The depth of the Michigan State linebacker group has been touted as a team strength since the preseason. Just how much of a strength it is will be seen in the next few weeks.
Mark Dantonio announced Tuesday that junior linebacker Jon Reschke is out indefinitely with a severe ankle injury, while senior linebacker and tri-captain Riley Bullough is day to day. Dantonio, during his weekly press conference, wouldn’t specify what Bullough’s injury is but it was significant enough to force Bullough to stand and watch last Saturday as the Spartans lost 30-6 against Wisconsin.
Practices are closed to the media but as media members were allowed in for player availability time Tuesday evening, Bullough was seen jogging off dressed in full pads, carrying his helmet. There was no indication as to what, if anything, he did at practice.
So, where does Michigan State go from here?
Sophomore Andrew Dowell and redshirt junior Shane Jones are the ones who immediately take over alongside junior Chris Frey; Dowell for Reschke and Jones for Bullough if he can’t play. Jones started against Wisconsin. It was just his second career start and by coaches’ accounts he performed well in his first extended playing time of the season. Dowell has 14 tackles through the first three games of the season, including 8 against Furman in the season opener when he started in place of Reschke, who had a left hand injury that kept him out of that game.
Of the other reserve players, Ed Davis has plenty of experience but is coming off a torn ACL that caused him to miss the entire 2015 season. He’s been slow to get back into action this year as he builds up strength physically and starts to cross the mental hurdles any player coming back from injury must face. Dantonio said Davis was able to have full practices a couple of times last week, although he still played on a limited basis against Wisconsin and did not record any defensive stats.
“It’s sort of day by day, game by game. I want him to feel confident,” said Dantonio. “Part of this is him having confidence and going back and playing at game speed. He needs to regain that confidence in his knee. He had a knee injury, and it takes a little bit of time to get back in there and get acclimated. I think he’s close to turning the corner.”
The Spartans could use that corner turned sooner than later. Sophomore Byron Bullough is the only other linebacker on the roster who has recorded a tackle on defense. Redshirt freshman Tyriq Thompson and freshmen Joe Bachie and Brandon Randle will get more practice snaps this week in preparation of being needed.
Michigan State plays an Indiana team that likes to use an up-tempo style on offense. The Hoosiers will go without a huddle, much like Notre Dame did, and force the defense to line up quickly. They may not snap the ball right away but the faster pace can cause an issue with conditioning as the game goes on. This style has helped Indiana lead the Big Ten in passing three of the last four seasons and has it back on top of the category this season with an average of 334 yards per game.
Dowell was primarily on special teams last season as a freshman but led the team with 10 tackles on kickoffs. At 6-foot-1, 218 pounds he has the size and strength to play off blocks but is also fast enough to cover receivers. He came up with his first career interception against Furman.
Jones is getting an opportunity to show that his 4-star rating coming out of high school was deserved. He was second to Dowell last season with 9 tackles on special teams but getting playing time on defense has been a slower process. He made a good impression against Wisconsin. If Bullough can’t play against Indiana and is out for more than just this game, the Spartans need Jones and the rest of the linebackers to fill the void.
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo