It’s been a whirlwind offseason to say the least for the Michigan State Spartans. Several underclassmen have left the program from the 2016 season — be it by the NFL Draft, dismissal, a transfer or other reasons.
The two biggest positional groups affected, without much argument, were the defensive line and secondary.
Today, let’s talk about that secondary. It is by far one of Michigan State’s biggest question marks heading into the 2017 season. Defensive backs Vayante Copeland, Drake Martinez, Demetric Vance, Kenney Lyke and Kaleel Gaines are all no longer on the roster. Cornerback Tyson Smith suffered a stroke last year and his availability is still up in the air.
The summer roster currently lists seven players as cornerbacks (including wide receiver/cornerback Justin Layne), three players as defensive backs and nine players as safeties. Not a single one of those players are seniors, and the team only has 12 seniors total listed.
Even more so, of those 19 secondary players, nine players are true or redshirt freshmen. If my research is correct, only eight players from that group have played in a game.
In terms of starters, the preseason consensus seems to put sophomore Layne and true freshman Josiah Scott at the two cornerback positions. At safety, it looks like juniors Khari Willis and Grayson Miller have a leg up.
Layne, who was a four-star recruit at wide receiver, emerged as a starting-caliber cornerback last season, and should only improve this year. Scott has made plays throughout the spring, and has a good shot of becoming an impact player right away. Miller and Willis have the most experience of the safety group.
Looking at depth, it could go a lot of ways. T.J. Harrell and Josh Butler are likely to see some playing time as well at cornerback. However, if Smith is unable to suit up, Tre Person and Emmanuel Flowers, also true freshmen, could push for playing time in nickel or dime packages.
David Dowell and Matt Morrissey could make an impact at safety as well. Additionally, fan favorite Jalen Watts-Jackson is entering his third season, and will do all he can to get on the field. It’s possible one of those three ends up starting this season.
I think we can all agree that the relatively young and inexperienced secondary will struggle this year. With no seniors in the group, and the potential of having multiple true freshmen in the defensive backfield is going to have its fair share of growing pains.
The positives? This young group is building for the future. Coupling this year’s players with the multiple defensive backs who have already committed in the 2018 class gives the secondary a positive outlook beyond 2017. Even if it doesn’t come to fruition this season, the secondary could — and should — be solid for years to come.
Another positive has been Josiah Scott’s play throughout the spring. Though entering his first season, he has been nothing short of impressive thus far. As a freshman, he’s going to make mistakes, but he is going to progress throughout the season.
I also think Layne will step up this season. After getting some experience in last season, and having the skill set of a wide receiver to track down balls, he definitely could become the anchor of the secondary.
Miller and Willis are the veterans of this group and they’re going to have to act that way. Helping out their young cornerbacks and safeties as much as possible will be key for success.
So, while this secondary has been depleted and is inexperienced, I think there is a ton of talent there. It may even perform better than the 2016 group, which isn’t saying a ton, but progress, people. But expect some frustrating plays from this positional group.