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Spring Game Preview: Defense!

This Saturday, the Michigan State defensive unit will look, as it always does under Pat Narduzzi (MSU's defensive coordinator) to respectfully, shove the rock down the offense's throat.


First and foremost, the defensive line needs to continue the progress it has made through spring camp. The line needs to squelch the running game, keep Keith Nichol contained and refuse to let Kirk Cousins sit back and pick them apart. For that last little bit, the defensive end position will be an interesting unit to watch.Â


Ervin Baldwin and Jonal St. Dic might have been tough acts to follow, but the Spartans needed more from the position last year. If MSU wants to raise the program to another level, developing an intimidating pass rush from year to year is vital.


Everyone knows what Trevor Anderson brings to the table: hustle, heart and determination. "Trevor Anderson is having a great spring and is a dominant performer for us," coach Mark Dantonio said at practice.


Anderson has the tools to dominate, but double teams can neutralize him, so finding a partner in crime on the opposite end of the line is imperative. A few candidates have emerged.


"I think Tyler Hoover is having a great spring," Dantonio said. "We've moved David Rolf to defensive end and he's an explosive guy, quick. Colin Neely is having a good spring." Anderson compliments Dantonio's assessment, saying Colin Neely has been "stepping up, big time."Â


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As for the interior, Anderson points to red shirt freshman Jerel Worthy as a player capable of filling the hole left from the departed Justin Kershaw. Worthy has had a strong spring, and both Michael Jordan (6-foot-5, 295), because of his size, and Ishmyl Johnson (6-foot-5, 272) will be an intriguing player to watch as they settle into a position they only recently moved to. Jordan's size will be particularly important, filling a need left open when Antonio Jeremiah switched to the offensive side of the ball.


"I think our linebackers are playing very well," Dantonio said. And, really, that's all that needs to be said at this point. On Saturday afternoon, the linebackers, led by Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, will look to stay healthy and hone communication with the rest of the defense. Brandon Denson, slotted as the third starter, will need to show he’s capable of becoming a consistent performer on the field. If the unit is a non-story, it's probably good news.


The secondary will be deep, that's for certain. Safety continues to be a concern, although that was said last season and role players made the transition to starter without much of a hiccup; Dan Fortener filled in well after the loss of presumed starter Roderick Jenrette. But some of the biggest shoes to fill will be where Otis Wiley roamed in the MSU secondary. His loss at safety rivals that of Javon Ringer and Brian Hoyer on offense, so it shouldn't be very surprising Trenton Robison has moved from corner to safety to bulk up the unit. So far, the transition looks promising.


"Trenton Robinson is playing very well at safety," Dantonio said. He also fingered cornerback Chris L. Rucker as a leader through spring camp after a productive off season.


At safety, Marcus Hyde is another player looking to transform himself into a Big Ten starter, and Brynden Trawick, the red shirt freshman from Georgia, is a big time hitter who will have every opportunity to secure a spot in the rotation. He'll have a golden opportunity to distinguish himself this Saturday.


And corner should have a deep rotation as well. Ross Weaver returns for his final season, a steady contributor who brings boatloads of experience. Johnny Adams has incredible technique, but he's still a bit green, so showing what he can do in scrimmages is imperative.


"They understand things conceptually," Dantonio said about MSU's secondary. "And they're tackling well. So when those two things happen, you have chance to be pretty good back there."