East Lansing — It was a whirlwind few hours at Michigan State on National Signing Day, but by the time Wednesday was coming to a close, the Spartans felt they had brought in quite a haul of talent.
Specifically, they believe the defensive line group has the chance to be special, and that is with or without five-star end Malik McDowell of Southfield. McDowell announced early Wednesday he was going to sign with Michigan State over the objections of his mother, and by late in the evening Michigan State still had not received anything from him his family.
But when coach Mark Dantonio referenced that Michigan State still was waiting on a couple of players to get their paperwork in, the assumption was that McDowell was included in that group, and Dantonio remained optimistic when asked if he believed those players would end up Spartans.
“Yeah I do, I do expect that,” he said. “But I think recruiting should be about a celebration for everybody involved, and everybody needs to feel comfortable as they move through the process.”
McDowell would certainly make that group outstanding, but it’s already pretty impressive.
“I think it’s a dominant class on the defensive line,” Dantonio said. “I think with this defensive line class we’ll continue to establish ourselves as one of the, or continue to be one of the top defenses in this country and in this conference. That’s a positive for us.”
Michigan State lost both starters and one key backup in the middle as tackles Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds graduated while Mark Scarpinato is moving on to medical school. On the outside, key reserve Denzel Drone is gone.
And the players coming in likely will be counted on rather quickly.
Craig Evans, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound tackle out of Sun Prairie, Wis., is at the top of that list after decommitting from Wisconsin early in the week.
“Very powerful guy,” Dantonio said. “He’s got a lot of explosiveness, he’s got great change of direction for a big man. … Probably will be an immediate contributor in terms of this year’s football team.”
Joining Evans in the middle is Enoch Smith Jr. of Plainfield, Ill., rated a four-star by Rivals.com and a three-star by 247sports.com and Scout.com. Also inside is three-star tackle David Beedle of Clarkston.
“Enoch Smith is another guy that is very disruptive,” Dantonio said. “Enoch is a guy that can play defensive end or defensive tackle with the three technique. Very explosive, can really, really run.
“David Beedle is a guy, state championship team in Clarkston, a very well-coached football team, and a guy with a huge up-side.”
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi emphasized to those players they will have a shot to compete right away and believes any one of them could step to the forefront.
“It was a little extra phone call this week to say, ‘Hey, guys, don’t be slopping around in the spring getting all fat and sloppy. Show up in tip-top shape to compete for a position,’ ” Narduzzi said. “If a guy shows he can do it, we’ll find things he can do and get out there and go with him. I think we have guys with the ability that can go and you never know till they get here, whether they are a five-star, a one-star, a good player or a great player.
“I think we’ve got a bunch of great players and we’re gonna find out. I can sit here and say it might be Evans or Enoch and David Beedle sneaks up and is the guy. I’m happy and excited about every one of those guys at the same level.”
Damon Knox, who will be entering his junior season, should have the inside track at a starting spot at tackle after playing extensively last season, while junior Joel Heath likely will move in from end. Brandon Clemons also will be back on defense after practicing on offense for the Rose Bowl, and Noah Jones and Devyn Salmon will be in the mix after redshirting last season.
The openings aren’t as plentiful on the outside as junior Shilique Calhoun and senior Marcus Rush are the starters, but there will be a chance to compete for playing time with the likes of redshirt freshman Demetrious Cooper and possibly Lawrence Thomas.
McDowell would jump in that battle if and when he signs and the Spartans also brought in two more ends — Robert Bowers of Columbus, Ohio, and Montez Sweat of Stone Mountain, Ga. Michigan State missed out on end Darius Slade, who had committed to the Spartans but ended up signing with Ohio State on Wednesday.
However it all shakes out, defensive line coach Ron Burton is excited to start working with the young players.
“They’ve all shown flashes of what you want to get done,” Burton said of the recruits. “They played in great programs, which allows them to know what the expectations are and we’re aiming high, but it all starts over again. And with this group we want to tailor them and refine them and give them the opportunity. They’ve got to be hunger for it and I think this group is.”
Michigan State 2014 recruits
* — Indicates Michigan State has received letter-of-intent.
* C Brian Allen, 6-2, 270, Hinsdale (Ill.) Central High
* DT David Beedle, 6-5, 250, Clarkston High
* DE Robert Bowers, 6-5, 210, Walnut Ridge High, Columbus, Ohio
* S Byron Bullough, 6-1, 205, Traverse City St. Francis High
* CB Vayante Copeland, 5-11, 180, Thurgood Marshall High, Dayton, Ohio
* LB Deon Drake, 6-1, 210, Detroit Cass Tech High
* DT Craig Evans, 6-2, 305, Sun Prairie (Wis.) High
* OT Chase Gianacakos, 6-6, 280, St. Charles (Ill.) North High
* ATH T.J. Harrell, 6-1, 210, Tampa (Fla.) Catholic High
* K Jake Hartbarger, 6-4, 190, Anthony Wayne High, Whitehouse, Ohio
OT David Hedelin, 6-5, 285, CC of San Francisco
* RB Madre London, 6-1, 200, St. Thomas Aquinas High, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
DL Malik McDowell, 6-6, 292, Southfield High
* S Matt Morrissey, 6-3, 180, Adlai Stevenson High, Lincolnshire, Ill.
* S Montae Nicholson, 6-3, 200, Gateway High, Monroeville, Pa.
* FB Gerald Owens, 6-2, 270, West Deptford High, Westville, N.J.
* OT Nick Padla, 6-6, 265, Berrien Springs (Mich.) High
* DT Enoch Smith, 6-2, 265, Mount Carmel High, Chicago
* TE Montez Sweat, 6-6, 225, Stephenson High, Stone Mountain, Ga.
* CB Jalen Watts-Jackson, 5-11, 175, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s High
TE Matt Sokol, 6-5, 220, Rochester Adams High
LB Chris Frey, 6-2, 215, Upper Arlington (Ohio) High