With the loss of Greg Jones, Mark Dantonio and his LB group are fine. Photo courtesy of Troy Benoit.

 

Michigan State’s linebacker situation: Will it be a problem?

Greg Jones leaving Michigan State, er, graduating, was something everybody anticipated. Lucky for the fans of the green and white, MSU’s coachng staff was thinking about the ramifications years ago.

That was, of course, why they recruited players like Max Bullough and TyQuan Hammock and Denicos Allen to one day become the new faces of the middle of the defense. It’s never easy replacing a player like Jones, and it’s harder when he is an All-American and one of the best Spartans to put on a uniform in the last 15 years.

Talent is abundant in high school football locker rooms across the country, although excelling at different levels — from high school to college, college to the pros — takes more than a good 40-yard-dash time or bench-pressing two times your weight. Coaches want to see leadership qualities, players taking charge and accepting responsibility for their roles on and off the field. The Spartans’ current crop of linebackers is making strides towards reaching that next level and replacing what left with Jones.

“You know what, Max Bullough has done a tremendous job, so has TyQuan Hammock at the middle linebacker spot (in terms of accepting leadership roles),” defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. “It will be a battle going into fall camp. The nice thing is there’s two good guys there to compete for Greg Jones, who’s a tremendous player, and we’ll see what those two guys do. It will be nip and tuck and they’ll be going into the summer going, ‘Whose (job) is it?’ They’ll be bitin’ and scratchin’ to see who’ll be the guy.”

As Narduzzi stated, it now becomes a waiting game for the linebackers to see who will be on the field come fall. The aforementioned players vying for starting jobs will have to keep their spring progression going into the summer, all the way into the fall when the real fun begins. They are still young players but seem to have good heads on their shoulders and hopefully will stay focused on the real task at hand: winning another Big Ten championship.

Figuring out which players will be battling every Saturday is another story.

Narduzzi wouldn’t say much in the post-spring game presser, not even hinting at players who currently look like surefire locks to play the majority of snaps. Maybe it’s one of those “chess decisions” in which coaches don’t want to give anything away to their opponents, or maybe the staff doesn’t want to point out starters and have them get too high on themselves. Or, maybe, he honestly just doesn’t know at this point.

“There’s a bunch of guys,” Narduzzi said. “There’s Chris Norman, who didn’t play this spring. Boy, does he look good. (MSU’s strength and Conditioning) coach (Ken) Mannie scoffed at him in the weight room. Without getting spring ball (Norman’s) had the chance to get cut up.

“And I just talked to the puppies in the next class and told them that two of you gotta play. You look at the outside linebacker spot, you got Denicos (Allen), Steve Gardiner, and all those freshmen coming in. There’s gonna be a lot of competition and we’ll find out in the opener in September.”

It should be interesting to see who comes out of the dog days of summer to start on brisk Saturdays in the fall.