Spartans keep rolling out top linebackers
East Lansing — The idea of reloading each season is a sign of a championship team. And while Michigan State certainly has become that, the linebacker position might truly tell the tale for the Spartans.
The playmakers who have come through the last few years are impressive, yet each season, it seems another steps in to fill the void.
When outside linebacker Denicos Allen left following the 2013 season, it was Ed Davis who took over. When middle linebacker Max Bullough was off to the NFL, Taiwan Jones moved over from the outside before Max’s brother, Riley, jumped in last season without missing a beat.
And when Davis, the strong-side outside linebacker, went down with a knee injury during preseason camp last year, it was Jon Reschke who moved over from the middle and started all 14 games.
“If you really look at our football team, linebacker is a position of strength right now,” coach Mark Dantonio said as the Spartans began spring practice.
Bullough is back in the middle for his senior season, while Reschke enjoyed a breakout year, collecting 75 tackles, a couple of sacks and eight quarterback hurries.
Davis working his way back could mean a move to the weak side — STAR position — for him or Reschke now that Darien Harris has graduated.
“I think Reschke would be a guy that would probably move out there faster than Ed,” Dantonio said. “Although Ed has the athletic ability to play out there, as well. So I’m not sure which.”
It’s still too early to tell if Davis will regain the form he had in 2014 that had many believing he would be an all-Big Ten player last season.
There’s also the fact that another player is already listed as the starter at the STAR — sophomore Andrew Dowell.
“Andrew is a doer, first of all,” Dantonio said. “He’s a guy that comes to work every single day. He’s extremely goal-oriented as a person, and I think that carries over in his football life.”
It carried over last season as Dowell played 13 games, spelling Harris and even playing ahead of him in some games early. Dowell was a defensive back at St. Edward High in Lakewood, Ohio, and easily made the transition to linebacker.
“He has the ability to shock you,” Dantonio said. “(He) played the secondary, like with St. Ed’s in the same type of defense that we play. That transition to STAR backer was maybe easier, especially the terminology was maybe easier. ... That gave him a big upside, and then he runs and tackles. He’s a guy that from day one when we put the pads on, you noticed him.
“So when Ed was injured, that obviously thrust him up a little bit, but he had an outstanding summer camp last year.”
Later during the season, Dowell didn’t play much beyond special teams. Some of that was because Harris elevated his play and some was simply life as a true freshman.
Entering his first spring with a full season already under his belt, however, plenty is expected.
“Where he sort of fell back a little bit (last year), it was change every single week, changing to play a different type of offense,” Dantonio said. “But when he knows what he’s doing, he can get there very fast, and he’s a fast, physical guy that I think will be a tremendous player for us.”