The Michigan State Spartans had the No. 1 ranked defense in NCAA College Football in 2013, but many of those contributing players have gone to the NFL. On the defensive side of the ball the Spartans lost five key players to the NFL: Darqueze Dennard (CB), Isaiah Lewis (S), Max Bullough (LB), Denicos Allen (LB), and Tyler Hoover (DT). Will the Spartan defense still rank No. 1 after losing such talented players?
Arguably, the biggest hit to the defense was the loss of Darqueze Dennard. He was the only Spartan taken in the 2014, the others went as undrafted free agents. When Dennard was playing the ‘no-fly-zone’ was in effect and quarterbacks were greatly limited in the passing game. With a limited passing game, teams were forced to try and run the ball, which was also futile because this meant they were faced with Max Bullough. Max was a team captain and ran the defense while on the field. He was also one of their surest tacklers.
Lewis, Allen, and Hoover were also crucial pieces to the No. 1 ranked Spartan defense. Lewis recorded 58 tackles and 2 interceptions in 2013. Allen led the team in both tackles (98) and tackles for a loss (16.5), while Hoover finished the year with 31 tackles and 4 sacks.
So how does Sparty replace these titans of defense?… recruiting. Recruiting new talent is a crucial part to college football, and luckily for MSU, Coach Dantonio is pretty good at it.
Starting with Dennard, his replacement is Darian Hicks. Hicks, was a top recruit out of Ohio where he played receiver, corner, and punt returner. So far at MSU he has mainly been used on special teams, but has shown a lot of promise at corner. In fact, he had a game winning interception at the Green and White Game this spring.
In for Tyler Hoover is Joel Heath, a 6-6 289 lb. mountain of a man. Heath has been in the MSU defensive system since 2011 making him very familiar with the schemes, play calling, and what it takes to make it in the Big Ten.
This year the Spartans have decided to give juniors Darien Harris and Ed Davis a chance to win the starting linebacker jobs. Both players were used primarily on special teams but both have previous linebacking experience already. Harris played linebacker extensively during the Rose Bowl, while Davis got linebacker snaps during the Big Ten Championship.
Replacing Isaiah Lewis appears to be a little less cut and dry. Players RJ Williamson and Demetrious Cox are in competition to win the position. Williamson is the older of the two and has more experience, while Cox had a great spring practice season and shows a lot of promise.
On paper it looks like Dantonio has hit the mark. He has highly touted recruits, they are eager, and they been in his defensive system for at least one season. With any luck they will be ranked No. 1 again.