Michigan State has one of the best defenses in all of the country, and like most great defenses, it all starts up front with the defensive line. The Spartans’ strength is their run defense as they finished eighth in the country in rush yards allowed per game. As good as their defense was in 2012, they struggled with their pass rush, finishing tied for 93rd with only 1.54 sacks per game, an area they will look to improve. The Spartans lost defensive end William Gholston and defensive tackle Anthony Rashad-White to the NFL but will benefit from Tyler Hoover being granted a sixth year of eligibility.
Anchoring the middle of the defensive line are Hoover and junior James Kittredge. Hoover, who has battled injuries throughout his career, played in eight games, starting two in 2012 and is a massive presence on the line at 6’7 300 lbs. As a former defensive end he has the potential to be a solid interior pass rusher if he can stay healthy, but a concerning note is he hasn’t recorded a sack since 2010. Kittredge, a transfer from Vanderbilt, suited up as a Spartan for the first time last season playing in every game including five starts. He is a bit undersized at 275 lbs., but he is a technician with a high motor. He showed glimpses of being a disruptive force as he recorded 2.5 tackles for a loss in his first career start. He will be pushed hard by sophomore Lawrence Thomas who is moving back to the defensive line after spending the 2012 season as the starting fullback. Spartan fans have been waiting for the one time five star prospect to produce on the field, and this should be the year. At 6’3 300 lbs., Thomas provides size and elite athleticism for the position. If he can become more consistent he could jump Kittredge in the starting lineup. Senior Micajah Reynolds who has played in 25 games over the last two seasons, including six starts, will also provide quality depth.
At the defensive end positions will be junior Marcus Rush and sophomore Shilique Calhoun. Though entering only his junior year, Rush is a veteran starting 27 games in his Spartan career. He won’t wow you with athleticism, but he has a knack for making plays in the backfield and is a steady, consistent player. He took a step back last year as his tackle total dropped from 58 to 38 and sack total from four to two. Look for him to bounce back in 2013. On the other side will be Calhoun who will be stepping into the position vacated by Gholston. Calhoun played in all 13 games as a reserve in 2012 but saw extensive playing time in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl where he delivered two tackles for a loss including one sack. Word out of East Lansing is he had a tremendous spring, and the coaching staff believes he has a bright future. He may not have the imposing size that Gholston had, but he possesses better pass rushing ability and will be the main reason why the Spartans’ sack total increases in 2013. Senior Denzel Drone will rotate in and he has a wealth of experience, playing in 39 games since 2010. Sophomore Joel Heath will also provide depth.
The Spartans’ defense should once again rank in the top ten in the country and will be an even greater force with an improved pass rush.