Shilique Calhoun's decision to return for his senior season at Michigan State provided a major boost to the team's defensive line. The emergence of fellow senior Lawrence Thomas through spring practice led many to believe the Spartans might be even tougher in the trenches than they were a year ago. Neither of those guys, though, came to campus with the hype of the man expected to line up between them -- sophomore Malik McDowell.
McDowell also had a promising spring season after finishing his rookie season with 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks from his spot at defensive tackle. Michigan State defensive line coach Ron Burton recently told MLive.com that he expects his rising star "to dominate" starting this September.
"We're super excited about the opportunity he'll have this fall,'' Burton said. "We expect him to dominate.''
McDowell, formerly the No. 2-ranked high school prospect in the state of Michigan, is just as confident as his coaches in his ability to take a major step forward this year. That the Detroit native even made it on to the field as a true freshman, let alone contributing in all 13 games, is a sign of good things to come.
Four true freshmen played for the Spartans in 2014, which is more than head coach Mark Dantonio typically throws into the mix during their first year on campus. Michigan State's success under Dantonio has been rooted in patiently developing players until they are ready to be major contributors in their fourth and fifth years with the team.
That isn't the model most teams who hover in the top 10 each season use. Most teams in the Spartans' stratosphere recruit the best athletes in the country and get them on the field as soon as possible. Michigan State has had more and more success landing that caliber of player in its past couple rounds of recruiting. It may get harder for Dantonio to keep his top young players on the sidelines for a full year. In that sense, McDowell serves as a harbinger for the evolving way of doing business in East Lansing as Michigan State gets more entrenched as one of the country's top programs.
For more about McDowell's expectations for the upcoming season, read the MLive story here.