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Position superlatives: Michigan State

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As spring practice approaches, it's time to take a look at the strongest and weakest positions for each Big Ten team. A team could have several strengths or weaknesses, but this series will identify the least and most questionable areas entering a crucial evaluation period this spring.

And rather than go in alphabetical order or reverse order, I'll choose teams completely at random, to keep you guessing. Important to note: these rankings will only include freshmen if they're already enrolled and on the official roster for spring ball.

The Michigan State Spartans are up first.

Strongest position -- Linebackers

Key returnees: Junior Greg Jones, senior Adam Decker, junior Eric Gordon, senior Brandon Denson

Key departures: Ryan Allison (50 tackles 2.5 TFLs, forced fumble)

The skinny: Michigan State's defense should be an improved unit in 2009, and the linebackers are the biggest reasons why. All three starters return, led by All-Big Ten honoree Greg Jones, the team's leading tackler the last two seasons. Adam Decker provides a veteran presence in the middle, and Eric Gordon quietly had a very solid sophomore season with three sacks, a forced fumble and 7.5 tackles for loss. The Spartans' wide receivers would have been the pick here, but I need to see fewer dropped passes from them. Cornerback also should be a strength in 2009.

Weakest position -- Running backs

Key returnees: Sophomore Andre Anderson, sophomore Ashton Leggett, senior A.J. Jimmerson

Key departures: Javon Ringer (390 carries, 1,637 rush yards, 22 touchdowns)

The skinny: After losing a smallish senior class, Michigan State doesn't have a clear-cut weakness entering 2009. But you can't underestimate what Javon Ringer meant to the Spartans' offense last year. He carried the team at times and had 23 more rushing attempts than any other FBS back. Michigan State didn't develop a true backup, and while Anderson and others have shown flashes during practice, this group is questionable entering the spring. Other potential weak spots include defensive line and offensive tackle.