Analysis: Shilique Calhoun returns to MSU

The Spartans standout defensive end elected to come back for one more, so what is the impact of his decision for Michigan State next year and moving forward?

Michigan State got a big boost Sunday afternoon when Shilique Calhoun made an announcement about his future: He will have one more year in East Lansing.

Shortly thereafter, Mark Dantonio expressed what it meant to the program as he said Calhoun was one of the biggest recruits for next year.

It was not a decision that likely came easily for Calhoun. He has been on the national radar for the past two seasons as he was the Big Ten’s defensive lineman of the year in 2013 and followed it up with another All-Big Ten performance this season. He brings the flash, he brings the leadership and he brings the skill. And now, he brings that back to Michigan State instead of turning pro.

The NFL feedback Dantonio said was given indicated Calhoun would be a first-day pick, but another year certainly could improve that – but it definitely improves the odds for Michigan State next year.

Calhoun’s return gives Michigan State the return of a captain from this season as seniors Kurtis Drummond and Travis Jackson graduated. Now, it returns likely two-year captain Calhoun and the core of leadership that contains quarterback Connor Cook and offensive lineman Jack Allen – the trio that figures to be the captains next year – among others.

Dantonio has never been shy to mention that chemistry and leadership has been essential to the success of Michigan State in recent seasons. Returning a big locker room presence will bring back more of that to a team that has big hopes yet again.

On the field, Calhoun’s presence is as big as his leadership is large off and on it.

The Spartans lose defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi as well as lockdown cornerback Trae Waynes – a very critical position for the defense. They also lose four-year starter Marcus Rush at defensive end. To have lost Calhoun as well would have left Michigan State replacing both starters and leaving little to no experience at the spot that is critical in defending spread offenses and is important in an aggressive scheme at getting after the quarterback.

If Calhoun had departed early, Michigan State would have been left with Demetrius Cooper as its leading defensive end, while relying on inexperience and youth between converted tight end to defensive end Evan Jones and a pair of freshmen in Robert Bowers and Montez Sweat, who played in a couple games before being redshirted.

But with Calhoun, Michigan State has a centerpiece on the edge that will allow that group to compete to start in the place vacated by Rush. It also gives more time to develop those players, opposed to having to throw two of them into starting roles instead of one. Not to mention, it removes any questions about having to slide interior defensive linemen outside, as defensive tackles Lawrence Thomas and Joel Heath both have played defensive end in their careers. So with Calhoun in the mix, those players likely can stick to their current positions without having to worry about shuffling and remixing the group, which in turn gives the younger defensive tackles (Malik McDowell, Craig Evans and Enoch Smith Jr. more time to develop as well).

So the future looks bright for more of those players due to the return of Calhoun – both immediately and long term. That also is the case on the field. Michigan State will come back next season likely as a Top 10 team entering the year and it will have playoff hopes yet again. That is part of the reason Calhoun is back and he is a part of the reason those hopes remain strong.

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