A position-by-position look at the 2013 Spartans. Since the quarterbacks are battling and it's going to draw the most ire, I'm working backward. Next up: the defensive backs. Previously:Defensive line, linebackers.
The defensive backfield is Mark Dantonio's specialty.
A defensive back himself at South Carolina (where he played with Sunshine from Remember the Titans), must of his early coaching career was with DBs. When he first came to MSU in 1995, he was Nick Saban's DBs coach. Like Dantonio, Saban was a DB specialist, so there was some extra pressure, and stress, that came with it, but it has helped Dantonio produce plenty of NFL DBs, and this year's MSU squad has a few.
Here's a look at likely contributors this season.
Darqueze Dennard (SR): When Chris L. Rucker was suspended following the 2010 win over Michigan (ahem, Iowa fans), it was the first time we really saw Dennard. The true freshman and former two-star recruit out of Georgia took Rucker's starting spot and had a solid game, including a forced fumble and recovery after getting beat deep. From then on it's been a great, and thus far underrated, career for Dennard. With Johnny Adams gone, Dennard moves to the No. 1 corner spot. With a good mix of physical and coverage abililty, he's on watch lists for various national awards. Dennard is expected to be in the NFL next season.
Trae Waynes (SO): Despite little game experience, Waynes quickly locked down the open starting spot in the spring. A former two-star recruit, Waynes filled in for Johnny Adams in the bowl game and played well. Pat Narduzzi commented recently that Waynes brings it in every practice, something Adams didn't do. We'll see if Waynes can emulate Adams on the field in games, but he's a popular pick for a breakout player.
Ezra Robinson (R-FR): The Florida native drew positive reports while on the scout team last year, and he looked really good in the spring game, recording an interception and nearly grabbing another. His future appears to be very bright.
Jermaine Edmondson (R-FR): Another young corner drawing rave reviews, we're still waiting to see him in games. The future of this position is very good, as you would expect with Dantonio.
Isaiah Lewis (SR): On watch lists for various defensive back awards, Lewis will be playing in the NFL next year. He was first noticed as the nickel back-type player on third-and-long situations in 2010. He earned All-Big Ten honors in each of the next two seasons. He recorded 80 tackles, two interceptions and six pass break-ups last year. He can read an offense, has speed and hits hard, everything you want in a strong safety.
Kurtis Drummond (JR): Because the entire defense played well, it may have been overlooked that Drummond was a bit of a revelation last season. He started in a position battle with RJ Williamson, but started the final seven games, recording 53 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, four pass beak-ups, two interceptions and a fumble recovery (that should have been a touchdown against Ohio State *grumble*). Just a solid overall player at free safety who doesn't get much attention on a defense full of stars.
Demetrious Cox (R-FR): No redshirted freshman in recent memory has received as much hype as Cox, whose redshirt coaches said they nearly burned to get him on the field. A spectacular athlete MSU was able to grab right before Signing Day, expect Cox in the third-safety role Lewis played in 2010 and Drummond did in 2011. But Cox will also get plenty of other snaps as Narduzzi wants to get him on the field. He's listed as a backup free safety.
RJ Williamson (SO): As mentioned, Williamson was in a position battle at free safety last year, and that was as a redshirt freshman. Williamson recorded 27 tackles, four pass break-ups and two interceptions last season. Though he was free safety last season, he's listed as backup strong safety on the preseason depth chart.
Arjen Colquhoun (SO): The Canadian transitioned from corner to safety in the spring. A great athlete, MSU is trying to find some room for him in a deep defensive backfield.