East Lansing — When Michigan State lost linebacker Ed Davis a week into camp, there was immediate concern over how the Spartans would replace the production of the fifth-year senior.
The former Detroit Southeastern standout had 16 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks, the previous two seasons and was primed for what many believed would be a breakout season.
There wasn’t a lot of experience behind Davis, but three weeks into this season it’s clear Michigan State has found the answer — or more appropriately, answers.
The tandem of Jon Reschke and Chris Frey has been as impressive as anyone.
“We kind of knew after spring ball and a little bit of fall camp that those guys had a different skill set,” linebackers coach Mark Snyder said. “Ed was a really good player, but they both bring something different to the table and depending on who you’re playing we felt like if you could keep those guys healthy then we could play (OK with) our schedule.”
Reschke (6-foot-2, 228 pounds) was the wild card in August when coach Mark Dantonio was figuring out the next move after losing Davis. He was a highly recruited middle linebacker out of Birmingham Brother Rice who was hampered by an ankle sprain and redshirted in 2013.
By the start of his redshirt freshman season, Reschke was the backup in the middle, but a shoulder injury shelved him for the final four games. And by the spring, junior Riley Bullough had become the starter, leaving Reschke stuck in the No. 2 spot.
So when Davis went down, Reschke jumped at the chance.
“It was an opportunity to step up and fill a position,” Reschke said. “Coming into the season I wanted to play a lot anyway, so no matter what I was looking at there was an opportunity to play.”
And the move from the middle didn’t slow Reschke.
“I played a little outside this summer and in situations last year,” Reschke said. “But the transition has been coming pretty easy. I’m just playing football, playing fast and physical – that is how I play football.”
Frey was, initially, the first name that came up when Davis injured his knee. The 6-2, 235-pounder from Upper Arlington, Ohio, played in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2014, collecting 19 tackles. He was listed at No. 2 behind Davis entering camp and had the most experience on the outside.
But by the opening week against Western Michigan, Reschke and Frey were listed as co-starters. And it was clear both were going to see extensive action.
Reschke had nine tackles, followed by a career-high 11 in a victory over Oregon in Week 2. It was in that game Frey proved he would be a factor, too, chasing down quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. for a fourth-quarter sack that essentially sealed the game.
Last week against Air Force, Frey again came up with a big play, sniffing out a reverse on fourth down from inside the 10-yard line to cap a goal-line stand.
As Michigan State prepares to play its final nonconference game — Saturday against Central Michigan — Reschke and Frey are settling in to a rotation that has sufficiently softened the blow from the loss of Davis.
“I think we both play the position very well,” Frey said. “We’re a good combination right now where if he needs a break I’m coming in and if I need a break he’s coming in. It’s a good 1-2 punch for both of us. We can trust the other person and know what is gonna happen when the other one comes in.”
The linebacker unit as a whole has proven it can adjust on the fly quite well this season. Not only have Reschke and Frey stepped up, but true freshman Andrew Dowell played well in extensive action last week when fifth-year senior Darien Harris was ailing.
And they’ll be tested again this week with Bullough missing the first half after getting ejected for targeting against Air Force.
Sophomore Shane Jones is expected to start, while Reschke has taken some reps in the middle this week.
“We’ve done a good job around here defensively,” Snyder said. “We’ve probably got five guys that can run this defense besides Riley, and get us lined up and those kind of things.”
And with the way Reschke and Frey are producing, what might be a concern for some teams doesn’t have the Spartans worried.
“I think we’ve got depth playing,” Dantonio said. “I feel good about our linebacker position.”