MSU coach Mark Dantonio explains why the Spartans are playing at Western Michigan. Matt Charboneau / Detroit News
East Lansing — Entering his ninth season at Michigan State, Mark Dantonio has built depth that didn’t exist when he arrived.
And as the season opens Friday at Western Michigan, that depth will be tested. Thanks to injuries and the loss of players to the NFL, the No. 5 Spartans have some important holes to fill — specifically outside linebacker and cornerback.
After fifth-year senior linebacker Ed Davis was lost the first week of camp to a knee injury, sophomore Chris Frey stepped in as the strong side or “Money” linebacker. He was soon joined by sophomore Jon Reschke, a middle linebacker by trade who has been hampered by injuries his first couple of years.
While fifth-year senior Darien Harris is the starter at “Star” and junior Riley Bullough is in the middle, that third spot will be a focal point Friday. Frey and Reschke were listed as co-starters Tuesday, and both are expected to see plenty of playing time.
“We’ll see who gets the (starting) nod based on practices this week,” Dantonio said. “But both guys have done a great job. Jon Reschke can also play ‘Mike’ linebacker. Chris can also balance out the ‘Star.’ ”
Cornerback might be the most crucial position, and it has become even more important after two straight years of first-round picks — Darqueze Dennard two years ago and Trae Waynes last year.
Junior Demetrious Cox, a former safety, has been the one sure starter, while the other spot is manned by redshirt freshman Vayante Copeland. He gets the start ahead of fifth-year senior Arjen Colquhoun, who suffered a minor undisclosed injury, and junior Darian Hicks, who is coming back from mononucleosis.
“Vayante has had a great summer camp,” Dantonio said. “He’s been working with the ones periodically. ... The decision was made that he would start this game. But we expect to play pretty much all of our guys. Darian Hicks has been activated; he’s able to practice now. Along with Arjen and Vayante, Jermaine Edmondson and obviously Demetrious Cox can go out there and play as well.
“We’ve got five guys in there and feel very comfortable with a couple freshmen that we’ve got.”
‘If’ on Williams
Junior running back Delton Williams is listed No. 4 on the depth chart and is available to play. Whether he does is another question.
Williams is coming off suspension and started camp a week late. There has been some talk he might take a redshirt season, something Dantonio would not commit to Tuesday.
“We’re not going to put a guy in the game and burn a redshirt,” Dantonio said. “At this point in time, we’ll just use them as they come. If we need to use them, we’re going to use them.
“We’re going to prepare to play him. ... Whether we use him or not, it will depend on how the situation occurs in the game.”
Bullough on return team
Bullough has taken control of the starting middle linebacker spot, but what he’s also been doing is working on the kick return team. He’s listed as the secondary return man with junior R.J. Shelton, but that’s primarily a blocking role.
That doesn’t mean, though, the one-time running back won’t be ready to run the ball.
“If it’s kicked to me I’m going all the way to the house,” Bullough joked. “I don’t look at myself as a kick returner. I’m back there to block for R.J., so that’s what it really comes down to.”
Dantonio congratulated former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins in a text when he found out Cousins will be the starter for Washington.
“Kirk getting the starting nod ... is phenomenal,” Dantonio said. “I think he’s probably earned that position. They don’t hand those things out. We’re very excited for him and Spartan Nation because they all follow Kirk and wish him the best.”
Michigan State at Western Michigan
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo
Line: Michigan State by 18
Series: Michigan State leads 11-2