[Editor's note: welcome aboard to our newest contributor, Trajuan Briggs! Trajuan is a former D1 football player and I'm looking forward to his perspective. He'll be taking over position previews from me. - JT]
The Michigan State Spartans defense will have to fulfill some very big shoes with the departure of second-team All-Big Ten selection Taiwan Jones. Jones was a three-year starter at linebacker that produced consistently for the Spartan defense, helping them to a 4-0 bowl game record. Jones terrorized the Big Ten, racking up 60 tackles, 12.5 for loss, and four sacks. Taiwan started at STAR linebacker for two years and MIKE linebacker for one year, recording 183 tackles with 25.5 for loss in his career.
The Spartans return a hard-hitting linebacker crew, which will lead an experienced defense, this 2015-2016 season. Senior Ed Davis returns for his last season as the Spartans' starting SAM backer. Davis finished last season with 58 tackles, 12 for loss, and seven sacks. Davis is a high intensity player that possesses unbelievable quickness and great leaping ability. Davis will take more of a leadership role with the departure of Taiwan Jones and is only one of three of a bone crushing linebacker combo. Following Davis will be back up sophomore linebacker Chris Frey competing for more playing time at SAM. Frey played all 13 games last year as a contributor on both special teams and defense, being credited 19 tackles and a fumble recovery. The Big Ten All-Freshman Team honorable mention will continue to increase his workload and be another piece of this terrorizing defense.
Senior Darien Harris stands at the STAR linebacker position, and is looking forward to a much improved 2015-2016 season. Harris started 11 of 13 games at Star linebacker and recorded 48 tackles, which was the fifth best on the team. Harris has a great deal of knowledge that provides a good presence for the Spartans at STAR linebacker. Harris was also a big time contributor at third down last year, adding speed to a talented linebacker corp.
Lastly the BIG gap in the Spartans' middle will be filled, the question is: By who?
Look no further; Michigan State's Riley Bullough will be the starter at MIKE. Bullough, who was Davis primary back up at SAM, has made the move to middle linebacker to provide size and great strength in the core of this Spartan defense. The junior backer made his physical presence felt, recording 29 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Bullough had a solid spring ball camp this year and will continue to build as the season approaches. Riley will be the field general on defense, leading a unit that held Baylor to -20 rushing yards in the classic come from behind Cotton Bowl victory. With Harris and Davis terrorizing from the Sam and Star position, Bullough has a great opportunity at making a name for himself in the Big Ten.
With freshman Tyriq Thompson enrolling in January and participating in spring ball, be on the lookout for him suiting up this year. Thompson can very well make the traveling roster being a contributor on special teams, but it will be interesting to see if he can compete for any playing time at linebacker in the future. Drake Martinez, a junior college transfer, possesses great speed that can put him in the rotation for the Spartans. Martinez will be competing for time at Star, which will put him behind Harris.
This unit has major depth and talent that will challenge offenses such as Oregon, Ohio State, and Maryland. With a three-headed monster at linebacker positions, look forward to a fast and physical corps that will make it easier for the secondary and defensive line. Davis, Harris, and Bullough were involved a lot in Dantonio's success last season, and will continue to make an even bigger impact for the Spartans.