By Adam Biggers
The Michigan State Spartans' defense flourished in 2011. It was one of the best in the nation against the run (137 yards, 78th-ranked), and one of the stingiest in terms of points allowed (about 18, 10th-ranked). While the secondary was certainly part of that transformation and success, the front line could have been all the more valuable.
And who was on the front line leading the way? Junior Jerel Worthy, who opted to skip his final year in East Lansing and enter the 2012 NFL Draft. He's a likely first-round pick. It was without a doubt the right choice.
However, Worthy's absence leaves questions. One of the largest looming is who will replace him at defensive tackle. Tyler Hoover comes to mind, but according to a report, that player could be Anthony Rashad White, who enters his second season at Michigan State.
Worthy, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound tackle, was known for a great anti-Michigan tattoo and an affinity for making the most on the pass-rush. He had 30 tackles in 2011, including five in the Spartans' 33-30 Outback Bowl win over Georgia. He finished the year with 3.5 sacks and served as a prime example for the younger defensive linemen to follow.
Players like Worthy don't come around often. There is no doubt that Michigan State will have a difficult task replacing him. But it sounds like there is at least one ready to pick up where Worthy left off.
"Losing Jerel, that's a big thing," White said in a recent interview. "But (he and I) already discussed, 'You're not losing anybody, because it's your turn.' He said I need to step up and take control of the D-line. And I think we're going to be great next year. He's a great player and he's taught me a lot, also."
White missed four games in 2011, but don't forget what he did while he was on the field. Just as important as Worthy in the Outback Bowl, White had seven tackles that came in handy as Michigan State won its first bowl game under coach Mark Dantonio.
It will be important for White to brush up on technique. Following Worthy will present its own challenges as well. More will be answered April 28, in theory, when the Spartans take the field for their annual Spring Game in East Lansing. White, according to Dantonio, will be an important cog of a defense that should be "pretty good."