What is the story of MSU linebacking? Speed and more speed. The Spartans lose Kaleb Thornhill and Sir Darean Adams, but have plenty returning to offset those losses. Greg Jones was an All-Everything linebacker as a true freshman, and returns to wreak havoc on opposing ball carriers by getting great penetration. Jones started the spring listed as the starting SAM linebacker, but started the fall at MIKE linebacker and can play either position, as Narduzzi and Tressel want to get their best three backers on the field regardless of position.
If Jones plays in the middle, this allows Eric Gordon to move to SAM, and Ryan Allison to step into the starting lineup at the WILL spot. Yet, it is the emergence of Adam Decker this fall that may move Jones back to an outside spot. Decker is tough, and will do a great job in whatever capacity he is given. Denson on the other hand just shows what hard work will do for a player and he is fast, having run the 110 and 300 hurdles in high school. He is a good open field tackler and has the ability to play at this level.
Another surprise is the play of former wide receiver Ryan Allison. Allison is extremely athletic, fast (4.4), and has drawn Kirk Gibson like comparisons for his toughness. He has made a smooth switch to linebacker, is playing well, and should get plenty of reps in the fall and may be inching ahead of Denson.
As far as whether Jones starts in the middle or on the outside, you have to remember, depth charts donâ€™t mean much and often can be used to motivate some players to play better, so things may change here in that they are trying to motivate Decker, Allison, or Denson to step it up.
Additional help will come from four impressive freshmen, all from Ohio. The most impressive of the four includes Steve Gardiner, who Dantonio has compared to AJ Hawk, the former Ohio State star. Jamiihr Williams is another newcomer that is no slouch when it comes to making big plays. He had 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks as a high school senior and can step up and fill the gaps. Rounding out this core of four are freshmen David Rolf, who has been very impressive this fall and can play the middle, and Drew Stevens. All four will be pushing for playing time and showing they can contribute. Stevens is intriguing because he played a lot of offense in high school and could spend some time at FB in short-yardage situations, or play TE for MSU. He was the fastest shuttle cone player at summer camp and has a 34" vertical jump to show you his explosiveness. He might be the guy that makes the big plays on defense ala Adams as he has a nose for the football. One thing is for sure, these four freshmen are big time athletes.
Bottom Line: Although the Spartans lose the steady and experienced Thornhill, and the big play capability of Adams, MSU has plenty of talent and depth, and I might add, plenty of speed. This is among the fastest groups in the Big Ten, and there is enough depth with the newcomers to allow Josh Rouse to move to fullback to start the fall camp. So with that said, I believe this group will be better than last yearâ€™s group. Jones should continue to impress, and the starters and backups are solid if unspectacular. It seems that Jones is
especially effective coming off the edge and blitzing and yet it would be nice to keep him in the middle and get more speed into the game with Allison or Denson. This is good news for the Spartans and they will have a lot of options here based on the situation.
Give this group a two thumbs up by seasons end if they stay healthy, and donâ€™t be surprised if Gardiner or one of the other true freshman moves up the depth chart quickly. Not sure if there is a player here who has the big play ability of Adams, but we will find out.