The Spartans will have a new identity this year, replacing three starters and bringing back plenty of depth. Trae Waynes and Kurtis Drummond were both huge contributors to the "No Fly Zone" secondary and led the talented group to shut down performances throughout the 2014-2015 season. Waynes was a second team All-American, first team All Big-Ten, and a Thorpe award semifinalist performer last season. Waynes was a 1st round pick (11th overall) to the Minnesota Vikings, and became the highest drafted Spartan in the Dantonio era. The two-year starter at cornerback tallied 101 tackles, six interceptions, and 27 consecutive starts in his 36 career games.
Kurtis Drummond became a household name around the country as the Spartan's free safety. He helped lead Michigan State to a 4-0 bowl record and was a four-year letter winner that started 34 consecutive games in his 52 game career. He recorded 233 tackles, 12 interceptions, and 14 tackles for loss. Drummond was rewarded for his performance, being named 2014 first team All-American, Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, and first team All-Big Ten twice (2013, 2014). Drummond showed excellent ball skills that helped the Spartans become one of the top ten defenses in the nation.
Top Returnees/New Faces
Despite the depth in the secondary for the Spartans, Michigan State is still searching for three starters in the "No Fly Zone". The frontrunner that has secured a spot is RJ Williamson, a three-year letter winner and fifth-year senior. Williamson started at strong safety last year, and has produced well for the Spartans. His 130 tackles, 17 pass deflections, and six interceptions are the most amongst the secondary along with 12 starts. Williamson ranked third on the team last season with a career-high 59 tackles, three interceptions, and returned two for touchdowns. If you still doubt Williamson's presence on the field just turn on the 2015 Cotton Bowl versus Baylor. Williamson gnawed and clawed finishing with 10 tackles and ran back a blocked field goal for 36 yards to set up the game-winning touchdown drive.
Replacing Williamson at the strong safety position is Montae Nicholson, a true sophomore that has shown plenty of promise and upside for the Spartans. Coach Dantonio has called the safety "a star" and has expressed how critical it is to have him on the field. Nicholson is a versatile athlete, he also shows freakish leaping ability in the long jump for Michigan State's track team. Nicholson is not afraid of contact, the 6'2 216lb safety use to play linebacker and has loved the physical aspect of defense since. As a true freshman Montae played in 13 games, started 3, and finished with 31 tackles. His physical frame will be much needed at strong safety, which will be more involved in run support. Nicholson showed plenty of growth this spring, as he stood out in scrimmages snagging two interceptions.
At the backside cornerback position, Demetrious Cox will likely enter as the starter for the Spartans. The junior possesses plenty of playing experience, contributing in 27 games primarily as safety. Cox started playing corner in the final four games of last season, and was also an impact player on special teams. Demetrious finished last season with 26 tackles, two for losses, including one tackle, and a pass break-up in the Cotton Bowl.
At Frontside corner there lays a heavy competition going into fall camp. Junior Darian Hicks and redshirt freshman Vayante Copeland will battle it out for the starting job. Hicks has started 10 games for the Spartans, but lost his job late last season as a sophomore. This year he has been slated as the starter but due to the shuffle throughout spring ball, the position is still up for grabs. Vayante Copeland has shown plenty of promise and upside this spring, giving Hicks a big run for the spot. Coach Harlon Barnett has made it clear that they're looking for two new corners; they could be freshmen or returners. Copeland has great ball skills, a solid tackler, and presents a lot of balance that can very well put him in the mix.
Junior Jermaine Edmondson is coming along quite well and even had the opportunity to start in spring ball. Throughout this spring his confidence in his play has shown along with his hard work, physicality, speed, and toughness. Along side of Edmondson is senior Arjen Colquhoun, a senior that has been waiting patiently for a chance to show his skills. Colquhoun played in 11 games last season and tallied 12 tackles with two pass break ups. Coach Dantonio praised Colquhoun stating, " He has a lot of experience, runs well, and is big". Cox went on to compliment Colquhoun about his improvements and stepping up.
Along with some old but new faces to the defense is the incoming freshman that can possibly crash the party. Michigan State picked up three four-star defensive backs in David Dowell, Tyson Smith, and Josh Butler. If any of these freshmen can turn heads in summer workouts and fall camp, be on the lookout for them to be in the rotation or start on special teams.
The secondary is loaded with talent and experience for the Spartans; in our case we have plenty of promise. The question is: can this secondary team up and play lights out throughout the 2016 season? With Williamson and Nicholson leading the charge of the "No Fly Zone" the Spartans can very well become a top ten passing defense this season. The corners will have to step up and contribute majorly while Hicks, Copeland, and company will fight for the No.1 spot at corner. Look closely at the Spartan's secondary this season; they will be given the ultimate test week in and week out.