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Spartans high on D-line despite few familiar names

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Remove two of the Big Ten's top pass rushers from a defensive line, and the assumption is it will suffer.

But when Michigan State defensive line coach Ted Gill reviews a group that no longer includes Jonal Saint-Dic or Ervin Baldwin, he sees plenty of potential. What the Spartans lost in production -- 18.5 sacks and 33 tackles for loss -- they can make up for with greater depth.

"These guys that I had last year, I didn't know a lot about," Gill said. "Right now I've got somewhere like nine defensive ends that I can shake up and figure out what to do with, and I have somewhere like six inside guys that I'm going to shake up and see what happens. ... I like to play a lot of guys. I think it'll make us better."

Defensive end Trevor Anderson, a Cincinnati transfer who played for Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio with the Bearcats, is expected to provide pocket pressure. Senior defensive tackle Justin Kershaw has 21 career starts on the line. The other tackle spot is undecided, with sophomores Oren Wilson and Antonio Jeremiah competing alongside several other players.

Though the Spartans are stocked with sophomores and redshirt freshmen at both line positions, senior end Brandon Long appears to have solidified a spot opposite Anderson. Long, who started three games last year, was singled out for his work this offseason.

"He's in the top five or what would we call 'power players,' offensive and defensive linemen, in every area: bench press, squat, hang clean," Dantonio said. "He has personal bests in all of those. He's in great physical shape. Mentally, he's sharp."

The defensive line isn't the only area Spartans coach highlighted for its depth. Kendell Davis-Clark is the elder statesman among the team's cornerbacks, but several others have starting experience, including Chris L. Rucker, who also should see time at wide receiver this fall.

"We have eight corners that are functional," Dantonio said. "We're trying to build depth so you have function at that position of depth. For example, the No. 1 wide receiver might be better than the No. 2 or 3, but those No. 2 and 3, they are functional. They can go in and make plays for you."