2011 class in the spotlight at MSU

The signees from 2011 dominate the initial spring depth chart, a class Mark Dantonio lauded as possibly the strongest class MSU had signed back when the ink dried in 2011. Two stars already emerged, who might be next?

On signing day 2011, Mark Dantonio did little to hide his excitement over 21 athletes the Spartans signed in their recruiting class.

Now, three years later and heading into spring ball, his comments that day may have been telling.

"It's a great class for us," he said back in 2011. "Quite frankly, this may be the strongest class we've signed."

Twenty of the players wound up on campus in the fall of 2011 and only junior college offensive tackle Fou Fonoti and linebacker Taiwan Jones saw immediate playing time.

Heading into Tuesday's first spring practice, 16 of the 2011 signees remain on the Michigan State roster – but it's the prominence on the roster that points back to Dantonio's words three years ago.

Quarterback Connor Cook is coming back as the starter after winning the battle in fall camp last year, but with momentum.

"You've got an MVP quarterback back, and not just one game but in two games," Dantonio said. "You've got to feel confident in our quarterback situation."

No one burst onto the Big Ten scene with more emphasis than defensive end Shilique Calhoun last year, who was named the Big Ten's defensive lineman of the year.

But now it is the depth of the 2011 recruiting class that is ready to shine. The initial spring depth chart gave proof of what was brought in back on that signing day.

Eight of the 11 depth-chart topping defensive players were brought in during the 2011 class, with the other three remaining on the roster are listed as the No. 2 at their position.

Jones is the lone senior by class in the group and is entering his third year as a starter – second as a full-time starter. He is joined by Darien Harris and Ed Davis in the linebacker corps.

Cornerback Trae Waynes returns to start for a second year, while R.J. Williamson leads the way to replace Isaiah Lewis at strong safety.

Up front, Calhoun is joined by defensive tackles Damon Knox and Joel Heath as members of the 2011 class in the trenches.

On offense, two of the offensive linemen expected to help keep Cook on his feet also signed that day. Center Jack Allen, who is a returning starter, and right tackle Donavon Clark, who has a handful of starts and plenty of snaps in his career, both top their positions on the depth chart.

Add it all up and the depth chart is dominated by the current fourth-year players. All-in-all, 12 of 22 spots have a No. 1 that is a redshirt junior – fullback Trevon Pendleton also came on board with the 2011 group.

So while the "strongest class we've signed" comment tends to be an annual lip service paid to a recruiting class, the 2011 class from Michigan State is out to prove itself even more.

Calhoun and Cook already emerged as breakout players last year, who will it be this year?

The options are many and, quite frankly, it could be more than one again.

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