Pick one: Willie Henry or Ondre Pipkins.
You can't go wrong.
One of those guys is bound to become a breakout star for Michigan's defense, which, believe it or not, finished as the No. 13-ranked unit in the land this past season.
Just about a month ago during the spring game, Henry demonstrated why he's considered one of Greg Mattison's top youngsters. The 6'2," 297-pound redshirt sophomore blew up a quarterback-running back exchange and basically waltzed his way into the backfield at will.
Of course, that didn't look great for the O-Line (read how UM stacks vs. MSU's O-Line). That needs a lot of work. But the defensive front most certainly did its job, and Henry, along with Pipkins, who must be beyond ready to compete, gives reason to believe in Mattison's front four.
Conversely, Michigan State's D-Line looks like it'll also be in great shape come fall, probably a few steps ahead of Michigan. That's due to Pat Narduzzi, the DC, and his assistants. Think of the line as the hull--Narduzzi basically builds unsinkable ships.
Today's comparison series post is going to look at each team's depth, strengths and possible weaknesses on the D-line. As always, feel free to voice your opinion in the comments section and cast a vote on the poll.
Shilique Calhoun brings enthusiasm into spring after passing on NFL to return to Michigan State http://t.co/kWsT3UpFzn— Spartans News (@SpartansMLive) April 8, 2014
Does the name Shilique Calhoun mean anything to you?
If not for him, the Spartans would have struggled to put points on the board during the first few weeks of 2013. Not only did he dominate with tackles, but he scored a couple of touchdowns too.
At 6'4" and 257 pounds, Calhoun does what a lot of ends can't. He could have gone pro, but he didn't. Instead, he's returning an electrifying skill set to a defense that's going through a few changes. According to NFLDraftScout.com, he's the No. 1-ranked draft-eligible DE.
Michigan State will count on Calhoun, a RS junior, to make up for the losses of Micajah Reynolds, Tyler Hoover and Denzel Drone.
He won't do that alone, either. Along with Damon Knox, Joel Health, Lawrence Thomas, formerly the No. 5 LB of 2011 per Rivals, and a host of others, the Spartans won't be short on depth or talent.
Thomas, who was brought into play
linebacker, fullback, end, tackle somewhere, is one the more intriguing prospects on Narduzzi's defense. At 6'3' and 280 pounds--yes, 280--he's a movable part with immense promise. Injuries and other setbacks have derailed his progress, but 2014 could actually end up being his year.
Marcus Rush is one of the best quarterback-getters to ever play in East Lansing. The 6'5," 250-pound senior is invaluable to the Spartans, especially given losses at linebacker (which we'll discuss in a future comparison post).
Potential starters: Calhoun (DE), Rush (DE), Damon Knox (NT), Heath (DT)
Depth: Thomas (DL), James Kittredge (DL), Brandon Clemons (NT)
Stat Break: Michigan State had the No. 3-ranked rushing defense in 2013 (86.6 YPG); Michigan was No. 29 (140.2). Michigan State also had the No. 3-ranked scoring defense (13.2 PPG); Michigan was No. 66 (26.8 PPG), per NCAA.com.
In 2013, Calhoun averaged 0.54 sacks per game (7.5 total). Rush averaged 0.36 (5.5 total).
Wolverines Up Front
As mentioned earlier, Henry and Pipkins are the two to watch--at least if you're looking for Hoke and Mattison's young talent to do something.
Team 135 is strong at defensive end. And excluding Brennen Beyer, the ends are relatively young and inexperienced. But they're strong. Matt Godin looks to be on the upswing. Taco Charlton and Mario Ojemudia have another year of reps in the bank. Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow are also candidates for meaningful snaps.
And then there's Frank Clark, who, when Frank Clark, is a bull-rushing, run-stopping cornerstone.
Michigan's front four could look like this: Clark (DE), Beyer (*DE)/Charlton (DE), Pipkins (NT), Henry (DT).
Depth includes, other than those mentioned above, the following players: Tom Strobel (DL), Henry Poggi (DE), Maurice Hurst (DL), Bryan Mone (DL) and Ryan Glasgow (DL).
Follow Maize 'n Brew's Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81