B1G Football Preview: Michigan State Part 2 Defense
Coordinator: Pat Narduzzi
Narduzzi won the Broyles Award last year as the nation’s top assistant. He is ready for a BCS head job right now. He has three assistants in Mike Tressel, Ron Burton and Harlon “DA BANG STICK” Barnett. All three RIGHT NOW are head coach material, great recruiters and fine men. There are some great defensive staff’s in the nation, but NONE better than MSU. Years from now we will look back at this group with great respect.
The name of the game on the defensive interior this year is speed. Joel Heath and Damon Knox are your starters. Heath moves to the inside from the DE spot. He has added bulk, but remains fast. His speed is the outlier with him. Heath has a major NFL upside if he can play with confidence. Knox saw significant time last year and got better each game. He is also a big body that has deceptive speed and he is strong. Backing them up are James Kittredge and Brandon Clemmons. Three true freshmen have a shot at some significant reps on the interior this year. David Beedle and Craig Evans both have some things to improve physically, but both are exceptional players. Enoch Smith, Jr. was rated by Spartan Nation as the #1 player in the class and players and coaches alike are raving about the talent he has shown off just since arriving.
Perhaps the most heralded freshman member of the 2014 Spartan #1 Defensive line class in the nation was Malik McDowell. He is going to be listed on the depth chart at DE, but could switch inside. He is very talented, but what many forget is like Beedle, Evans and Smith he is a true freshman. That means he has a way to go to get into BCS shape on a team that is expected to compete for some lofty goals. Montez Sweat is a fellow freshman and he has very impressive skills as is Robert Bowers. At least one and maybe two of these three youngsters will get a shot, but it won’t be easy.
Marcus Rush and Shilique Calhoun are your starters and may be the best combo unit in the nation. Rush has NFL ability, but needs to use it every down. Calhoun is a physical freak who was a first round draft pick last year and still chose to come back. Demetrious Cooper was once rated the #1 player in the nation for the 2014 class and Spartan Nation has discussed this ad nausea. His physical ability is raw, but unmatched by ANYONE on the Spartans’ heralded defense. He has drawn comparisons to Hall of Fame 49ers pass rush specialist Charles Haley. The exception is that Cooper is hungry to learn and they think he could be an elite run stopper as well. He needs to get bigger, but he will get reps.
Lawrence Thomas has fought injury, but has frankly been a disappointment. A good kid, he has to display a love for the game. No one should play injured, but everyone is hurt. He needs to learn that time is running out on what should have been a promising career. Thomas has been given chances at four positions (TE, FB, DT, DE) and has yet to stick. Evan “BULLDOZER” Jones made the switch from TE to DE and although that is a very steep learning curve, he will have a shot to get reps. Some believe he may be one more year away from becoming a regular. His work ethic makes it mandatory NOT to cross him off any list. Again any of the three freshman, if Thomas can step up, could get some playing time.
As the Spartans look to improve their speed, one needs to look no further than the middle. A battle is going on in the middle and many inside the program expect speedy Darien Harris to win it. Harris was clocked at sub 4.4 speed earlier in his career. While they experimented with Taiwan Jones moving over in the spring, that did not go well. Harris has spent a ton of time in the film room, weight room, and doing any extra work he can. With Harris the question has never been ability, it has been want to and hunger. All signs point to that Dawg wanting to eat. If Harris wins the middle, Jones on the outside, and the underrated Ed Davis would round out the starters. Davis is a thumper. He is the guy you want with you in a dark alley. A great kid off the field, he is a headhunting stone cold killer on the field. He is brutal and shows no mercy. Watch his wake for bodies now that he finally gets his shot.
Riley Bullough is back on the defense after the miserable experiment with him at RB last season. He is joined by Jon Reschke and Shane Jones. Both of those young men are talented, but very young. Here is a name to remember: Chris Frey, Jr. This staff is in love with the speedy OLB and he has a legit shot to play early having enrolled early. He has great vision, terrific footwork, and a love for the game that has him getting kicked out of the Duffy rather than encouraged to visit. He may not impact this season, but don’t bet against him and know this for sure. When Frey’s career is done here, he will play on Sundays. He is a special talent and he has assimilated easy to the team. One senior describing him to be as, “It feels like he has been here my entire time. He’s a good dude and a great player.”
