Compounding matters, the fifth-year senior has been saddled with a string of injuries and sat out all of spring practice with both shoulder and knee injuries. Still, the Spartans believe when the opener against UAB rolls around, Thornhill will be a gamer.
"Kaleb didn't see any live action this spring because he's still banged up (knee and shoulder), but he's already demonstrated that he can play at this level," said first-year head coach Mark Dantonio. "At first, I was a little concerned about his learning cure for the defensive package, but he's an extremely intelligent player that has mentally taken every snap this spring."
In his absence, sophomores Adam Decker and redshirt freshman Jonathan Misch have taken most of the snaps inside, but GSN believes Thornhill will be the starter once healthy. Absent that, look for Decker to be thrown into the fire.
At the weakside linebacker position, pencil in SirDarean Adams, a senior at that position. Adams has been one of the Spartans few playmakers on defense and he'll be counted on to be a difference maker this season.
"You definitely notice No. 27 on the field," said the coach. "We were hoping that would happen with his move to linebacker from the secondary. SirDarean Adams can do a lot of the same things Cie Grant did for Ohio State. SirDaren is an explosive player, who makes plays. He can be an effective blitzer from that position."
Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Eric Gordon, who has named to the Sporting News all-spring team will emerge as the starting strong side backer. At 6-foot, 225-pounds, Gordon has the bulk to take on tight ends at the point of attack while running with them in space. His development will be a key to the Spartans hope this fall.
"Eric has really stood out as a playmaker in the scrimmages this spring. At 225 pounds, he's athletic and explosive," said Dantonio.
GSN picks for the three linebacker spots: WILL - SirDarean Adams; MIKE - Kaleb Thornhill; SAM - Eric Gordon.
NEXT - GSN previews the secondary.
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