The Michigan State defense lost a lot of talent from the group that ranked number one in the country in 2013. Along the defensive line, the Spartans lost two key starters but return both defensive ends. Finding new defensive tackles and continued development from the defensive ends will be the biggest tasks facing the Michigan State defensive line in 2014.
The defensive front will be led by Shilique Calhoun, who had a breakout year in 2013 recording 7.5 sacks and scoring three defensive touchdowns. Calhoun proved he is one of the best pass rushers in the country last year, but was equally adept at stopping the run and forcing turnovers. Assuming Calhoun continues his development into a top-tier defensive end, he will take a lot of pressure off the rest of the defensive line in 2014.
Opposite of Calhoun on the defensive front will be senior Marcus Rush. Rush has never been heralded as the star of the defense, but he has been a model of consistency during his time in East Lansing. He has played in at least 13 games every year since he redshirted in 2010 and has recorded 11 career sacks and 27 tackles for loss. Rush’s experience and consistency will make him the perfect complement to Calhoun at defensive end.
Two other players who will have the chance to make an impact at defensive end for the Spartans in 2014 are Lawrence Thomas and Demetrius Cooper. Thomas has battled injuries and has changed positions a few times since coming to Michigan State, but his potential is off the charts and according to the Michigan State coaches, he has made himself at home on the defensive line.
Demetrius Cooper looks like he’s going to force his way onto the field in 2014 based on his play in the spring. Cooper was the most impressive player in the Green and White spring game, and has drawn comparisons to Shilique Calhoun from Michigan State coaches. If Cooper turns out to be even close to what Calhoun is, he will make a noticeable impact in 2014.
The interior of the defensive line is where there are questions for Michigan State. MSU will have to replace Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover, both of whom excelled at defending the run. Damon Knox looks poised to take over one of the spots on the interior and James Kittredge and Brandon Clemons will compete for the other spot.
At 6-foot-4 275 pounds Damon Knox provides some beef in the middle for the Spartans. As a redshirt sophomore in 2013 Knox earned his first significant playing time of his career, appearing in all 14 games and collecting 22 tackles. Knox won’t be the star of the defensive line, but it’s important that he can eat up blocks and plug running lanes if the MSU defense wants to remain as dominant as it was in 2013.
James Kittredge and Brandon Clemons have each battled injuries throughout their collegiate careers, but have each showed the ability to contribute. Kittredge is a senior who missed most of last season after hernia surgery but was productive in 2012 posting 14 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. Clemons is a junior who played in six games in 2013 including the Rose Bowl where he recorded a career-high two tackles.
Kittredge and Clemons are 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-3 respectively and each weigh in at 295 pounds so they both have ideal size to anchor the interior of the defensive line. The only question about them, as well as Damon Knox, is how well they will perform when they are thrust into starting roles.
The Spartans will be inexperienced at defensive tackle in 2014, but with possibly the most talented groups of defensive ends in the country, the defensive line will still cause a lot of problems for opposing offenses next season.
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