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Strong-side linebacker position is one to watch for Michigan State

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Michigan State v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Michigan State Spartans recently released the depth chart for the first week against Utah State, and, as expected, there were not many surprises. One thing that was interesting, though, was the strong-side linebacker position (SAM).

MSU listed both Tyriq Thompson and Brandon Randle as the starting SAM linebacker on the official depth chart with an “OR” designation.

Here is what head coach Mark Dantonio had to say about the linebacker situation at yesterday’s press conference:

“There’s some competition at linebacker. We’ll travel with 10 linebackers, and I really think that nine of them pretty much can play in and out. That’s a good situation. I think Tyriq has had a good camp. I think Brandon (Bouyer)-Randle is much improved. Who plays, when they play, it’s up to them how they perform in that football game.

They’ve both had points in the summer where you say, ‘Wow, that is special.’ So I’m excited to watch them because they’re both young players, and this is their first opportunity in that area. But we got other guys we’re going to play in there, as well. (Byron) Bullough can play over there, (Jon) Reschke can play over there, Noah Harvey has been good. So there’s five linebackers that can play at the money linebacker position. Now, they have to play well, but there is depth.”

The fact that Randle and Thompson are listed as co-starters, coupled with interesting comments from Dantonio, likely means that while both players had good camps, neither player stood out over the other one. Both players bring interesting skill sets to the defense.

Randle, a redshirt sophomore, is a talented edge rusher and good athlete. He provides the Spartans with some versatility on defense, as he also played defensive end last season. He appeared in 13 games and played more than 200 snaps. Thompson, a junior out of Detroit, provides good size at 6-feet-1, 245 pounds. He also brings strength and has plenty of knowledge of the defensive scheme as he enters his fourth season with the program. He has played in 23 games over the past two seasons, playing both defense and special teams.

There are some similarities between the two players as well. Coming out of high school, both Thompson and Randle were top-10 recruits in the state of Michigan, and amongst the top-rated recruits at the outside linebacker position nationally. Both of these players have good potential, but are unproven as starters.

It also sounds like Dantonio is comfortable playing multiple players on the strong-side this week, including the much talked-about Jon Reschke.

Reschke actually started at the position on the College Football Playoff team in 2015. However, as you’re likely aware of, Reschke left the team before last season following an incident where he made racist comments. He was re-instated with the team during the offseason, and his teammates have accepted him back, but he is also coming back from a knee injury he suffered off of the field.

The Spartans should be extremely confident at the other two linebacker spots with Joe Bachie in the middle (MIKE) and Andrew Dowell on the weak-side (STAR). The strong-side, or what MSU refers to as the “money,” linebacker is likely the biggest question mark on the defense right now, but with how talented the unit is as a whole, and with the potential that Randle and Thompson both possess, I don’t think we should be too worried.

It will be interesting to see who earns the most reps at the position as the season goes on.