The Michigan State defense is a big question mark heading into the 2017 season. Losing the likes of Malik McDowell, Montae Nicholson, Josh King and others certainly doesn’t help, but the team does have a lot of new faces and impact players that can make a difference. Max Lapthorne, Grant Essenmacher and I give takes on who will breakout for the Spartan defense.
Max Lapthorne: The Michigan State defense is going to need more than one breakout player if it hopes to be competitive this season, but the middle of the defensive line is where I see at least one of those players coming from.
Redshirt sophomore Raequan Williams will be looked at to anchor the defensive front for MSU as he did for much of 2016. He had five tackles for loss as well as two of the Spartans’ 11 sacks last year, while starting three games. The 6-foot-4, 300 pound Williams and equally massive sophomore Mike Panasiuk should provide a stout 1-2 punch up the middle, and with question marks at the defensive end position, they may need to carry a big chunk of the pass-rushing load.
Williams pairs his ideal frame with surprisingly quick feet and a burst that could lead to him becoming more of a pass-rushing threat in the future. As Jerel Worthy showed several years ago, having a big-time threat like that up the middle can take a lot of pressure off the rest of the defense, and that’s what Williams has the potential to do.
Safety and defensive end may be the biggest position of need for the Spartan defense this season, and if they don’t get breakouts from a player or two there, they’ll be in trouble. But Williams is the best candidate for a breakout, and a big year from him will go a long way toward a rebound performance for the Spartan Dawg defense.
Grant Essenmacher: Michigan State’s defense is full of question marks heading into this year, especially up front and in the secondary. There will be a lot of younger guys thrust into starting roles, which also makes for a lot of breakout candidates. Josiah Scott is a guy that should come in and play right away. The true freshman corner has been getting buzz already throughout camp.
Scott is a former three-star recruit per 247 Sports, and while he was not rated super high coming out of high school, he has already impressed. He enrolled early, which allowed him to play in the spring game and he was all over the field. MSU has not had a dominant corner since Trae Waynes, and Scott could fill that slot and bring back the “no fly zone.”
The Spartans desperately need players step up in the secondary, especially with the departures of Montae Nicholson and Vayante Copeland. Scott could come in and have the same impact on the defense as Donnie Corley had on the offense last year. Expect him to have a strong freshman season.
Zach Manning: While Raequan Williams and Josiah Scott are good choices, I think Joe Bachie is going to breakout for the Spartans at linebacker this season. Bachie is a former three-star recruit per 247 Sports, and he’s already in line to earn significant playing time as a sophomore.
Bachie didn’t see much action last season due to Riley Bullough, but Bachie is likely to be the starting middle linebacker barring any unforeseen changes. In six games last season Bachie made 12 tackles, 2 of which were tackles for loss. Chris Frey and Andrew Dowell will play alongside Bachie, and that veteran presence could help him settle in to his new role faster.
The front seven is going to be big for the Spartans, because the secondary has a lot of question marks. If the front seven can’t make plays and get to the quarterback, MSU will be in some trouble. Look for Bachie and the other linebackers to control the defense and make plays all over the field.
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