Monday, July 18, 2011

Matt Chandik's Michigan State Player to Watch

After a dream season that saw Michigan State go 11-2 and win half of the Big 10 title for its first share of the Big 10 championship since 1990, the Spartans will need to replace the production of first-team All-Big 10 linebacker Greg Jones and second-teamer Eric Gordon if they want to stay perched atop the Big 10.

For that to happen, they’ll need to count heavily on junior linebacker Chris Norman, my pick for 2011 Michigan State Breakout Player of the Year. The 6-1, 225-pounder was a consensus four-star recruit as a high school senior and committed to Mark Dantonio’s program over offers from every Big 10 school, save Ohio State, and played well in his first season as a starter. Norman racked up 59 tackles, including 0.5 for loss, and added three pass breakups for a solid, if unspectacular season next to Jones and Gordon.

With the dynamic duo headed off to pursue NFL careers, Norman’s the guy to look for on the defensive side of the ball for Sparty. He’s not blessed with great size, but he does have good instincts and speed and could thrive at the weakside spot in the 4-3. He’ll need some help from the big boys up front, but defensive tackle Jerel Worthy should help keep Norman clean. If projected new starters Will Gholston and Tyler Hoover, a pair of behemoth defensive ends, can blossom into good or very good starters, Norman should be able to reap the benefits.

Quite frankly, there’s no reason why Norman can’t take the torch from Jones and Gordon and run with it en route to becoming one of the Big 10’s finest linebackers. While he still needs to refine his pass coverage skills and needs to start making more plays behind the line of scrimmage, Norman is gifted enough both athletically and mentally that he should approach 100 tackles and be the leader of what figures to be a good Michigan State defense. 94 tackles, two forced fumbles, 6.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions.

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