From a family of great players, Max Bullough may just be the best.  Photo courtesy of Starr Portice.

From a family of great players, Max Bullough may just be the best. Photo courtesy of Starr Portice.

 

Last week we focused on the defensive line as part of our spring coverage.  After thorough analysis, we concluded that the defensive line should be greatly improved.  More depth and experience will be on the field.  Better athletes upfront should mean more tackles in the backfield, more errant passes by the opposition and more QB sacks.

 

Greg Jones and Eric Gordon were good linebackers.  Both will play in the NFL.  Jones was a two-time All American, while Gordon quietly had an amazing career of his own.  Jones was the higher profile athlete for the Spartans, but Gordon will be more greatly missed.  MSU has some big shoes to fill in the ‘backer department.

 

When you lose two seniors like Jones and Gordon, it is hard to believe that the linebackers will be as good as they were in 2010.  The 2011 unit has the potential to be just as good and in some cases even better due to speed and athleticism.  Jones was a special player.  He is more suited to outside linebacker than the MIKE, which he played his last couple years at MSU and many thought he should have been a defensive end.

 

Jones could weave his way through traffic and make a key tackle for a loss.  His replacement is more of the prototypical middle linebacker.  The kind that comes up and makes piles at the point of attack.  Max Bullough got his feet wet last season playing as Jones’ backup in the middle.  As crazy as this might sound, Max is not only ready to assume the duties in the middle; his replacement of Jones’ won’t yield lesser results.  Max is Big Ten ready right now.

 

At 240+ pounds, Bullough is a chord of wood with football IQ.  Everything I have heard about Max is that he lives and breathes football.  Not yet a sophomore, Max is already the leader of MSU’s defense.  He knows where everyone is supposed to be and how they are supposed to do their job.  If Max isn’t at class, he is at ‘The Duff’ watching film or lifting weights.  Come Big Ten season, everyone is going to know that if you plan to run between the tackles against MSU, they will be in pain in the fourth quarter.

 

Backing Bullough up will be Steve Gardiner and TyQuan Hammock.  Both Hammock and Gardiner are good athletes that can run.  Gardiner will move between the middle and the outside and has a shot to start at OLB.  Gardiner in particular is such an asset because he can play virtually all three LB positions and play them well.  Gardiner is going to get a lot of reps regardless of where he lines up.

 

Hammock gained weight and was moved to FB last season.  He now has that back to where it needs to be and can be a force at LB.

 

Both Jeremy Gainer and Chris Norman are special athletes.  Gainer and Norman were both highly touted linebackers when they graduated from high school and now they are both ready to make big contributions.  Norman might be as good an athlete as there is on the MSU team.  He is fast, agile and has the athleticism to make a bad angle look like a good one.  Norman has had a steep learning curve and should have a breakout year in this his junior season. 

 

Norman’s predecessor (Gordon) was very consistent.  Gordon was a good pass defender and knew how to tackle well in space.  Gordon’s play never cost MSU a football game.  His assignment sound cerebral play gave MSU a guy they could count on to make a play every game.  This is the part of Eric Gordon that will be missed.  Both Norman and Gainer are better athletes.  Both physically have the ability to do more than Gordon.  Consistency will be key as MSU looks for both of these guys to step up.   If both players have a good spring, it should pay dividends this fall.

 

Interestingly enough, many thought when Gainer and Norman were true freshman that Gainer was the better player.  Norman played while Gainer red shirted.

 

Denicos Allen is a rare athlete that brings a ton of speed to the other outside linebacking position.  He won’t wow anymore with his stature standing 5’10” and weighing in around 220 pounds.  Allen has the make up speed that defensive coordinators covet.  His speed on the outside allows him to wipe out bubble screens, stretch out a sweep or a reverse and Allen possesses good ball skills.  His versatility makes him a valuable part of the linebacker group and his play will largely be determined upon the offensive team’s personnel.  Both Allen and Gardiner will likely play a lot at this position.

 

Depth and versatility are the two words I would use to sum up MSU’s 2011 linebackers.  These guys are probably the best group of athletes MSU has had at linebacker since Jenkins, Edwards and Snow.  You can never have too many good linebackers and by all accounts, it appears that the Spartans have been stockpiling quite a few.  I look for this group to be as good as the 2010 roster.  Barring injury, they could be better… no really… they could.