Wednesday served as the first day of full contact for MSU football, giving head coach Mark Dantonio and his staff the opportunity to get their first look at the incoming freshman playing live football.
Out of all the positions of incoming freshman, none are as prominent or attention-grabbing than the defensive line that features highly touted recruit, freshman Malik McDowell. And with the injury to junior defensive lineman Damon Knox, it only has received more attention.
Dantonio said he’s been focusing a little bit more on that group competing for the current open spot, with McDowell and Enoch Smith Jr. standing out so far.
“Malik McDowell is a talent, he’s learning things daily,” Dantonio said. “All of those guys have their moments, Enoch made some plays today (where) I noticed him. ... Those are the two guys I would say inside defensive tackle-wise they looked good.”
“But the other guys, when I sit and go over this stuff with our coaches, we talk personal, we talk young players. They are very, very positive about all of those guys and that’s exciting. They are saying good things about all of them so it’s just a matter of who can come on” he said.
McDowell enters the fold for MSU listed at 6-foot-6 and 286 pounds, but said he is around 275-280 pounds currently. He also said he is looking to get his weight up to 295 pounds before the season begins to help him adjust to his new position as nose tackle.
McDowell said he played inside on the defensive line in high school, but it only took one hit from junior center Jack Allen to realize this is a completely different ball game than a year ago.
“It’s a whole different game, first day it was just crazy,” McDowell said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but it was a whole different game. Real fast, just real physical, just a whole new game.”
Other early freshman defensive line standout Smith Jr. comes in at 6-foot-2 and 276 pounds out of Chicago as another highly ranked recruit from a year ago.
Like McDowell, Smith Jr. is adjusting to the new speed of the game at the collegiate level, but is motivated by the opportunity to see potential early playing time.
“They tell all of us that it’s our spot to earn,” Smith Jr. said. “They even tell the upperclassmen nobody has a guaranteed spot and that’s what I like and that’s one of the reasons why I came here because we all have a chance to make a contribution to the team.”
Although McDowell and Smith Jr. are the two that have received attention thus far, Smith Jr. said all five of the incoming freshmen defensive lineman are competing for that inside open spot. He said the group, which includes David Beedle, Craig Evans and others, meshes well together and likes to challenge each other every day.
“Malik, myself, (freshman) Craig (Evans), (freshman) Dillon Alexander, all of the defensive lineman, we all come together, like when we’re at lunch or something and tell each other that we’re going to be the ones to take that spot,” Smith Jr. said. “So we even challenge one another to earn that spot.”