Hear from Mark Dantonio and his players after MSU’s first preseason practice. Video by Chris Solari/DFP
EAST LANSING — Mike Tressel always has been a high-intensity coach.
That shouldn’t change now that Michigan State’s co-defensive coordinator has resumed coaching linebackers, a position group that’s expected to be among the Spartans’ deepest and most experienced this season.
“We try to be the core of the defense in the linebacker room, we challenge ourselves,” Andrew Dowell said Monday. “Coach Tressel challenges us and we challenge ourselves to always bring energy to practice and let other position groups feed off of us.”
Tressel helped MSU’s linebackers excel before being promoted to co-defensive coordinator with Harlon Barnett in 2015. He resumed responsibility over the position group in the off-season after Mark Snyder was re-assigned to defensive ends.
With inexperience along the defensive line and in the secondary, it’s up to MSU’s linebackers to infuse the others with confidence and aggressiveness.
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Dowell and Chris Frey, along with senior Shane Jones, are now the elder statesmen at a spot that lost Riley Bullough and Ed Davis to graduation and Jon Reschke to transfer from a year ago.
Michigan State linebacker Andrew Dowell. (Photo: USA TODAY Sports)
Sophomore Joe Bachie takes over in the middle for Bullough, one of a group of talented youngsters that will be pushing for playing time as the Spartans work to improve a pass rush that generated just 11 sacks a year ago.
“Honestly, if you think about it, we do have youth in front of us, but they’re guys that have reps under their belt, they have starts under their belt. They’re guys that have played a lot,” Frey said. “But with that being said, we can teach them a lot. We can pull them along with us.”
How Bachie responds to being the quarterback of the defense will be one of the keys to improving on last season’s 364.8 yards per game allowed. Frey called him “maybe one of the most athletic guys on our team.”
“Joe’s a film rat, he’s always in the watching film,” Dowell said of Bachie. “He’s progressing well. And me, him and Chris feed off each other.”
Frey, a senior, and Dowell, a junior, are expected to use their speed and strength to help bring pressure off the edge. Frey had a team-best 96 tackles last season in starting all 12 games, while Dowell started 12 games and produced 67 stops and an interception. Linebackers combined for three sacks, 1.5 between Frey and Dowell.
“I definitely think there’s an expectation of what Andrew and I should do this year,” Frey said. “And that’s one of the things we’ve really been working on, edge pressure and different blitzing types and blitzing moves. I think we’re on a good track for this year.”
Jones and Byron Bullough provide backup for Bachie in the middle, while sophomore Tyriq Thompson could also give a boost behind Frey at the SAM linebacker spot. Newcomer Antjuan Simmons could be in line for immediate playing time as a true freshman behind Dowell at STAR linebacker.
Dowell said he believes the success of the defense hinges on what the linebackers bring in the middle.
“We want to get back to true Spartan defense, shutting things down. And that’s what we look forward to again this year,” he said. “It’s been a really long off-season not having a bowl game. So we’ve used that time to get better and get a step ahead of where we were last year.”
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