Closer Look: Coach Tressel On the Linebackers

The couple of guys dropping back into coverage (on a zone blitz), we're allowing those guys to read the quarterback a little bit and have a little freedom to make plays. That will apply as the theme for our defense: play fast, give them a little bit freedom, and as long as 11 people are playing fast, there's 10 that can make up for any mistakes that anyone makes. -- LB Coach Mike Tressel

Linebackers Coach Mike Tressel inherits a group that will aim to be the backbone of a tougher, faster, more focused defensive scheme for Michigan State.

He will rebuild around Kaleb Thornhill (Sr.), a talented, second generation Spartan senior who has battled injuries, but is expected to be a team leader and standout as middle linebacker on defense.

For now, Jonathan Misch (R-Fr.) at SAM and Eric Gordon (R-Fr.) at WILL round out the first string. SirDarean Adams (Sr.), a starter at a hybrid linebacker position last season, continues to compete for a starting spot. Other contenders for playing time include Adam Decker (So.), Andrew Hawken (So.) and Josh Rouse (So.)

GSN talked with coach Tressel at media day about the new system's blitzing scheme and the intense competition in his unit.

GSN: Could you talk about the new emphasis on blitzing and the implementation of a zone-blitzing package?

TRESSEL: "It's real fun for the linebackers, obviously, because they love to blitz. And we emphasize blitz technique, I think, more than a lot of people do. A lot of people just want to, 'hey, go!' So we work on (technique) with them. And the couple of guys dropping back into coverage, we're allowing those guys to read the quarterback a little bit and have a little freedom to make plays. That will apply as the theme for our defense: play fast, give them a little bit freedom, and as long as 11 people are playing fast, there's 10 that can make up for any mistakes that anyone makes."

GSN: Could you talk a little more about technique?

TRESSEL: "You'll see our linebackers do drills like you see D-lineman do at a lot of places — in terms of using your hands, in terms of leaning on the hoops, if you've seen D-lineman running the hoops, in terms of working the stand-up bags like D-lineman do, because those offensive lineman are on scholarship—there's gonna be someone there to pick you up when you blitz. And even if you watch the NFL on Sundays, linebackers blitz and all of the sudden he stops his feet because he's shocked someone's there to pick him up. There's gonna be someone there. They're on full scholarship too. They spend all day working on pass protection. So our guys, we try to make them understand, be shocked if you're not picked up. Don't be shocked if you are picked up. And then you gotta have a plan. And we make sure they do have a plan, and it's not just go."

GSN: Could you talk about the competition at the position?

TRESSEL: "The competition is like I've never seen before at linebacker. I look at, start at the MIKE position, every body knows Kaleb's (Thornhill) been there before. But we had three other guys, if you come out there and watch practice, that are legitimate Big Ten linebackers who are, just, slugging it out every day to be the next guy, and push Kaleb. Hopefully in their minds they're thinking, 'push Kaleb, I want this spot as a starter.' You look at the outside backers' spot and I really think that there's five guys that are brawling it out. And obviously, SirDarean Adams . . . is very athletic, and athletically there's no reason he shouldn't be a great one, but Gordon's a pretty good athlete too. And (Gordon's) got a few more years of linebacker behind his belt, playing that position, even though he's younger. And how it's going to pan out, I don't know. We have 23 practices before the end of camp, so we'll see. But right now, every one of those spots, the starter—that's his position. It's your position to win, it's your position to lose. Let's go."

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