Michigan State football: New LB room should make for a plus group this season

Michigan State's Jordan Hall, left, and Cal Haladay celebrate after beating Nebraska on Saturday,
Michigan State's Jordan Hall, left, and Cal Haladay celebrate after beating Nebraska on Saturday, / Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA

Michigan State football has been very active in the transfer portal this offseason. The new staff has received commitments from various positions including quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, and defensive line. Jonathan Smith’s staff has made it a priority to obtain talent everywhere on the field to build an all-around competitive roster.

One place they made a clear emphasis in the portal was linebackers.

Last season was up and down for Spartan the linebacker room. Veteran guys like Cal Haladay and Aaron Brule had some positive and negative moments and were consistently inconsistent. A young stud in Jordan Hall emerged as a potential star in the future. Jacoby Windmon missed most of the year with a pectoral injury. 

A struggling group last season could become a strength for the team this year. New defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Joe Rossi has had previous success overhauling a linebacker room. In his six seasons at Minnesota as the defensive coordinator and linebacker coach, he had 10 players drafted, three of whom were pure linebackers and another guy was second-rounder Boye Mafe. Rossi moved Mafe all over the field and put him on the edge and standing up as a traditional linebacker.

One thing of note from this offseason is the two additions to the linebacker room. Jordan Turner from Wisconsin and Wayne Matthews III from Old Dominion have joined an overhauled Michigan State defense.

Turner brings valuable experience from Wisconsin as he played in 30 games as a Badger recording 135 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and five sacks. He also was named honorable mention All-Big Ten and with the Guaranteed Rate Bowl defensive MVP in 2022.

Mathews in 2023 had 135 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles. Not only did Matthews have amazing production when it came to tackling, PFF graded his coverage 88.9 which is almost considered “elite” on their grading scale. Matthews' ability to drop back into zone coverage will be extremely important. It is something Michigan State struggled with a lot last season and he could be a big difference-maker. 

These are two solid additions that will benefit Michigan State. Turner and Matthews will complement a more experienced Hall and veteran Haladay very well. Getting more win-now players also allows some of the newcomers in Brady Pretzlaff and Jadyn Walker (if he signs) some more time to develop. No matter who starts out of these four, the two deep got better as a result of the Turner and Matthews additions. We all know how intensely physical Big Ten football is, so you can never have too many linebackers.

It’s going to be really fun seeing how well this group progresses under Rossi. During the Scottie Hazelton tenure, the linebacking core always seemed to just be stuck in neutral. They were never a huge liability, but they also weren’t consistently making plus plays.  

We won’t know for sure until next season, but all signs are pointing towards this linebacker group becoming a real strength. Fall Saturdays can’t come soon enough.