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Lansing – Michigan State defensive end Kenny Willekes, recovering from a broken leg suffered in the bowl game, likely will miss spring practice.

MSU coach Mark Dantonio, who spoke Friday morning to the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association during its clinic at the Lansing Radisson, said Willekes “probably” will miss spring practice.

“It’s a 12-week deal,” Dantonio said, referring to the recovery time.

Willekes, an All-American and the Big Ten’s top defensive lineman last season, broke his left fibula in the second half of the Redbox Bowl. He arrived at MSU as a preferred walk-on and during the regular season earned the Big Ten award after recording 76 tackles -- 20.5 for loss, including 8.5 sacks. He also had 12 quarterback hurries.

More: MSU LB Joe Bachie lands on ESPN's 'way-too-early' All-America team for 2019

He was a key piece of the Spartans’ highly-rated defense last fall. Michigan State was first nationally against the run, yielding an average 77.9 yards a game, 10th in total defense (303.2) and eighth in scoring defense (17.2).

While Dantonio made news last week discussing the shifts in responsibilities of offensive coaches, he did not spend much time praising the defense. He did that Friday.

Mike Tressel was in his first season last year as defensive coordinator, after sharing the job the previous three seasons.

“He did a tremendous job. Very detailed-oriented,” Dantonio said. “We’ve been a good defensive football team for a long time. We’ve had a lot of coaches come through here; the common theme is that we rep things and we work on aspects and we continually try to get better. Inevitably, it’s the player making the play, getting off blocks, things of that nature.

“The defense we had this year is as good as we’ve had in terms of (stopping the run). We were good in the back end too.”

As always, Dantonio said there’s room for improvement.

“We just want to get better,” he said. “We’re always trying to get better and trying to improve to some degree. When we were 13-1 at the Rose Bowl we were trying to get a little bit better and get to the playoffs. We didn’t. We almost did and the following year, we did. I think you’re always trying to get better at what you’re doing."

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