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2023 Football Preview: The Defensive Backs - A Season Defining Group

This much maligned group over the last few years must find a new level of play for the team to succeed. 

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Mel Tucker was a great defensive backs coach. At Michigan State he has shown some flashes as a head coach. Yet one of his weakest position groups since starting at Michigan State has been the defensive secondary. This needs to change in 2023.

The defensive backfield has been an Achilles heel for the Spartans under Mel Tucker. Even in a system that seems designed to let opponents complete shorter passes, the Spartan Secondary has almost no identity over the past few years other than being easily beaten.

Projected Depth Chart:


Projected Starters: Terry Roberts, 6th, Charles Brantley, Jr.;

Key Backups: Chester Kimbrough, R-Sr.; Marqui Lowery Jr., R-Jr.;


Projected Starters: Strong Safety: Jaden Mangham, So.; Free Safety: Dillon Tatum, So.;

Key Backups: Harold Joiner III, 6th; Malcolm Jones, R-Fr.; Armorion Smith, R-So.;


Projected Starters: Malik Spencer, So.;

Key Backups: Angelo Grose, Sr.; Justin White, R-Sr.;

Full 2023 Roster available here

Storylines to Watch:

Harold Joiner III

Joiner is moving positions for his last year of eligibility. The former Running back has played 42 total college games, 25 of those for the Spartans the rest for the Auburn Tigers. In 2022, Joiner primarily played on special teams, logging 176 snaps but only 2 tackles. Joiner has been a great athlete across his collegiate career and the move to defensive back may finally unlock that potential as a solid contributor in a unit that could use some grit.

Armorion Smith

The Cincinnati transfer could provide a spark to this defense. After two years (one red shirt) in the Cincinnati defensive system, Smith will have a different approach than some of the returning players that could set him apart. His 20 tackles across defense and special teams last year would have put him right in the mix with the top stats recorded by this year’s returning players.

2023 Outlook

This group has a lot to prove. Both as a unit of athletes and as a bellwether for the broader defensive approach at Michigan State.

The defensive line of MSU has a chance to have a serious impact this year. The problem will be if the secondary is letting quarterbacks consistently find open receivers fast then any defensive line pressure simply will not matter in the end.

The coaches have a big task here to show they have been able to build a quality set of defensive backs and know how to coach them to get the most out of them.