East Lansing — Most things are routine these days for David Dowell.
The fifth-year senior is used to preseason camp at Michigan State and having started 23 consecutive games, he understands what it takes to be successful, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2017 and third-team honors last season.
However, there is one thing that’s different as the Spartans begin preparations for the 2019 season — Dowell’s twin brother, Andrew, is no longer lined up in front of David Dowell at outside linebacker for the Spartans.
“It was weird at first,” David Dowell admitted after Michigan State went through its first practice Thursday. “Back in the spring it was weird not having him in front of me for the first time in a couple years.”
A couple years is underselling it just a tad.
David and Andrew were a pair of four-star recruits when they came to Michigan State out of St. Edward High in Lakewood, Ohio. While David Dowell redshirted that first season in 2015 when the Spartans reached the College Football Playoff, Andrew was getting on the field for the MSU defense.
Still, they were both playing defense and as David slowly moved into a starting role in 2017, they were a tandem that was always around the football. While Andrew was piling up the tackles, David was busing turning the ball over. He had five interceptions in 2017 then grabbed two more last season while breaking up six passes.
Now the veteran in the Michigan State secondary, Dowell, a two-time member of Michigan State’s Eagles leadership council, is trying to become a complete player and captain a unit that expects to take a big jump this season.
“That’s the one thing I focused on in the spring, stepping into that leadership role,” Dowell said. “I’ve always considered myself a leader but more of a leader by example. For me it’s being more vocal about it, stepping up and saying something that needs to be said, being comfortable talking to the whole team, the whole unit. That’s something I’ve really worked on and will continue to work on.”
There’s a void to be filled in that capacity.
Now in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts, Khari Willis was one of the strongest leaders in the Mark Dantonio era at Michigan State. Dowell plans to use everything he learned from his former teammate to keep this year’s defensive backs on their game.
“Khari was one of those guys who was a great leader since I came here; we came here together my freshman year,” Dowell said. “Just kind of seeing how he handles certain situations, I've definitely been able to take a lot away from him.”
If the transfer in leadership is seamless that should bode well for the Michigan State defense. Already one of the top units in the nation, the Spartans believe they can make the jump from a tough team against the run — they were No. 1 in the country in 2018 — to one that will be difficult to throw against, as well.
Last season, Michigan State allowed 225.2 yards passing a game, which ranked eighth in the Big Ten and 62nd in the nation. However, the Spartans tied for fourth in the conference with 14 interceptions and with a healthy Josiah Scott at one cornerback position, that could lock down once side of the field.
With Dowell also in place, the question comes at the other safety and cornerback spots.
Xavier Henderson is expected to step in for Willis after a solid freshman season while fifth-year senior Josh Butler likely gets the call at cornerback. But should the production falter, the Spartans believe they have plenty of depth at both spots to create some competition.
Getting the depth chart sorted out will be the goal over the next few weeks leading up to the Aug. 30 opener against Tulsa, as will taking that next step as a secondary.
“We just have to focus on us,” Dowell said. “We know the things we have to get better at, especially as a defense, creating more turnovers and creating more turnovers for touchdowns, and stuff like that. We just have to focus on us, and the goal always stays the same.”
That goal, of course, is shutting teams down.
Michigan State has done that on the ground, now the Spartans feel they can do that in the air, as well.
“We all been working hard,” Dowell said. “We don’t have anybody pulling us in the wrong direction. Everybody is focused on being better individually and as a unit.”