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Opti King AKA Kevin Thomas Moves up From Guest Author to Now Frequent Contributor! His new blog: Green Lenses with the Opti King! Welcome Kevin!


I’ve been reading some media outlets saying this could be the best defensive line since 1999? Wow, that made me chuckle, especially since Jonal St Dic and Ervin Baldwin are moving on. These two guys harassed QB’s into submission last year and will be greatly missed. This line has more depth than last year and will probably play the run better, but I am not sold they can rush the passer as a unit with the consistency of last years effort. Plus, another loss along the front is run stopper Ogemdi Nwagbuo.


Despite the loss of Nwagbuo, the strength of the defensive line will be in the middle. Oren Wilson is a rising superstar at nose tackle, as is his back-up, Antonio Jeremiah, who has slimmed down quite a bit but still struggles with his weight; but finally passed the mandatory endurance test. Jeremiah is very strong, a former wrestler, and is just difficult to block, period. Ryan Wheat is making his move and has the opportunity to sneak up the depth chart in his battle with Jeremiah for PT. After that, things get a little shaky.


Justin Kershaw will start at DT, and Brandon Long will start at DE. Although both are improved, neither of these guys have the explosiveness or game changing ability of St. Dic or Baldwin, and that has to worry the Spartan brass. Kershaw has worked hard in the weight room and time will tell if that work will pay off. The line will be bolstered by the addition of highly touted DE transfer Trevor Anderson, and DE Ishmyl Johnson, who had some academic issues that needed to be cleared up. Anderson is a former 2nd Team All-Big East performer and is known for his pass rushing prowess. Johnson boasts a 420-bench press, 4.6 speed, and is a combination bull/ speed rusher and has a great first step. Regardless, depth is an issue as little used backups Todd Anderson, Johnathon Strayhorn, Colin Neely, Kevin Pickleman, and of course Wheat are in the mix.


The feisty and competitive Pickleman has a huge motor and is turning heads in fall camp in his push for playing time. Wheat is big and powerful and the coaches like his motor and his game as long as he keeps his pads low. Help could come from powerful Dwayne Holmes, who will likely backup Trevor Anderson, and from three highly-touted true freshmen in Tyler Hoover, who will backup Long at DE, as well as from DT Jerel Worthy, and DE Cameron Jude.

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I expect Hoover to make giant steps as a true freshman and see a lot of action. He plays with great emotion, doesn’t take plays off and will be an immediate contributor. Jude is intriguing because he had 41 tackles for loss a high school senior, but will need to listen and follow Coach Ken Mannie's edicts. Worthy has been known to harass a QB or two on the prep level in earning a reputation for putting heat on opposing signal callers.


Bottom Line: St Dic and Baldwin were “difference makers” and a big reason the Spartans won seven games last year. St Dic finished with 10 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss, and eight forced fumbles. Baldwin had 18.5 tackles for loss, and eight sacks, and that is a lot of production to replace. If the Spartans want to go from “first base to second base,” a Dantonio baseball analogy to describe a run at a championship, they are going to have to find a pass rush, and unless someone surprises, it’s not going to be easy.


So I’ll say this group will be a notch down compared to last year unless one of the newcomers surprises, and that could from Tyler Hoover at a DE position, as well as from Trevor Anderson. Anderson should negate the loss of one of the St. Dic-Baldwin tandem, and can help the young guys with his knowledge of the Narduzzi system, but will it be enough? Against the run the Spartans should be better, against the pass, they will need more than Anderson.

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