Michigan State's Ed Davis wasn't exactly a household name, but Mark Dantonio thought that should and would change.
At Big Ten media days last month, Dantonio sang the praises of his senior outside linebacker.
"He may be as good a linebacker as we've had," Dantonio said, which was high praise indeed at a program known for its outstanding defense. "I'm talking about from sideline to sideline, the ability to slip blocks, the ability to get off blocks, the ability to pressure quarterbacks and make tackles."
Well, now the Spartans must find someone else to replace all that Davis did, because the team announced Wednesday night that he will miss the season because of a knee injury. And it's a big loss.
Michigan State still has Riley Bullough and Darien Harris at linebacker, but it will need an unproven player to step into Davis' role. That could be sophomore Chris Frey, who did appear in all 13 games last year, with 19 tackles. Or it could be junior-college transfer Drake Martinez -- yes, the former Nebraska safety and Taylor's younger brother. Freshmen Tyriq Thompson and Andrew Dowell could assume more responsibilities early.
The injury is not a fatal blow to the Spartans' title hopes, but it does add question marks for a defense that is already looking for answers at cornerback. Davis brought experience and athleticism to the position. He had seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss last year, and Michigan State's own internal rating system ranked him as the team's most productive defender in 2014.
The Spartan Dawgs defense will still be powered by a talented and deep defensive line, first and foremost. But having a big-time playmaker at that outside linebacker spot -- think Denicos Allen -- has always been an integral part of this system.
It's a tough break for Davis, who looked poised to make himself more widely known this season. And it's the first real spot of adversity for Michigan State in the 2015 season. The Spartans have been able to overcome the loss of star players before, most notably Kyler Elsworth stepping in for a suspended Max Bullough at the 2014 Rose Bowl.
Now they must find a suitable season-long stand-in for one of their most valuable defenders. At least they still have a few weeks of preseason practice to try and sort it out.