Smeland said his starting defensive line will consist of Justin Kershaw at the stud end, Brandon Long at the rush end, with seniors Clifton Ryan and David Stanton inside. But MSU is counting on incoming junior college transfers Ervin Baldwin and Ogedmi Nwagbuo to help them to get after the passer.
Baldwin wracked up 14 1/2 sacks a season ago for Reedley Community College and figures to contribute, if not start, immediately. MSU had trouble getting to the passer last season, mustering only 16 sacks of opposing quarterbacks.
"The rest of the guys, the two defensive ends that we've got penciled in as starters at this point are Kershaw playing our stud end and right now, we've got Long playing the rush end."
The emphasis is on "penciled" due to the presence of Baldwin. "There's a guy who hasn't been on the field , but we're expecting to come in and make a big contribution for us his first year," said Smeland regarding Baldwin.
Another J.C. young man we brought in who had a big spring for us, we call him "OG", and I'll let you guys pronounce his last name," joked Smeland about Nwagbuo, who is also expected to battle for significant playing time.
Smeland said he believes the depth MSU now has will result in a more agressive defensive unit overall.
"I think we have a little more speed overall in the secondary, which is going to allow us to do that. I also think that having a few more bodies on our defensive front to keep those guys fresh, to keep those guys rolling in, so I think we're going to be able to get back to that in a big way."
He knows that MSU's defensive has been criticized for not holding up its end when the team's offensive unit has been scoring points in bunches. Smeland is optimistic that this will change this season.
"On every side of the game, it comes down to execution, so what you try to do is get the 11 best guys on the field at the same time, so those guys can make the big plays for us," he said.
"That's what our goal is: get the 11 best guys on the field and take it one snap at a time. It boils down to the accountability of each of the 11 guys on the field getting the job done. We're going to express that to the team on a regular basis."