Projecting the 2015 Depth Chart: Defense

Michigan State has some big shoes to fill, so how will they look to stay up defensively? SpartanDigest takes a look at what the depth chart could look like come August.

Defense has been the expectation around Michigan State for recent seasons and it has held true. But despite only a couple losses from 2014 heading into 2015, the defense could have some shuffling taking place.

MSU lost just three starters – Kurtis Drummond, Marcus Rush and Trae Waynes – so we take a look at what the defense could look like for Michigan State next year.

DEFENSIVE END

Departure: Marcus Rush

Michigan State’s defense got huge news with Calhoun deciding to come back to school. That was the boost this position group needed as behind Calhoun and Rush last season was a lot of inexperience. Cooper brings back the most experience behind Calhoun, but Sweat played early as a true freshman and has a lot of physical skills. A lot of time remains before next season, but Sweat could be the starter on the other side. Redshirt freshman Robert Bowers should also be in the mix. What remains to be seen is if there will be any position changes …

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Departure: James Kittredge

The interior defensive line could look the same as it did last season, but it also could drastically change. Thomas has worked at defensive end and McDowell was a defensive end in high school. Could one of those two slide back outside to play across from Calhoun? It is possible. Right now, we will operate under the assumption that no such changes will be made. If that is the case, MSU and defensive line coach Ron Burton should be very excited about this group. Heath and Thomas were solid as starters last year, while McDowell showed flashes of what made him such a promising recruit. Knox was injured and missed too much time to really contribute last year, but he was good as a sophomore. Behind that four-man group, redshirt freshman Craig Evans and Enoch Smith figure to be solid members of the rotation. David Beedle and Brandon Clemons also could factor in.

STAR LINEBACKER

Departure: Mylan Hicks

Harris had an up and down junior year. Sometimes, he was on. Sometimes, not as much. He figures to be the starter again next year, while a similar setup to last season with Hicks being a third-down/speed linebacker option. Could it be Frey? Possibly, but he seems to definitely have the upper hand on the backup spot for now. Powell moved up to play STAR last season and will be in the picture as well and could be first in line to take Hicks’ spot. Incoming freshman Tyriq Thompson could start off at the STAR spot as well and has been expected to see the field as a freshman. Redshirt freshman T.J. Harrell also worked at that spot at times, so there is a lot of depth.

MIKE LINEBACKER

Departure: Taiwan Jones

For the second straight offseason, Michigan State is looking for a new man in the middle. After playing just one year at the spot, Jones is off to the NFL after graduating. The early edge looks to go to Bullough, who could be another Bullough in the middle for MSU. Reschke looked good in his limited time last year, but is coming off an injury and surgery. If healthy, he should provide strong competition for Bullough who would be moving over from the SAM spot. Byron Bullough and Shane Jones should provide depth.

SAM LINEBACKER

Departures: None

Davis had a standout season as a junior and will be back as a senior to keep making plays off the edge. He will be the unquestioned starter at SAM and figures to be a candidate for preseason All-Big Ten teams. Behind him could be more interesting if Riley Bullough moves to MIKE and no longer is the backup behind Davis. Jones might be the next guy in line to backup Davis.

CORNERBACK

Departure: Trae Waynes

No position is harder to predict right now for Michigan State going into next season than the cornerback spot. Waynes leaving puts a big question mark on it all and means other players are going to have to step up. The player who will bring back the most experience is Hicks, who was benched later in the year in favor of Tony Lippett and Demetrious Cox. He will be relied on to step into a starting role again and will need to have his game at a high level. Across from Hicks, the competition figures to be between Colquhoun and Edmondson. The early edge goes to Colquhoun as he was the third cornerback for much of last season, but it easily could be Edmondson. If no one proves they can step up, wide receiver R.J. Shelton could very well get a look. Copeland should get a chance to show what he can do and incoming freshmen Josh Butler and Tyson Smith are very talented.

STRONG SAFETY

Departures: None

Williamson was sat in favor of Nicholson for a stretch last year, but he responded and took the job back. He was better in the second half of the year than he was in the first half and brings back the senior leadership to the secondary that it will need as it will be an inexperienced group in need of a leader. Nicholson should push for playing time behind Williamson, but also could be called upon to slide over to free safety if Cox moves to cornerback.

FREE SAFETY

Departure: Kurtis Drummond

Arguably the biggest senior graduation from the Spartans defense will be Kurtis Drummond. Cox has been the heir apparent for a couple years at the spot, but has not hit his stride at safety yet. He played well at cornerback late in 2014. He should get the first look to take over from Drummond. Meyers will push him. Redshirt freshman Jalen Watts-Jackson could also be a player at a safety spot.


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