East Lansing — If the defensive front doesn’t generate a strong pass rush, you have to blitz.
And if you blitz too much, your secondary becomes exposed.
That’s what Michigan State’s defense encountered last year and needs to avoid this season.
So who’s going to be that edge rusher to help solve the problem?
It’s hard to say entering Saturday’s opener against Western Michigan. The starting defensive ends haven’t been determined yet based on the Spartans’ depth chart released Monday.
At one end, it’s sophomore Tyler Hoover “or” redshirt freshman Denzel Drone. On the other side, it’s fifth-year senior Colin Neely “or” junior Todd Anderson.
And then there’s the most intriguing option — 6-foot-7, 260-pound true freshman William Gholston, who recently moved up front from linebacker. Gholston, a five-star recruit, is listed at third-string behind Hoover and Drone.
“All those guys figure into playing, keeping them fresh,” coach Mark Dantonio said at his weekly news conference. “We need to watch Gholston play. That will be exciting.
“We do have depth there. Whether we have a guy that is like an Ervin Baldwin (an outstanding pass rusher for MSU three years ago), we’re going to find out. I hope there’s one there.”
If so, he didn’t emerge during preseason camp, which makes Gholston’s decision to change positions not only wise, but perhaps necessary for the team.
Running back Larry Caper is practicing and expected to play Saturday despite an injured right hand that requires a cast.
“The exchange (on hand-offs) is something we have to be extra careful about,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “When he moves his hands up and he’s got a cast on one, it’s a little tougher to secure the football.
“So I’ve got to make sure I’m putting the ball in his stomach, where it needs to be just so he can get it. That’s something in practice we’re trying to get better at. It’s obviously something you have to address and be mindful of.”
If the injury causes Caper problems in the game, it will mean more playing time for true freshman Le’Veon Bell, who is currently listed as the third-string tailback. Dantonio confirmed that Bell will play this season and not get redshirted.
… Backup quarterback Andrew Maxwell has recovered from a hip injury that plagued him during camp. Dantonio is planning to get Maxwell, a redshirt freshman, some playing time early in the season.
If Cousins were to get injured, Dantonio said he would go with Maxwell, not Keith Nichol, who has switched from quarterback to receiver this season. Nichol will be the No. 3 quarterback.
… Nose tackle Blake Treadwell is questionable for the opener because of a lower-body injury.
The deuces are wild for the Spartans.
Three players — senior receiver Mark Dell, Gholston and true freshman cornerback Mylan Hicks — are all wearing No. 2.
It’s normal for college teams to have players wear the same number, but usually one is on offense, the other defense. Often one is a scholarship player, the other a walk-on.
In this case, all three are likely to get playing time.
Gholston and Hicks could be on the field at the same time.
Dantonio said he promised Gholston and Hicks they could have their high-school number during the recruiting process.
Neither has decided to switch.
“One’s 6-6 (Gholston), one’s 6-foot (Hicks),” Dantonio said. “I know the difference. You guys will figure it out. It’s a non-issue right now for me. I feel like I held up my bargain.”