MSU players expected to fill gaps in secondary

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — There has been plenty of scrutiny on the Michigan State defensive backfield following a season-opening victory at Western Michigan last week.

It was an up-and-down game for the defense as a whole, but the young secondary was hurt in the second half by several long drives by Western Michigan, which had a chance to cut the Michigan State lead to single digits in the fourth quarter before a late interception.

And some of the depth at safety took a hit over the weekend as junior Mark Meyers was suspended indefinitely by coach Mark Dantonio.

The starters are solid with fifth-year senior RJ Williamson and sophomore Montae Nicholson. But who the next guy would be is up in the air heading into Saturday's matchup with Oregon.

Meyers saw some action against Western Michigan when Nicholson left for a handful of plays after banging his elbow. Now that substitute could be any number of players.

"(Demetrious) Cox could definitely move back," co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said on Wednesday. "That's one thing about him and I think that would be a quick adjustment. He's done it for years. But Jalen Watts-Jackson definitely can. (Matt) Morrissey knows the defense inside and out, but I would say that Cox would probably be the first thing."

Cox played primarily safety the last two seasons before beginning to work at cornerback late last season. He entered preseason camp as a cornerback and started the opener along with redshirt freshman Vayante Copeland.

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But Cox moves to safety in the nickel package and shifting him back would be a simple move. Jackson and Morrissey are both redshirt freshman while Dantonio mentioned a few true freshmen the Spartans will be making decisions on regarding a redshirt.

Khari Willis, David Dowell and Grayson Miller have all impressed and could see game action, as has cornerback Josh Butler.

"Those four guys really come to my mind in terms of we make decisions to play them now or do we wait," Dantonio said. "We just don't want to play a guy and then not play him fully on all special teams."

If Cox does end up back at safety, the next cornerback would be an easier decision.

"Arjen Colquhoun and Jermaine Edmondson both had really good days of practice (Tuesday)," Tressel said. "I would say it would probably be one of those two."

And that's not including junior Darian Hicks, who was the starter last year and is still working back from mononucleosis.

"Hicks is ready to get reps," Tressel said. "But he missed enough time that you can't put him in for six reps against Oregon with the fast tempo. It's spot duty. He's ready to play, but we have to be careful how extended his play is. He can go a lot of reps. Just consecutive reps (is the problem right now)."

Play calling OK

Tressel said the first game with him and Harlon Barnett working as co-defensive coordinators went well and they are still working out some of the kinks heading into Saturday.

"He was calling the plays. No problems there," Tressel said. "We had nice long discussions after the game on how it went, do we need to make any adjustments, from communication from the booth to the sidelines to the players? Where more input is needed, where some people need to shut up on the headsets. Those type of things. But it went smooth."

And who is it that needs to shut up on the headsets?

"Anybody who is not calling the plays," Tressel said with a laugh.

Offensive line shuffled

Only junior Benny McGowan, who saw action at center against Western Michigan, got extensive work after the starting five on the offensive line.

Offensive line coach Mark Staten has made it a point to work more players into a rotation the past two seasons, but that is still a work in progress this season.

"Like I said when you guys asked me last week about it, I'm going to play the guys that are ready and ready to play," he said. "Offensively I felt like we did anything we wanted. But there were times where I needed to see more out of certain guys that were out there.

"Hopefully, I'll be able to sub some more this week, but if we're not ready and they don't show Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, then we are not going to put the Spartans in harm's way."