Skip to main content

Michigan State defensive line: One Thing I Like, One Thing I Don't

The Spartans' D-line has an anchor in fifth-year senior Jacob Slade...

College football season continues to inch closer, and the Michigan State Spartans have completed their first week of summer conditioning.

We're still a little over two months away from the start of fall camp, and the Spartans are preparing for the inevitable position battles that will take place ahead of the season-opener against Western Michigan on Sept. 2.

Over the past couple weeks, Spartan Nation has been taking an in-depth look at every position group on Michigan State's roster and pointing out one thing we like, one thing we don't and one thing to keep an eye on.

With the offensive side of the ball complete, we know turn our attention to the defense. We'll start with a unit that has excellent production returning in 2022 — Defensive Line

One Thing I Like

As mentioned above, the Spartans have some key contributors returning this season, and that starts with fifth-year senior defensive tackle Jacob Slade.

Slade was named the sixth-best returning interior defensive lineman in all of college football by Pro Football Focus, following an outstanding 2021 campaign. He earned PFF's third-best overall grade (86.1) of any interior defensive lineman last season, and ranked in the Top 10 in both pressures generated (40) and run stops (27).

Slade was one of six Power Five defensive tackles to earn grades above 75.0 as both a run-defender and a pass-rusher, and three of those six players are off to the NFL. The Spartans' defensive line has an anchor in the 6-foot-4, 315-pounder.

Michigan State also returns its other starting defensive tackle from 2021, Simeon Barrow. The redshirt sophomore is healthy again after he missed the final three games last season due to injury. Barrow collected 34 tackles and three sacks for the Spartans in 2021.

In addition to Slade and Barrow, MSU also returns redshirt junior Maverick Hansen, who played in all 13 games for the Spartans last season and made three starts while Barrow was out due to injury. Hansen had a career-high 3.5 sacks in 2021.

Moving to the edge, Michigan State also brings back junior defensive end Jeff Pietrowski, who also played in every game in 2021 and made three starts. The Spartans lost its two primary starting defensive ends — Jacub Panasuik and Drew Beasley — this offseason, but MSU gets an experienced player back at the position in Pietrowski, who took first-team reps with the club during spring practice.

To recap, Michigan State brings back four key pieces to what was a darn good defensive line unit in 2021, and that's an excellent foundation for new D-line coach Marco Coleman to work with.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

One Thing I Don't

Even with all of the returning production above, particularly at defensive tackle, Michigan State still has some question marks at defensive end heading into 2021.

We noted Pietrowski's return above, but other than the junior, no other defensive end on the roster had more than 10 tackles for the Spartans last season.

Michigan State added Florida transfer Khris Bogle, who primary played linebacker for the Gators, this offseason. He's expected to be a frontrunner to start at defensive end in 2022.

Bogle has played a lot of football, having appeared in 34 games through three collegiate seasons. Though, while his numbers are solid they don't really jump out at you. He averaged 22 tackles and 2.7 sacks per season at Florida.

The Spartans return redshirt junior Michael Fletcher and senior Branden Wright, both of whom saw limited action in 2021.

None of this is to say that Michigan State will be weak at defensive end in 2022. It's just that many of these players have not had opportunities to showcase their abilities yet, which creates unknowns.

Mel Tucker went out and made a splash hire in pass-rush specialist Brandon Jordan this offseason. We know that Jordan is going to help the Spartans recruit, and we'll get an idea of how much of an impact he makes on the field when we see these defensive ends in action this fall.

One Thing To Keep An Eye On

Michigan State's highest-ranked recruit in the class of 2022 was four-star defensive end Alex VanSumeren, who also chose to early enroll and participate in spring practice with the Spartans this March/April.

It will be interesting to see if VanSumeren can make his way into the rotation at D-tackle in 2022, given the returning depth at the position. The true freshman was a Top 200 recruit, and is the younger brother of MSU linebacker Ben VanSumeren.

In addition, true freshman defensive end Chase Carter was also an early enrollee this spring for the Spartans. The three-star recruit out of Minneapolis has a clearer path towards playing time with the uncertainty surrounding the defensive end position, and he's a player to watch for at the position.

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: (Quarterbacks, Running backs, Wide Receiver, Offensive Line, Tight End, Defensive Line).

Twitter: @mlounsberry_SI