EAST LANSING, Mich. — The days of Trae Waynes and Darzqueze Dennard, among others, are long gone at Michigan State.
The “No Fly Zone” no longer patrols and secures the Spartans’ defensive backfield. There are no “shut-down” defensive backs to reference, really, heading into 2017 — just memories of past greats and hopes for future standouts.
With that said, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio does have a couple of corners who could perform well as the last line of defense.
And two youngsters are leading the charge: Starters Justin Layne, a sophomore, and Josiah Scott, a true freshman, have paced the position group throughout camp.
Capable and prepared, they’re in line to help revive a former Big Ten elite passing defense and, ideally, assist the offense in rebounding from a 3-9 tumble in 2016.
“I think both of them are tremendous competitors,” Dantonio said during the weekly Big Ten coaches conference call.
However, there are more. Don’t just fixate on Layne and Scott.
“In this day and age of all the uptempo offenses, you have to have guys who can play — more than just two corners,” Dantonio said. “You’re going to constantly be asked to sprint every 15 to 20 seconds. So, you’ve got to have guys… I think you really have to have four guys that you can roll in there and play intermittently…”
A bonus for Michigan State, Tyson Smith has returned healthy and ready to immediately play. Initially, Dantonio thought that lingering medical issues could impact Smith’s third season in East Lansing. But that hasn’t been the case for the junior.
Redshirt sophomore Josh Butler has also earned a share of attention.
Yeah, Layne and Scott are “the guys,” but they’re not the only guys.
“Justin and Josiah, both those guys, have great ball skills and are excellent tacklers,” Dantonio said. “Very good speed, extremely quick — and they understand our defense and can operate fundamentally sound. We’re looking forward to big years from all four of those guys.”
Since arriving as a wide receiver in 2016, Layne has quickly gained Dantonio’s confidence. Scott, an early enroll, has been on campus for nearly eight months. Dantonio “was able to do some different things” in order to assist Scott’s academics, giving the former 3-star recruit leg-up on the books — not to mention a leg-up on the field since landing in East Lansing this past January.
Young but ready.
“They understand what to do. I’m always certain that there’s always something that comes up in a football game that you have to make an adjustment on — but I think these guys understand what to do and will be able to play at a high level,” Dantonio said.
Layne and Scott. Scott and Layne.
Spartans followers may find themselves getting used to those names.
But again, there are more than two starter-caliber corners in the eyes of Dantonio and his staff.
Don’t discount the second-stringers.
“The other two guys that I’ve mentioned had very good summer camps,” Dantonio said. “They will play as well.”
Smith’s steadiness through camp should translate into fall. Butler’s aggressive attack, coupled with the play of the starters, could help push the Spartans secondary to familiar heights.
“He has gotten progressively better as a technician over course of these two years; he played a little bit last year but I think he’s had an excellent summer camp,” Dantonio said. “And when see guys play, you know it when you see it — he’s playing very effectively and very well. Tackling well and is getting his hands on a lot of footballs. So that’s been a big positive as well.”
Dantonio knows that replacing former superstars such as Waynes and Dennard just doesn’t happen. Sometimes, it never happens. But it’s clear that he believes that his secondary has something special in store for the near future.