backfield was arguably the crown jewel of the Mark Dantonio era, but it's been some time since the Spartans had that kind of talent in the secondary. With Tucker leading the charge, those days could be making a comeback.
In Case You Missed It
This article is part of a series examining every position group on Michigan State's roster. You can find the other position groups that Spartan Nation has already covered here: (Quarterback, Running back, Wide Receiver, Offensive Line, Tight End, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Cornerback).