Although the Michigan State Spartans persevered behind replacement Kyler Elsworth‘s rise to the moment in the Rose Bowl, there’s no denying the impact middle linebacker Max Bullough (76 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss) had on MSU’s Big 10 championship season in 2013.
With Bullough and fellow thumper Denicos Allen (98 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks) gone, the Spartans enter this year without two of their leaders and in need of players to fill the glaring holes they left behind in the middle of the defense. Thankfully, it appears there’s a surplus of qualified candidates already lined up.
With fall camp underway and MSU’s season opener against Jacksonville State nearly two weeks away, not to mention an early test on the road against the Oregon Ducks looming in Week 2, it would seem alarming that the linebacking corps are not settled with clear-cut starters. In fact, the one likely Spartans starter at linebacker isn’t even completely settled in a position, as 2013’s starting star backer Taiwan Jones (67 tackles, seven tackles for loss) is attempting to make the move to the middle.
The neck-and-neck battles to move atop the depth chart in mid-August aren’t surprising to anyone in the Spartans’ locker room, however. One of those candidates, Darien Harris, who entered fall camp atop the depth chart at the star linebacker spot, said that the competition is for the best.
The list of competitors is still pretty long, with redshirt freshman Jon Reschke impressing at middle linebacker, former defensive back Mylan Hicks at star, sophomore Riley Bullough at strong side and junior Ed Davis (17 tackles, four sacks, four tackles for loss) all in the mix.
While some analysts will undoubtedly point to the linebackers as a question mark when predicting MSU’s chances at repeating as conference champions, Dantonio’s solid recruiting hauls in recent seasons has made this a legitimate competition, not a tryout to find at least one guy from the group who can step onto the field.
The Spartans may not have the big names returning at linebacker some want to see from a playoff contender, but the depth in the group will give defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi plenty of fresh, capable bodies to send out during the constant grind of the Big Ten season. The whole is certainly greater than the sum of its parts.