Lastly, Byron Bullough and Deon Drake are going to be great players as well, but Coach Tressel told me that other than Frey, “It’s going to be awfully difficult for any of the freshman to have an impact.”
Two other names I need to mention. Pat Rhomberg is a walk-on player who is well respected by his teammates. I am NOT calling for him to have a break out year in 2014, but like Kyler Elsworth, I think he has a chance to be special. Mylan Hicks has bounced around and never really found a home. This is his last chance, but the young man needs to start camp day one on a mission.
Trae Waynes is the best in the nation. The quiet youngster has a million dollar Madison Avenue smile and the football skills of an elite player. Not as good as Darqueze Dennard was last year, he has the chance to get better. He makes plays, has a short memory, and is one of the easiest players to coach. He craves getting better and is a great leader for the young players.
Darian Hicks emerged last year as a true freshman and one coach told me last year, “He won’t play that much this year as a number two on our depth chart, but he is better than Queze was as a freshman. The difference was we didn’t have the depth when Queze was a freshman.” The gregarious youngster loves the game and has no fear. He will go after balls that other cornerbacks avoid because they are afraid of a mistake. Perhaps he is TOO FEARLESS, but he isn’t an ego maniac. I doubt he will catch Waynes this year as the best CB on the team, but when his career is over I won’t be shocked if he is better than both Waynes and Dennard.
Arjen Colquhoun, like Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings, is his own worst enemy. There is no doubt when you watch him play he truly is blessed with terrific God-given talent. He is a lights out player, but he needs to grow up. If Colquhoun grows up and focuses on the game and gets serious, he can be a great tool for Harlon Barnett, but if he doesn’t he will ride the bench. It is totally up to him.
Jermaine Edmondson is another player with exceptional talent. No one has ever questioned that. He is also a great kid, but like Darien Harris they are waiting for the light to come on for him; for him to look in the mirror and really notice how blessed he is. He has ALL of the tools, and now he has to grow into them. Justin Williams is another young man with some special tools. He is very young and very talented. That being said, he has great potential. All he has to do is give everything he has with so many older guys ahead of him. If one of those men takes a rep off, he needs to take every chance he can to prove himself. Williams needs to be opportunistic and take each practice and treat it like the Rose Bowl.
Lastly, Vayante Copeland is a true freshman. To say the staff loves this kid would be an understatement. He has a chance like Hicks and Dennard to move up early in his career into the playing rotation. I am not predicting it, there is far more talent here now, but don’t bet against him. I was told two weeks ago he could have the rawest talent of anyone in the Spartans defensive meeting room, and he has drive and charisma that will push those ahead of him on the depth chart. He isn’t here looking for a fraternity, he has eyes on the NFL and the God-given talent to get there.
The best one in the nation is a Spartan and that is Kurtis Drummond. He is great player and a better young man. He has come so far since touching down in East Lansing. He is not just a winner in football; he will be a winner in life. He has come a long way and is loved by his team. Early in his career I would have been shocked to say it, but it is 100% true. Drummond is a classic example of someone who comes to MSU a kid and will truly leave here a man.
R.J. Williamson is a young man who has lit up the highlight tapes before and then disappears. If he can keep his focus on the gridiron this could be the best one two punch in the B1G. He has great instincts and has to learn to play better without thinking and trusting those instincts.
Demetrious Cox is an elite player that hasn’t seen the field much because he has had some great players ahead of him. He is a stud and will be firmly planted in the two deep. He will push Williamson and that will be a battle to watch. Jalyn Powell and Mark Meyers are two young men who have turned some heads. Powell plays like Nehemiah Warrick did. He is just a fierce killer on the loose. He has to learn to play more disciplined, but he has the makings of a star. He needs to understand not every play is going to jack someone up. Take the big hit when there, but sometimes just make the simple play. Montae Nicholson is very young, but may be the most talented of them all. His youth will work against him with so many good players ahead of him. He seems almost certain to redshirt, but that is a Christmas present, because he could be the next great one.