FanPost

If Today Were August 31, 2013: The Back Seven

I'm sure the substantially more qualified staffers here at TOC have things like this coming up the pipe in more informed and cogent forms, but I'm a restless fan trying not to let the upcoming MSU-Michigan basketball game consume my existence, and I have to wait for a few return calls at work this afternoon anyway.

Ergo, I decided to attempt a positional breakdown of the football team in 2013. I don't have access to any paywall-protected sources, so this is all based on watching the team last year, a crude knowledge of what the coaches have said in the past about various players, and a healthy dose of educated guessing. I'll begin with the side of the ball with more certainty, the defense. Since I'm straying into TL;DR territory as it is, I'll also confine it to the defensive backs and linebackers for this first post, cover the linemen on both sides next, and then the offensive skill players, which will be almost entirely guesswork anyway but by virtue of being last may be able to cash in on any patina of credibility I've constructed.

Strong Safety

Starter (returning): Isaiah Lewis, Sr

Backups: Jairus Jones, RSr; Demetrious Cox, RFr

The picture at strong safety looks relatively clear. Barring unforeseen developments, Lewis will return for his third year as the starter. Jones, when he has been healthy enough to contribute, has been serviceable, but a noticeable step down from Lewis. Isaiah didn't make quite as many big plays in 2012 as he did in 2011, but that's true of last year's entire defense to an extent.

The one thing that may make the SS spot interesting is the immense potential of Cox. He was one of the headliners of the 2012 class, and Dantonio mentioned on a couple occasions how tempted he was to burn Cox's redshirt at various times. We could well see a Taiwan Jones-Chris Norman situation here, where a talented youngster shows enough on special teams that even a slight dip in performance by the entrenched starter leads to some snap-splitting before the upstart eventually becomes the starter.

Free Safety

Starter (returning): Kurtis Drummond, RJr

Backups: R.J. Williamson, RSo; Mark Meyers, RFr

The "starter" at free safety was never as clear as at strong safety last year. Though Drummond was named the started in all 14 games (I believe), Williamson played a decent number of snaps, and showed a real knack for the big play that will be hard to keep off the field. Williamson, for example, was the one who recovered the muffed punt in the bowl game. In the "Delta" 3-3-5 package last year, Isaiah Lewis would sometimes shift to the nickle position with Drummond and Williamson as the deep safeties, so the staff is clearly comfortable playing all three, and I would expect the Drummond-Williamson timeshare to continue to an extent.

I list Meyers as the deep reserve here only because it's not clear to me exactly what's going to happen with Mylan Hicks, who has been listed as both a CB and S in his career. When both Drummond and Williamson were injured in the Nebraska game, Hicks was the next safety in. However, Meyers was redshirting last season, and with Johnny Adams and Mitchell White both graduating, the staff may decide more experience is needed at corner. That said, I know virtually nothing about Meyers that would lead me to expect him on the field much. We pulled him off a commitment to Toledo, which isn't terribly impressive, but if there's anything I will trust this staff on, it's defensive back evaluation. Spring ball might (probably not) give us a better idea of what the lower levels of the depth chart will look like.

Cornerback

Starter (returning): Darqueze Dennard, Sr

Starter (projected): Trae Waynes, RSo

Backups: Ezra Robinson, RFr; Mylan Hicks, RJr; Arjen Colquhoun, RSo

There is certainly some guesswork involved here. Barring injury or other catastrophe (knock on ALL THE WOOD), you can write Dennard in Sharpie at the No. 1 spot, so he'll do battle with Jeremy Gallon, Kenny Bell, and whoever else passes for No. 1 receivers on our schedule. Because Waynes got the nod over Hicks and Colquhoun for big time in the bowl game, he probably has an edge going into the offseason to move into the other starting role. Again, though, a hot freshman coming off a redshirt season could pose a big challenge to the established guys. Robinson, with Cox, were the two guys in last year's class the coaches seemed most excited about, hailing both their natural ability and work ethic. The only thing I've heard about Colquhoun is that his nickname is the Canadian Flash. So, there's that.

STAR Linebacker

Starter (returning): Taiwan Jones, Jr.

Backups: Darien Harris, RSo; Riley Bullough, RFr

Jones looks like a star in the making at STAR (rimshot), so the main discussion here is on the next man up. Harris is another guy who's caught a lot of praise from the coaches, though they didn't find much for him to do on the field last season. I'll admit here that I'm not positive the second Bullough brother ends up here instead of at SAM, but since he was labelled a safety by some recruiting services, it stands to reason he has some coverage skill. My reading of the staff comments after Signing Day is that they also aren't sure which side freshman Shane Jones will end up on, but with the great depth at LB, Shane probably takes a redshirt this year anyway.

MIKE Linebacker

Starter (returning) You Know Damn Well It's Max Bullough, Sr.

Backups: Jon Reschke, Fr

My personal favorite player on the team, the QB of the defense if that wasn't a dirty word around this program right now, the first person I've had cause to attach the label Urlacheresque to, returns for his last go-around and to rescue Paul Bunyan before riding off into the sunset/NFL. The plan for the future seems to be the same as it was when MB-40 was a freshman: play a designated successor as much as possible in relief to get him on-field experience at the most critical defensive position instead of relying on practice and scout-team reps. It worked spectacularly well last time, so I'd fully support the same plan with Reschke. He's the only true freshman I expect to see the field in the back seven this fall. I'm not sure who the third MLB would be if it were necessary to play one.

SAM Linebacker

Starter (returning): Denicos Allen, RSr

Backups: Kyler Elsworth, RSr; Ed Davis, RSo

After a breakout sophomore season in his first year starting, the Waterboy was bottled up much more effectively last season. Still, his development as a complete player has been impressive, as has the emergence of Elsworth from walk-on to special teams dynamo and pass rush specialist. Davis is another promising guy who hasn't seen the field much outside of special teams, but with Allen and Elsworth both being seniors, the staff may well look to get the future of the position some snaps. Whether that's Davis, Jamal Lyles, or if the position is being held for Shane Jones remains to be seen, but like Darien Harris, Davis has gotten the accolades and may well have the inside track.

This, at least, is how I see the back seven working out until spring ball is over, when I'm sure we'll hear about how some walk-on has been blowing up practice and is about to take Dennard's job from him (remember John Jakubik, the next Blair White?). Can't have our guys getting complacent, after all.

I expect the following posts to be at least as long, if not longer, because the less certain a position is (like, for instance, QB), the more I'll inject my opinions on who SHOULD be starting, as opposed to who simply IS. Sorry. But if it's too to digest at once and you go to navigate away, just remember how long and cold winter is with no football. Literally if you live in the Midwest or Northeast, figuratively elsewhere. You'll be back. You'll ALL be back.

This is a FanPost, written by a member of the TOC community. It does not represent the official positions of The Only Colors, Inc.--largely because we have no official positions.

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