Spartan banking on linebackers to come through

"We have to send the seniors out winners. That's always our first goal. We didn't do that last year, so we're really looking forward to being able to do that this year. We want to win the Big Ten championship - we're always looking to contend for that title - then get ourselves into a major bowl game." --sophomore linebacker Kaleb Thornhill

EAST LANSING - Can Michigan State rise above predictions of a seventh place conference finish?

If they're going to, they'll need help from a trio of linebackers who have the ability to be playmakers, sophomores SirDarean Adams and Kaleb Thornhill along with junior David Herron, Jr.

The trio don't have a ton of game experience among them, but they'll be counted on to be productive immediately.

The most experienced of the group is Herron, Jr., a converted fullback who struggled with the notion of even playing linebacker and admitted, he had thoughts of transferring to another school. MSU does not use a fullback in its spread offense.

"It's all I really played in high school," said Herron. "It (transferring) was an option, but I didn't want to sit out a year. I wanted to stay here and try to get through it (the coaching transition), and it ended up being a real good move."

Herron, 6-foot-1, 245-pounds from Warren, OH., responded with 95 tackles, (fourth best on the team) and nine tackles for loss. "The first few games might have been a little difficult, but after that it felt good to be out there playing in front of the fans here. It felt great."

The only returning starter on the unit, MSU is counting on Herron to provide what little veteran leadership they have. "I've been working hard, plus watching a lot of film of linebackers in the NFL, some of the good ones here in the Big Ten and around college football."

He believes that although there are young players behind him, they will step up to provide depth in the playing unit.

"We've got a couple good linebackers, guys that can play if something were to happen to the starters. Steven Juarez and Eric Andino are good players, and they seem like they know their stuff. We went over the defense this morning and we studied it last night, they knew all the plays."

"[He] has become an exceptional football player," said MSU head coach John L. Smith about Herron. "He has made more progress than any other player on the roster over the last three years. David took it upon himself to improve in every aspect of the game: in the weight room, in the classroom and in his mental approach to the game."

"He has a knack for making big plays, and he's really trying to emerge as a leader. David plays an important position (on the field) in terms of providing leadership. I really like what he has done, and others should follow his example."

Thornhill, 6-foot-1, 240-pounds, now at least knows where he's going to line up in the Spartans hybrid 4-2 defense with a roaming 'bandit' linebacker. He started four games a season ago at the bandit and recorded 32 tackles, while appearing, in some capacity, in all 12 games.

"This year, I'm going to primarily play middle linebacker. Last year, I played three different positions," explained Thornhill. We run a 4-2 defense with a bandit, so it's sort of a 4-3 [alignment], but [this year] I'll be in the middle."

The son of former MSU great Charlie Thornhill (who played on MSU's great 1965-66 back-to-back Big Ten Championship teams), says he has just one primary goal for the upcoming season.

"We have to send the seniors out winners. That's always our first goal. We didn't do that last year (MSU finished 5-6 missing out on a bowl berth), so we're really looking forward to being able to do that this year. We want to win the Big Ten championship - we're always looking to contend for that title - then get ourselves into a major bowl game."

Thornhill is adamant that he doesn't want to play on a loser.

"I'm just going to go out there and give it 100 percent and play as hard as I can every snap. And as I previously mentioned, I want to send the seniors out as winners. I know how hard it is to finish the season with a losing record and I don't want that to happen again."

With the athletic and speedy Adams getting his first real playing time, MSU will count on Thornhill and Herron to provide playing experience and sort of act as mentors. But speed will be one of the biggest assets the MSU linebacking trio has and Thornhill believes it could make a difference in the Spartans favor this fall.

"There are certain things we want to do each game," he explained. We're always looking to create turnovers, so as a defensive unit, we want to lead the Big Ten in turnover margin. We also want to lead the conference in sacks, which will help us produce some of those turnovers."

...and MSU hopes, help produce a few more wins this fall.


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