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Defensive line one of football team's units to watch as '14 season approaches

April 24, 2014

With a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl victory under their belts, the Spartans finished the season as one of the top teams in the country.

The team was carried all season long by its suffocating defense, which was ranked No. 1 nationally in total defense during the season.

While the secondary received a majority of the media publicity, the Spartans’ defensive line terrorized opposing offenses and was one of the top units in the country — a trend that could very well continue this season.

The Spartans return their two leaders on the line in ends Shilique Calhoun, a junior, and senior Marcus Rush. Calhoun believes there still is room for improvement amongst the group.

“There were still a lot of places we could improve, I felt like,” Calhoun said. “Looking at the film, even though we’re the top and even though they labeled us No. 1, there was still a lot of room for improvement, so that’s the biggest thing, just going in there looking to see how much we can critique and how much better we can be individually each play.”

Calhoun won Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year and Rush is a four-year starter, but there will be some new faces on the line come fall, including at defensive tackle.

As of right now, juniors Joel Heath and Damon Knox are set to replace Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds at the defensive tackle spots.

The Spartans will have a lot of depth as there are many young players in the rotation looking to make a name for themselves.

“Demetrius Cooper, Noah Jones, just two young guys who have a lot of passion for the game,” Calhoun said. “Those are two guys that get off the ball faster than most defensive linemen you see, especially for young guys.”

For Cooper, who redshirted last year, he hasn’t played football in almost two years as a result of injuries in high school.

This spring and fall will be his first chance to show what he can do after receiving rave reviews from the coaches this spring, and he’s excited at the opportunity to play again.

“It’s just a blessing,” Cooper said. “Me not playing in two years, I didn’t even see myself going to a Division II or Division III school, so for me to even be in the position to I’m in now at a Division I school with a chance to play, it’s just a blessing.”

Another face looking to get back in the rotation is junior Lawrence Thomas. The former high-school All-American has dealt with injuries since arriving in East Lansing, but he’s finally healthy and ready to show what he can do on the field.

“It feels great to be out here with my teammates and be full throttle,” Thomas said. “Every day, I go out here and have fun and I’m just so grateful to be out here with these guys.”

The Spartans will play their annual spring game at 2 p.m. Saturday.

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