Our post-spring series continues on defense today with the linebackers.
• Projected starters: WLB Cam Lawrence, Sr.; MLB Benardrick McKinney, R-Fr.; SLB Deontae Skinner, Jr.
• Backups: Ferlando Bohanna, So.; Christian Holmes, So.; Chris Hughes, Jr.; Matthew Wells, So.
• The skinny: Let's start in the middle, where right now it's really a toss-up between McKinney and Bohanna. The latter started the spring No. 1 on the depth chart, but McKinney caught my eye as much as anyone on defense. With his size (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) and athleticism, he's been compared by teammates to former Bulldog and current Seattle Seahawk K.J. Wright.
McKinney is much bigger than Bohanna (6-0, 225), and they play different styles. Bohanna has the edge in experience and certainly looked solid in the spring, and you know he'll bring the wood. Perhaps we were overly wowed by McKinney's spring and don't see the flaws that he's bound to have as a young player; and don't forget, he's never played a college game.
Either way, MSU ought to be in good shape in the middle. The leadership is expected to come from Lawrence, the most seasoned of the group. The book on him is that he's limited in what he can do compared to the other linebackers, but Lawrence did lead MSU in tackles last year and showed his savviness this spring. Don't forget, he had two interceptions last year.
You've heard me sing Skinner's praises quite a bit, and he did nothing in the spring to dissuade me from further extolling his virtues as a linebacker. He had a nice 2011 and is poised to be a major factor this fall. Skinner continues to display a strong grasp of what offenses are doing, gets himself in good position to make plays, and knows how to find the ball. I expect him to create more turnovers this season.
The depth is solid, too, with Holmes, Hughes and Wells bringing different looks to opposing offenses. Hughes will be used a good bit in blitz packages, and he's one of the hardest hitters on the team.
When you look at this group, remember what was being said about it prior to last season. Wright and Chris White were gone, and linebacker was considered a weakness of MSU's defense. Early games revealed issues with tackling and simply being in the right spots. Linebackers coach Geoff Collins was in his first season, and he has brought this group a long way. The ceiling is pretty high, and these guys are making a strong reach for it.