SPARTAN NATION EXCLUSIVE: Michigan State Defensive Line Coach Ron Burton Goes In Depth About Several Key Lineman Returning in 2014!
In his first year in East Lansing, defensive line coach Ron Burton turned a serviceable Michigan State defensive line into a great one. The coaching veteran brought a unique style that fit right in with the rest of the Spartan coaching staff.
As a result of Burton’s efforts, the MSU defensive line held 10 of its 13 opponents to under 100 rushing yards. And despite the loss of star defensive end William Gholston, the unit notched 11.5 more sacks and four more tackles for loss than last season.
With more talent inbound, the unit will remain strong despite losing key players such as Tyler Hoover, Micajah Reynolds and Denzel Drone. As long as Burton is coaching the defensive line, the Spartan Nation has little reason to worry.
Burton recently spoke with Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. on Spartan Nation Radio, discussing several members of his defensive line and analyzing how the position will look next year. Spartan Nation is well aware of star DEs Marcus Rush and Shilique Calhoun, so Hondo talked with Coach Burton about the other young men.
Burton began by talking about a young Spartan with special talent and loads of potential: Demetrius Cooper. The Chicago native was one of the top rated defensive line recruits in the nation before suffering a knee injury during his junior season in 2011. But the Spartan coaching staff was not deterred, offering him a scholarship and bringing him onboard.
Cooper redshirted this season, giving him four more years of eligibility. The youngster showed promise on the practice field, and now has to convert his play into a game.
“He’s been a kid who’s been out on the field with the scout team and he’s shown us flashes of what we’re looking for, like Shillique Calhoun,” Burton said. “He’s honing his skills down there and he’s made plays – he was player of the week a couple times. You put him in a game, you put him in scrimmage situations, he has the innate ability to make a play.
“He’s still a work in progress also, but it’s a great way for him to create an even better opportunity to crack the two-deep. He has the athleticism, he’s a two-sport, three-sport kid … he moves around, he shows he can work with his feet. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do after being on the scout team.”
Fellow class of 2013 defensive lineman Devyn Salmon is another youngster who will get a shot during spring ball.
Salmon followed in the footsteps of Drone, as both attended Plant City High School in Florida. Salmon did not receive much attention in the early stages of his recruiting process, but his stock quickly rose and before he knew it, the defensive tackle had 18 scholarship offers. In July 2012, he chose Michigan State.
His lower body strength has drawn comparisons between Salmon and Jerel Worthy. Salmon has plenty of potential. Now he has to develop his skills and take them to the next level.
“The lower body is what you’re looking for in a nose guard and he has a low center of gravity,” Burton said. “A lot of his weight is in his lower body. He’s shown that flash – that he can do what we ask him to do, we just need to assist him. He’s created through his own work an opportunity for himself, it’s what he does with it this spring. His lower body is exactly what we’re looking for, so we’re going to coach it up and take it to another level.”
While Noah Jones committed later than Salmon, this 6’3, 273 pound prospect is no less talented.
Jones played at the same high school that produced Lorenzo White: Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A highly respected lineman, Jones committed nearly a year ago. Redshirting this season, Jones watched and learned. He is ready for his shot.
“It’s totally different in the following year when you have an opportunity to do a little bit more in the spring and coach them up,” Burton said. “Hopefully we’re in for a big surprise with some of those guys and Noah Jones is one of them.”
Another player who hasn’t seen much of the playing field yet is David Fennell. A redshirt freshman, Fennell came in with the 2012 recruiting class as a highly touted defensive tackle.
With Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds taking many of the snaps at defensive tackle for the Spartans this season, Fennell didn’t see much action. He sat towards the back-end of the depth chart after older players such as junior James Kittredge and emerging star Damon Knox.
But with the graduation of both Hoover and Reynolds, Fennell will have chance to climb into the two-deep if he proves himself in practice.
“David is a kid who continues to grow,” Burton said. “He’s definitely going to have an opportunity to show what he can do, it’s going to be a big spring for him at the three technique inside. He’s shown he can get into things, it’s whether he can get things done consistently, but this is a big spring for him.”
One player who has shown vast improvement under Burton is sophomore defensive tackle Damon Knox.
The Muskegon, Michigan native moved up the depth chart and into the two deep behind Hoover. Knox has a great deal of promise, but he has to avoid injury. He managed to stay on the field for most of this season, racking up 22 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
“He’s a kid who’s had some injuries and had to overcome them,” Burton said. “He’s very strong at the point of attack, I think we’re going to see him at our shade [defensive tackle] position. This past spring and fall … he became [an] everyday player, he wasn’t on and off again, and being able to get some experience and playing time, he can only get better. So we want to knock on wood and hope he doesn’t get any injuries this spring because he can really help us this fall. I think the key to him having improvement is the fact that he was on the field and not on the sideline when he wasn’t injured.”
Fellow sophomore Mark Scarpinato has also struggled to overcome injuries. Scarpinato started to see the field more often this season as his talent started to shine through.
Burton has high hopes for Scarpinato, who will also have a shot to earn more playing time next season.
“He’s another kid who’s had some injury situations but has been fighting through it,” Burton said. “He’s tough as nails and what allowed him to play this fall was his smarts on the field and the fact that he didn’t get injured like he has been in the past. That alone should catapult him to getting more time on the field. He’s like a quarterback in the middle of the defense. But definitely it’s because of his consistency and being on the field that’s allowed him to play this year.”
One last Spartan to watch in 2014 is Joel Heath.
A sophomore from Cincinnati, Heath played sparingly behind Marcus Rush and Shilique Calhoun at defensive end in 2013. But Heath is poised to see more playing time next season thanks to his switch to defensive tackle.
Burton and the rest of the MSU defensive coaching staff have confidence that Heath can handle the switch and become a regular in the middle of the Spartans defensive line.
“He has all the tools, what we gotta be able to do is get him in a spot where we can turn him loose,” Burton said. “He can play any spot on the defensive line and we can put him at linebacker also. It’s a big chance for him to improve and be ready to gain a starting position. So yes, we are moving him inside, he is a fast kid for 280 pounds, he has a great motor. What he does this spring is put himself in a position to improve. He’s going to have a great opportunity to do that.”