In the last few years the Michigan State football program has churned out some pretty good players in the secondary.
Notable names include current NFL players Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes, who were huge assets to the Spartans on the field in one-on-one coverage.
But as both players are trying to make their own names in the biggest sports league of them all, MSU has to find a way to limit its bruising on the defensive side of the ball.
This was most noticeable last season, even with Waynes on the field. MSU’s defensive backs got, more or less, torched against offenses like Oregon, Ohio State and Baylor.
In the unit’s defense, those teams’ offenses were pretty much putting up points left and right on everyone — and two of those teams eventually played one another for the national championship.
The other team, Baylor, had am NFL draft pick at quarterback in Bryce Petty.
Still, in the wake of not having defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi anymore after he left to become head coach at Pittsburgh, the coaching staff is still in the process of figuring out what they have as the anchors of the defense.
Injuries and illness haven’t helped spur the process so much, though.
R.J. Williamson and Montae Nicholson look to be the 1-2 tandem who will play safety for MSU. Demetrius Cox is expected to be a No. 1 cornerback, though coach Mark Dantonio has said Cox could even move to safety if the personnel calls for it.
Colquhoun and Jermaine Edmondson are battling for a starting cornerback job as well, though one youngster may get in their way: redshirt freshman Vayante Copeland.
The youngster has drawn praise from co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett, who compared him to Dennard.
“Coach B. likes to say, ‘He’s got some dawg in him’ if he likes the way you play, aggressive,” Williamson said of Barnett in the Detroit Free Press. “He said, ‘He’s got a little bit of ‘Queze in him,’ and I know exactly what he was talking about when he said that.”
Dantonio didn’t mince words, either.
“Vayante is very balanced,” Dantonio said, according to foxsports.com. “He’s a very good tackler and he has very good ball skills. He reminds (me) a little of Darqueze Dennard, in how he carries himself and his competitive nature. He’s pushing to be a No. 1. I really feel like he’s been in the mix.”
Mike Griffith of Mlive noted that the first game against Western Michigan University will be a test to see which players stand out. But he said that prior to the injury conflicting Colquhoun.
Dantonio noted how impressive the younger players have been, making an immediate impact similar to younger players at other positions on the depth chart.
“The freshmen are good players, we’ll see if they can make their move — it’s all about consistency,” Dantonio said. “They had good scrimmages, but it’s all about, can they be consistent as we add more things and time takes its course on them? Can they stay healthy? And then how’s their consistency these next eight practices?
“You’ve got to play well on the edges of your defense. I don’t think there’s anybody in the nation that’s going to have a great defense if they don’t play well on the edges. Our corner position is important. We’ve got guys. We’ve got guys with ability.”
It’s still a little bit of a guessing game at this point. The first game should reveal what the defensive backs can do against an above-average passing offense in the FBS, and it’s prime time for younger players to prove their worth in a position battle that will be watched by all.