The Michigan State defensive line had a solid season in 2021, but the production wasn’t quite up to the Spartans’ typical levels. The team was stout against the run and recorded a high number of sacks (42), but the team also faced a high number of passing attempts (579), so perhaps the numbers aren’t as impressive while adjusting for that.
Historically, the defensive line has been the anchor of some stout units for MSU, and if the Spartans want to take a step forward as in 2022, that will start with the defensive line.
The good news there is the Spartans have made some key additions to the line, as well as on the coaching staff. Defensive end Khris Bogle transferred in from Florida and Mel Tucker hired Brandon Jordan as his pass-rush specialist and Marco Coleman as defensive line coach.
While he doesn’t have a lot of prior experience coaching at the college level, Jordan works with some of the best pass rushers in the NFL, such as JJ and TJ Watt, Chandler Jones, Von Miller among roughly 200 others. Having that level of coaching in the Spartans’ facility will surely help the defensive line take a step forward in 2022.
As Michigan State begins fall camp on Thursday, let’s break down the roster.
Jacob Slade (defensive tackle, redshirt senior) is one name that I’m very excited about this season, and clearly I’m not the only one. He’s earned a nod on the preseason watch list for the Lombardi Trophy and the Outland Trophy, and was named a second-team preseason All-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation. He was also named first-team preseason All-Big Ten by Athlon Sports.
Slade had a career high 40 tackles in 2021, and was a significant source of production for the Spartans with 5.0 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Slade will likely be the leader on the defensive line this season after veteran defensive ends Jacub Panasiuk and Drew Beesley graduated. Keep a close eye on Slade.
Simeon Barrow (defensive tackle, redshirt sophomore) started 10 games last season for the Spartans. Despite missing three games of 2021 with injury, Barrow notched 34 tackles, with four for losses and three sacks. He was solid last year, but is a sleeper for a breakout player on the line this year.
Brandon Wright (defensive end, senior) came into the program as a running back before moving to defensive end in the spring of 2021. He finished last year strong, logging a single-game career high in tackles with four against Pittsburgh, as well as 1.5 sacks that same game. He’s someone I’ve been paying attention to since the spring, and in his tape working with Brandon Jordan, he looks like he’s been putting in tons of work. His speed off the line could be a deadly weapon for the Spartan defense. I’m very excited to see him this season on the field.
Jeff Pietrowski (defensive end, junior) started three games for the Spartans in 2021. He tied for second on the team in sacks with 5.5, which also tied for 13th most in the conference. His three forced fumbles also tied for second most in the conference. Don’t be surprised if he comes in this season and shows out — Pietrowski should be in line for a lot of playing time.
Itayvion Brown (defensive end/outside linebacker redshirt sophomore) hasn’t seen much in-game action in his time with the Spartans outside of special teams, but that doesn’t mean his time won’t come. He played 38 snaps at defensive end in 2021, but didn’t log any tackles. His four total tackles all came on special teams. He redshirted at Minnesota before transferring to the Spartans, but was a four-star recruit according to 247Sports. He dealt with injuries in 2021, and with a nickname like “Tank”, it’s only a matter of time before he starts to make some big time plays for the Spartans. We’ll see if that’s 2022 or not.
Other returning players along the defensive line include Dashaun Mallory (DT, redshirt senior), Derrick Harmon (DT, redshirt freshman), Michael Fletcher (DE, redshirt junior.), Maverick Hansen (DT, redshirt junior), Avery Dunn (DE, redshirt sophomore) and Jalen Hunt (DT, redshirt junior)
The New Guys
Khris Bogle (DE, senior), as mentioned, is a transfer from Florida. While with the Gators, Bogle logged 23 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 11 games in 2021. He was a top-75 recruit in high school and a consensus four-star prospect, and is an All-American Bowl and Polynesian Bowl alumni. Lots of potential here in Bogle.
Alex VanSumeren (DT, freshman) is one to be excited about. He was a top-200 recruit in the 247Sports Composite rankings. He’s massive, standing at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds. He has a lot of potential and has a bright future ahead of him in East Lansing. He is the brother of MSU linebacker Ben VanSumeren.
James Schott (DE, freshman) was ranked as the No. 41 edge rusher in the 2022 class by 247Sports’ own rankings, and and was ranked in the top-50 weak-side edge rushers by Rivals. He will likely need to bulk up a little bit during his first year with the Spartans, standing at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, but he has potential for the future as well.
Zion Young (DE, freshman) is a strong recruit from prime SEC country. He was ranked as the No. 34 edge rusher in the country in the 2022 class by On3 Sports. Look for him a bit later in his Spartan career, but don’t be surprised if he flashes in some of the earlier snaps he sees.
Chase Carter (DE, freshman) was ranked a top-300 player by On3, but was just outside the top-250, sitting at No. 256. The 6-foot-6 Carter has good length and is another player that might flash early in his Spartan career, but will likely need some development time.
The Spartans have potential absolutely everywhere on the defensive line. With a new coach in Coleman and Jordan, it’s going to be interesting to see just how well the defensive line does. The defensive tackle spot appears to be stacked with depth, while the ends have more question marks, but a lot of talent. MSU certainly has enough talent to be one of the top units in the country.
The first test is Western Michigan on Sept. 2. Keep a close eye on the front four in that game and all season.