Michigan State has loaded up on linebackers in the past two recruiting classes. With six – three in each – brought on board, there has been a consistent pattern as most seem to fit the mold of the STAR linebacker in the Michigan State defensive scheme.
The position calls for speed, ability to cover in space and have the physical nature and aggressiveness with which MSU loves its defense to play.
Co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said what it comes down to is speed and versatility.
”If you can play STAR, you can move anywhere,” Tressel said. “You can’t move the other direction. …
”Our approach this year was get as many guys that can play in space. Whichever one ends up there, the other guys will have shots at other spots.”
Part of that focus in recruiting linebackers has come from the way some offenses attack in college football. The top three offenses the Spartans faced last year – Baylor, Ohio State and Oregon – put added stress on a defense with speed and spread formations.
”Those guys force you to play with people in space,” Tressel said. “You need to recruit people that can play in space. The challenge is to find people that can play in space, but still have the Spartan mentality – the linebacker aggressiveness. Those guys are hard to find and we feel like we found a few.”
In the 2014 recruiting cycle, Michigan State brought in Byron Bullough, Chris Frey and T.J. Harrell, with the latter two working at STAR. Frey played as a true freshman as a backup to junior Darien Harris and Mylan Hicks, but also possess the qualities to play the SAM/MONEY spot.
”The idea was start him at STAR first because if it works out there, fantastic, but you wanna start him there and then move him,” Tressel said. “You don’t wanna start somewhere else and then find out you don’t have a field backer.”
Again the case is versatility, as each has the look of a STAR linebacker, while having another position they could be suited to play.
“They all have a specific other spot that I think is ideal and they all happen to be different,” Tressel said. “They all complement each other. It’s not like a bunch of the same dude.”
Martinez and Thompson each have clear cut other options if STAR is not their best spot, as Tressel noted the skills for Martinez fit at MONEY, while Thompson could have the making of a MIKE.
”Drake, he is an edge blitz guy, Denicos Allen, Ed Davis in terms of edge blitz ability,” he said. “Speed and playmaking ability when you put him on a blitz path. Tyriq you say he is a STAR, but his leadership ability and his football IQ allows him to play MIKE.
You have guys that all have other perfect fits, but you want to start them as STAR and make sure you can find the guy then you can adjust from there.”
Dowell, on the other hand, could fit at MONEY, while also have the potential to play safety for the Spartans because of his athleticism.
But that is just the way the Spartans want it with versatility.
”If you are athletic enough and you have speed and you tackle well, there’s lot of options for us,” Tressel said.