Freshman Kalon Gervin among youngsters joining the fray in MSU secondary

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Cornerback Shakur Brown, left, has a shot at getting a starting spot in MSU's secondary.

East Lansing — With the first scrimmage of preseason camp in the books, Michigan State is getting a better handle on where its talented depth on both sides of the ball will fit when the season opens in a few weeks.

The defense got the best of the scrimmage on Friday — as is fairly common early in camp — and they were happy to be wearing green on Tuesday as preparation continued for the season-opener against Utah State on Aug. 31.

“The positive coming out of the scrimmage is it was 100-plus plays, easily,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “We played a lot of guys and got a lot of guys working and got a chance to get our younger players on film, so that was important to see where they are at and where they stood up.

“Obviously, usually the defense seems to be ahead of the offense a little bit in these situations but there were good things offensively, as well.”

The defense did well with one of its key players on the sidelines.

Sophomore cornerback Josiah Scott is out because of an injury, Dantonio announced last week, and likely won’t be able to return until several weeks into the regular season. The scrimmage was a chance for those vying to fill the void to show what they’ve got.

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Junior Josh Butler has the most experience, having played in 23 career games with four starts. He broke up two passes last season and had 12 tackles. Redshirt freshman Shakur Brown and sophomore Tre Person, who saw limited action last season as a true freshman, are also staking a claim for the spot.

“Tre Person is having a good summer camp,” Dantonio said before practice on Tuesday. “Josh Butler has been very solid. I think Shakur Brown is a guy that has made plays as well.

“So, those three guys really are picking up the slack, and then Kalon Gervin. Kalon looks good, as well.”

Person saw action in six games last season and had been playing safety but has moved back to corner. Brown redshirted last season but was rated one of the top cornerbacks in the state of Georgia coming out of high school.

Gervin, of course, is the true freshman from Detroit Cass Tech who enrolled early and went through spring practice. He broke up 27 passes as a senior at Cass Tech and arrived on campus with high expectations. He was the No. 1 player on The Detroit News Blue Chip list.

He’s hoping he’s meeting those, admitting he’s still getting his feet under him as a first-year player.

“It’s a lot faster,” Gervin said of preseason camp compared to even the spring workouts he went through. “I’m just grinding hard. That’s it. Working hard with the team, listening to the older guys, just grinding. You know how camp is.”

Camp is far from a walk in the park, but Gervin feels his work in the spring has prepared him to be ready to see the field in his first season with the Spartans.

“When I first got here I really had to get a grasp of the playbook so I wasn’t playing as fast as I wanted to play,” Gervin said. “Once I got the playbook down I started playing faster.

“(Enrolling early helped) a lot. It was good to get in that playbook early. Coming in the summer it’s all rushing at you at once. Coming in the spring I really got a head start.”

It likely won’t be one player making up for Scott’s production. As a freshman, Scott had two interceptions and broke up 10 passes in 12 starts while earning freshman All-American honors.

Expect several to get a shot. And while Butler has the edge on experience, Person has seen live action and Gervin has the recruiting rankings, Brown has been turning heads.

“Probably the one that stood out the most is Shakur,” quarterback Brian Lewerke said. “It's actually pretty difficult to throw a ball against him. He always gets his hand in there and has very good ball instincts.”