Coming into fall camp this year one of the biggest questions for the Michigan State football team was at the linebacker position.
The Spartans lost two key players at linebacker from last year in Captain Max Bullough,and three year starter Denicos Allen. Those two combined to make 80 starts at linebacker, and amassed 577 tackles, including 76.5 tackles for loss. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill.
While nothing has been set in stone, it is looking like Senior Taiwan Jones and Junior Darien Harris have locked up starting roles, although where they will be starting is still up in the air. Those two guys will also take over the leadership roles, vacated by Bullough and Allen.
“We are the oldest guys in the room now and so it’s really important to us that we take those leadership roles so that everybody knows that we (the defense) can do what those guys did last year and do it even better,” said Darien Harris.
Harris has emerged as not only a candidate to start this year, but as possibly the leader of the linebackers, despite not knowing if he would even be a starter. He has relished the opportunity to seize a leading role in this year’s camp.
“That’s what you work hard for when you come to a college campus, to one day be able to be called a starter,” said Harris. “I think that I’ve been working hard and finally getting an opportunity to really show what I can do.”
Harris played in all 14 games last year, but most of it was on special teams. That was before Max Bullough was suspended for the biggest game of the year and Darien Harris, along with senior Kyler Elsworth,were called upon to fill in for the defensive captain in the Grandaddy of all bowl games.
In the Rose Bowl, Harris played extensively in the game at middle linebacker and recorded a career-high five tackles, including a half a tackle for loss. He says playing in that game really helped get him ready to compete for a starting spot this year.
“It gave me a ton of confidence. It gave me the confidence to know I can play at this level in big games and for that game to be the game that really broke through my career was huge for me because I’m really coming to this year with a lot of confidence,” Harris said.
That confidence has shown in fall camp and in the two team scrimmages. In the first scrimmage, Harris was credited with six tackles and had an interception. Despite the strong performance, the team shook things up the following week in practice, with Riley Bullough getting some looks at Harris’ Star Linebacker spot.
Harris backed up his performance in the first scrimmage with an even better performance in the second one. Harris once again had six tackles, including a tackle for loss, broke up a pass and picked off another one, leading the defense to victory.
That performance should lock up his spot as a starter and might even get him a look at the Mike Linebacker spot, which would make him the quarterback of the defense. Max Bullough excelled in that role and Harris understands its importance.
“Linebacker is that one position that can talk to the D-line and talk to the secondary simultaneously and because of that we all have to be on the same page,” said Harris.
Whether its Harris or Jones at the Mike spot, the Spartan defense should be in pretty good hands this year. It will be tough to equal the performance of last year’s team but that is exactly what this year’s group intends to do.
“The goal is always to be better. We are trying to be number one in the country in all categories. That is always going to be our goal as Spartan Dawgs here,” Harris said.