The Spartans defense must be better in 2011 for them to repeat as Big Ten Champs.  Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

The Spartans defense must be better in 2011 for them to repeat as Big Ten Champs. Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

It is no secret that two of the better linebackers to wear a green uniform have graduated.  Greg Jones and Eric Gordon will be moving on to the NFL and will leave behind a Big Ten Championship trophy.  The last few years the MSU staff has been stockpiling talent behind them.

The question is whether or not MSU has enough horses in the stable to repeat as Big Ten Champs. The answer is clearly yes.  Today we will give a brief review of the defensive line.  We will focus on linebackers next week.

Michigan State may have lost Jones and Gordon, but I expect the front seven as a collective group to improve greatly.  That improvement will start up front with the defensive line.  Both Blake Treadwell and Dan France have moved to the offensive line.  As we have stated earlier, we would be shocked if both stay there.  Either way, the depth at all four defensive line positions is stacked.

Let’s start with defensive end.  Tyler Hoover started to play like a Big Ten defensive end midway through last season.  The 6’7” 265# rusher should make a statement this spring and take a huge step.  His length makes him a nuisance and difficult to throw over.  Hoover needs to play with his pad level consistently low.  Look for him to bust out this spring.

We got snap shots last season of Will Gholston’s potential.  Will is now 275 pounds and stands 6’7”.  He is a rare athlete with the foot speed and quickness of a linebacker.  It is hard to tell if we’ll get a real look at Gholston this spring.  They are being cautious with him; he is coming off fall shoulder surgery.  If Gholston is healthy, he will be dominant this fall.

A host of young defensive ends will compete for snaps.  I expect 5-6 of them will play in game situations this fall.  Denzel Drone started half the games last season.  The sophomore will firmly be in the mix.  Corey Freeman brings a lot of speed and quickness off the edge and will be a factor.  Marcus Rush and Taylor Calero are two very good athletes that red shirted last season.  Both should be in the mix this fall.

At defensive tackle, MSU returns Jerel Worthy who could be the best DT in the conference and many feel the nation.  Worthy should have another big year and will command more double teams giving his teammates more opportunities.  He is arguably MSU’s best returning defensive player.

Anthony Rashad White was a pleasant surprise last season.  The 320-pound defensive tackle brings the “beef” inside needed to shut down an interior running game.  White, in tandem with Worthy will give teams a fit that try to run inside.  White and Worthy will make a lot of traffic and create a lot of piles.

Kevin Pickelman might be as tough as anyone on the team.  Pickelman is all about effort and toughness.  He will likely get the nod to start along side of Worthy namely because he is fundamentally sound and plays with maximum effort.  There are no surprises with Pickelman.  He shows up with a hard hat and a lunch pale and mans his post.  He is consistent.

Jonathan Strayhorn has earned his way onto the field and up the depth chart.  Strayhorn’s quick feet and low center of gravity make him a change of pace on the interior.  I expect Strayhorn will be used much like he was last season, on passing downs lined up over the center.  He can also play defensive end as well.

More than anything, MSU’s defensive line is starting to grow up.  Depth is abundant at every position and will come into play against better conference teams.  You can evaluate a team in the first half of the season based upon their starters.  If you want to know how they’ll finish, look at the second stringers and you’ll get a better picture.  Depth, depth and more depth… that is how you win championships.

The amazing thing is that many of the incoming 2011 recruiting class are good enough to play their way into the rotation.  It is fun to look ahead to the fall, but it will be fun watching this spring.