The MSU football team has lost what seems like a player-a-day to injury or ineligibility, but at least its linebacker picture was cleared-up as the team concluded its second preseason scrimmage Tuesday.
Sophomore Mike Labinjo and freshman Ronald Stanley will join All-Big Ten senior Josh Thornhill as the starting linebackers. Senior Ivory McCoy is scheduled to miss the Sept. 8 season opener against Central Michigan and the Missouri game Sept. 15 due to a broken bone in his left foot.
Head coach Bobby Williams said Stanley has looked impressive the entire camp and is making good progress. He said hes more interested in reviewing Labinjos performance in Tuesdays scrimmage because he has only recently made the switch from defensive end to linebacker.
The short time that hes spent at outside linebacker, hes really made a lot of improvement, but he still has a way to go, Williams said. Its going to be interesting to go back and watch the film and see how hes doing.
With the three linebackers now
set, Thornhill will occupy the middle, Stanley is set to play away from the tight end on the weak side and Labinjo, who played fullback as a freshman, will play strongside linebacker.
Even though Thornhill, a three-year starter, is an All-American candidate, the linebacking core remains unbalanced - Labinjo and Stanley have virtually no experience. Defensive coordinator Bill Miller said despite that lack of experience, they must step up - they are simply needed in the lineup.
Ready or not, a lot of these guys are going to have to play (this year), Miller said after Tuesdays scrimmage.
The defenses morale has not wavered even with so many losses in such a short time, Labinjo said. He said in the long run, the team will see benefits from these setbacks as the underclassmen gain game-playing experience.
We have a lot of depth right now at every position, Labinjo said. Some of these injuries are actually helping out our team a lot, we got some of these younger guys in and getting them some (repetitions) for the future.
The defense has also continued to make progress despite its losses, Labinjo said.
I thought having all these injuries, the team would lose a step, but we actually havent lost a beat, Labinjo said. All the guys know their plays, and were all working toward the same goal - no one is really falling behind and the defense hasnt slipped at all.
Sophomore Dominick Brown was also a top candidate for one of the linebacker positions but will be more helpful to the team on the defensive line, Williams said.
We experimented with him at linebacker, Williams said. And now we moved him back to defensive end.