MSU hopes to change all that with the addition of several players they hope will make an impact. Defensive tackle Ogemdi Nwagbuo (called "OG" by coaches and teammates), end Ervin Baldwin and Jonal St. Dic have all shown signs of getting after the passer. Those three will combine with sophomores Justin Kershaw and Brandon Long to try to give MSU a push in the interior front.
However, the move that really raised eyebrows was the move to put defensive end Clifton Ryan inside to defensive tackle. The move was done to get the best four players on the field for the Spartans and because MSU's coaching staff believes that Ryan could be a dominating force working against guards rather than offensive tackles.
"I don't feel any pressure at all," said Ryan on the move inside. "The only thing I have to do is do what the coaches ask of me; be a positive influence on this team and I think everything else will take care of itself."
Ryan said he's comfortable playing on the inside and that was a big factor in the move. "Coach Smith doesn't ask anything of me that I can't do, so my thing is I have to go out there and do everything the defensive coaches ask me to do and everything else will take care of itself."
Baldwin agrees with Ryan. He says sacks aren't the only way to make an impact on defense. "It's not all about sacks, it's about making the quarterback uncomfortable. Pressure is just as good as sacks. I think as a unit, we can provide that this year."
The competition is fierce for the starting position with defensive end Brandon Long currently holding on to the rush end ahead of Baldwin and Justin Kershaw currently leading Jonal St. Dic. Inside Ryan has a firm grip on one defensive tackle spot, leaving Nwagbuo battling senior David Stanton for the final starting spot.
"I'm excited to be able to compete for a spot and to be given the opportunity to compete for a starting role," said Stanton. Stanton said that Ryan has been sort of a mentor. After coming over to Michigan State as a junior college transfer, Stanton was briefly declared academically ineligible due to a credit mixup. But after the issue was cleared up Stanton struggled somewhat with the transition to major college football.
Ryan has helped him smooth things over. "The solid person on the D-line is Cliff Ryan. He's the leader of our D-line and he's a hell of a player. I'm just trying to make plays, like Cliff."
MSU hopes that playmakers will emerge along the entire defensive line and that pressures and sacks will follow. Ryan says the line takes great pleasure in having to face one of the best offenses in the nation every day in practice - their own.
"Going against our offense every day . . . if we can stop an offense like that, I think we'll be very, very good going into the season," Ryan said.
A little bit sensitive? Nothing a few QB sacks won't cure.