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Defense looks toward top status nationally

August 7, 2019
<p>Senior defensive tackle Raequan Williams speaks to the press during Michigan State’s Football Media Day at Spartan Stadium on Aug. 5, 2019. </p>

Senior defensive tackle Raequan Williams speaks to the press during Michigan State’s Football Media Day at Spartan Stadium on Aug. 5, 2019.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Michigan State Football Media Day was held Aug. 5, with four days of practice under the 2019 squad’s belt. With a roster brimming with experience and talent, defensive coordinator Mike Tressel expects nothing less than his players striving to be the top defense in the nation.

“I think all of us felt like, as a program, our team(s) have been strong because of relationships and chemistry,” Tressel said. “You guys, who write all about the recruiting, will be the first to tell us we don’t have the most five stars (recruits) and the highest recruiting class, but we have much tougher guys that love the game.”

Secondary coach Paul Haynes enters his second season with the No. 1 rushing defense in the FBS with 77.9 yards per game.

The Spartans finished No. 10 (FBS) in first down defense with 213 and lead the Big Ten in both rushing defense (77.9 ypg) and scoring defense, allowing only 17.2 points per game. 

“We’ve got some young guys that are playing like crazy,” Haynes said about spring practice and fall camp so far. “We’ve got tons of reps in the spring.”

Giving the underclassmen the experience “continues to develop that depth” that the Spartans struggled with last season when it came to filling injuries on both sides of the ball, Haynes said. 

Haynes hopes to find one or two more guys in case one of the seven defensive starters gets injured. 

Junior linebacker Antjuan Simmons had a phenomenal spring and is slated to be the starter for the Spartans playing opposite of senior Joe Bachie. 

“That’s our mindset, to be the number one defense in the country,” Simmons said about the defensive goals and mentality for this year’s mantra ‘Chase the Moment.’ “We don’t play to be average, and that’s something I think about every day.”

MSU finished the 2018 season with 67 pass break-ups, finishing at the top of the conference and fourth in the nation.

Junior corner Josiah Scott explained how the defense motivation to earn those break-ups and interceptions in practice has become a second mantra for the season.

“We have a fun game … you put a nickel in the jar every single time you don’t get an interception in practice." Scott said. "That’s the big thing this year, getting turnovers and getting hands on the ball. That’s something we’re taking pride in.”  

Terrence Samuel, the former wide receivers coach (2011-18) transitioned into the assistant defensive backs coach during the off season. Coach Dantonio has also given him the responsibility of supporting the freshmen with their growth and development. 

Switching from one side of the ball to the other has been challenging, but Samuel is working on fitting into his new role before the season begins and strives to become a mentor to all of his players. 

“I’m just thankful they are taking it easy on me,” Samuel said about the players and the transition. “The biggest thing is getting the verbiage. … It’s a little bit different. Like I said from learning one particular dialect, you got to learn another dialect.”

The Spartans will host Tulsa at 7 p.m. in the Aug. 30 season opener. 

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