Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 8/13/12

The Michigan State football team is known across the Big Ten Conference and even nationwide for its fast, swarming, and hard-nosed defense. Players like William Gholston, Max Bullough, and Johnny Adams are popular names known to all college football fans. Teams are aware of Denicos Allen’s playmaking ability and of Isaiah Lewis’ nose for the ball.

Many people, however, may not realize the depth that this Spartan football team has at each position, more specifically at linebacker.

Michigan State held their first jersey scrimmage on Sunday at Spartan Stadium, with the defense coming away with a 74-54 victory in a “situational scrimmage.”

Leading the way for the defense was red-shirt freshman linebacker Darien Harris with nine tackles. Sophomore linebacker Taiwan Jones recorded tackles, while red-shirt freshman linebacker Ed Davis added 6 stops, including 1.5 tackles for loss and a 6-yard sack.

Red-shirt freshman linebacker #45 Darien Harris led the defense with nine tackles in Michigan State’s first jersey scrimmage on Sunday at Spartan Stadium.

Jones started the scrimmage at the STAR linebacker position in place of senior Chris Norman, who was held out for the entire scrimmage.

“Taiwan got the first crack because he’s had the best first few days of camp,” linebacker/special teams coach Mike Tressel during a media briefing in the Skandalaris football center Monday evening. “What it comes down to is getting to the point where he is playing up to his potential and his ability, ‘cause he has always had it in there and he just had to cut it loose. His athleticism is unbelievable, but unless you cut it loose it doesn’t do you any good.”

Tressel has all kinds of weapons to use this year with the athletic ability that these young linebackers have. He said that Harris is a guy that could be put on the field for nickel package situations.

“He’s athletic enough that when you go into nickel packages you could slide him in, anywhere from a nickelback to an inside linebacker,” Tressel said. “Obviously, he’ll be out there on all those special teams but as you start facing teams that have multiple personnel groups, when you have some depth you can throw some different personnel groups right back at ‘em.”

“All the guys are pretty versatile,” Tressel added. “Davis is certainly a guy that can blitz very, very well. Kyler Elsworth has always gone in during short-yardage and goal-line situations in the past and he’s only getting better.”

And the depth doesn’t stop there. Senior Steve Gardiner and junior TyQuan Hammock are listed as the second and third string MIKE linebackers behind Bullough, respectively.

“Steve is a very reliable linebacker,” Tressel said. “His 40-time and athleticism might not be the same as Darien Harris but he understands where to be.”

“Tyquan is a very good defend-the-run linebacker,” Tressel added. “When you get into two-back, two-tight end personnel, he really can deliver a blow. He’s also intelligent about things. Best-case scenario for him is, you go against a running team and we’re bangin’, bangin’, bangin’, and he can go in and do that with the best of ‘em. TyQuan is as good, probably, as we have at going in and punching somebody in the mouth.”

As far as the linebackers that have just begun their Spartan careers, Tressel feels that true freshmen Riley Bullough and Jamal Lyles are ready to play, but may have to red-shirt this year because of the depth and experience of the others.

“He has already shown that he has the speed and playmaking ability, recklessness, to do it on the special teams,” Tressel said of Riley Bullough. “He would be able to play as a freshman, right now with the depth we just got to see how much better he gets over the next two weeks. He could do it right now as a two (second-string) for sure, but we’re in a fortunate situation where we may not have to do that.”

Lyles who can also play at defensive end in the nickel package is another guy that Tressel feels is ready to go.

“He turned it on after practice number three, that’s when he really cranked it up,” Tressel said. “It was the second day of pads on and he cranked it up. He had one day where he turned it loose and had a few TFL’s, after he did it one day you could just see the switch go on. He could be out there and be back-up linebacker right now in an instant.”

The depth at linebacker speaks volumes to what Head Coach Mark Dantonio and the Spartan coaching staff have built at Michigan State in five years. With Michigan State returning 18 of the top 22 from last year’s Big Ten best defense, and the depth that has been added this year, the Spartans will have a defense that should be ranked nationwide as long as Dantonio is in charge.

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