New defensive leaders starting to take form in football's locker room
Former linebacker Chris Frey is an emotional leader.
He was a leader for a young Spartan team with only 14 seniors and coming off a 3-9 season in 2016.
Him, along with co-captain Brian Allen, helped turn around MSU to a 10-3 season, capping of 2017 with a 42-17 Holiday Bowl win over Washington State and getting Mark Dantonio career win No. 100 at MSU.
“Chris was 100 percent emotion and passion, every single day,” defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Mike Tressel said after practice Tuesday. “He was a great football player, but his ability to be revved up always was uncanny and was amazing.”
He learned how to lead from other former Spartan leaders such as Riley Bullough, Darien Harris and Shilique Calhoun. And he wanted to pass his teachings onto the 2018 team.
“Throughout the entire (2017) season, just trying to show them a good way to lead, on and off the field,” Frey said after MSU’s annual Pro Day.
His former teammate, current senior safety Khari Willis, got the same type of treatment from his elders in the secondary: RJ Williamson, Montae Nicholson and Demetrious Cox.
“They were able to answer any question I had and take the time out of their day, so I just try to relay the favor and do the same in my own way,” Willis said.
Willis said he was a leader, at least when he had opportunities to be, since he stepped foot on campus. He said this wouldn’t of been possible without his teammates' trust in him — and vice versa.
“When you’re here for longer, and know a lot more, you just try to lead your team,” Willis said.
One of those leaders is middle linebacker Joe Bachie, whose job as the MIKE is to be the leader on the defense while on the field, something Frey said he’s a natural at.
“He was just a natural leader when he got here, so I really didn’t need to show him much,” Frey said. “The only thing I did was to show him the right way.”
Bachie led the Spartans in tackles with 100, eight and half being for losses, to go along with three interceptions, three and a half sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
This a huge jump compared to his freshman season, when he only collected 12 total tackles. But this jump wasn’t surprising to Tressel in the slightest.
Tressel knew Bachie had “the ability to do it,” but he just needed to get the experience, which Tressel said is “the true teacher.”
“In practice, you can’t put a guy in every single scenario,” Tressel said. “You’re not quite as confident when it’s your first time out there communicating with maybe seniors that are out there with you. You’re a freshman and you’re supposed to tell seniors what to do. Now, as the full-time MIKE last year as a sophomore, that didn’t phase him at all."
Tressel said Bachie is now trying to challenge himself mentally, since he has the physical aspect figured out, which could translate into being an emotional leader, something Tressel said has been more of a group effort since Frey's departure.
“What he’s studying when he’s watching film is next level. He doesn’t have to think about his assignment, his keys anymore or anything to do with our defense,” Tressel said. “He’s trying to challenge himself to be Max Bullough mentally.”
Another leader emerging is junior defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk, who Tressel said he thinks could possibly be the MVP of spring ball.
This is because Panasiuk’s leadership is improving, along with his pass rush and being more technically sound, defensive tackles coach Ron Burton said.
“He’s a lean 300 pounder, and really starting to use his feet and his hands more in the pass rush, which are things he needs to work on and get better at. And that’s what it’s all about,” Burton said.