Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News identifies five developments to follow on Michigan State’s defense as the season gets underway.
Interior of defensive line: Two starters from last year are gone and the competition in preseason camp has been intense. The Spartans lost junior Damon Knox early in camp and he is out indefinitely. Junior Joel Heath has had a solid camp while fellow junior Lawrence Thomas has been outstanding and has locked down the other starting spot. Which players provide depth will be the question moving forward as four true freshmen could get a shot. Malik McDowell, Enoch Smith, Craig Evans and David Beedle have all drawn praise during camp; expect at least two of them to see the field this season.
Linebacker turnover: The Spartans could see a completely different unit than the one that led the nation’s No. 2 defense last year. Max Bullough is gone from the middle and Denicos Allen vacates the strong outside position. Senior Taiwan Jones is attempting to make the move from outside to the middle but is being pushed by redshirt freshman Jon Reschke. Darien Harris and Ed Davis are the best bets to start outside if Jones does lock down the middle, but sophomore Riley Bullough also will likely be a factor at either of the outside positions.
Safety situation: Fifth-year senior free safety Kurtis Drummond could be on the verge of a breakout season after three steady seasons, while junior RJ Williamson looks like he has locked up the starting strong safety spot. But there is plenty of depth pushing to get on the field. Sophomore Demetrious Cox should get plenty of playing time while redshirt freshman Jalyn Powell hopes to capitalize on a solid spring. The wild card could be true freshman Montae Nicholson, who has also worked at cornerback and has even learned some routes as a receiver. He might prove to be too talented to keep off the field this fall.
Post-Dennard picture: Junior Trae Waynes moves over to the boundary corner to take over for Darqueze Dennard and is another player that is primed to become a star in the Big Ten. Since being thrust into a starting role in the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Waynes has been a steady performer opposite Dennard, the Jim Thorpe Award winner. Which player will emerge as the second cornerback starter has been the key question since the spring. The favorite is sophomore Darian Hicks, who saw limited action as a true freshman. Junior Arjen Colquhoun continues to push Hicks while sophomore Jermaine Edmondson is not far behind.
Defensive end dominance: The Spartans have the talent on the edge of the defensive line to be among the best in the nation. Junior Shilique Calhoun was the Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2013 and is on every watch list that exists for defensive players. He is joined by fifth-year senior Marcus Rush, who has started 40 games in his career and has been as steady as any player on what has been one of the country’s best defenses for three straight years. The interesting player to watch should be redshirt freshman Demetrius Cooper. He has been compared often to Calhoun and should get a chance this season to prove he is headed on the same career path.