Michigan State football leaning on Noah Harvey's leadership with thin linebacker corps

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Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press
·5 min read
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Noah Harvey’s thumping tackles are his trademark.

Mel Tucker is pushing his senior linebacker to also bring more leadership to his developing defense.

“He's making a conscious effort to do that within his personality,” Tucker said recently. “He's not a rah-rah guy, but he's leading by example — knowing your personnel, knowing how to touch your teammates and how to connect with them is something that he's learning to do and he's getting better at that.”

Saturday’s final spring practice and scrimmage, which starts at 2 p.m. at Spartan Stadium (BTN), will be the first test of that guidance. Harvey returns as the lone starting linebacker in a back seven that’s short on numbers going into the summer.

Michigan State's Angelo Grose, right, celebrates a tackle with teammate Noah Harvey during the second quarter of the game against Indiana on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.
Michigan State's Angelo Grose, right, celebrates a tackle with teammate Noah Harvey during the second quarter of the game against Indiana on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

“I've been trying to get the guys in to watch extra film, just explaining them things that they can do differently on the field that can help them out (with) positive reinforcement, encouraging them,” Harvey said Tuesday. “Just bringing them along, because this is hard. This has been an intense spring ball. I'm just trying to carry them along and let them know they're doing the right things.”

With the graduation of Antjuan Simmons, his starting partner in Tucker’s 4-2-5 defense that featured the two linebackers, Harvey returns as the Spartans’ leading tackler. He made 54 stops last season, five for a loss, while starting all seven games and being on the field for 445 of the 550 snaps the defense played.

Harvey said the lack of spring practice last year after Tucker got hired and the 'stop-and-start' preseason camp limited the knowledge players had making the transition from Mark Dantonio’s base 4-3 defense to the new scheme Tucker and defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton installed on the fly.

“One of the big things that we were doing this whole spring is understanding the why to what we have going on,” Harvey said. “We had to get all of our defenses in, and we all understood what we were supposed to do, but not as much as the whole reason behind everything that we were doing. So now, this spring has really opened up our inventory and really helped all 11 people on the field know what they're doing and why they're doing it and how it affects each other.”

More: How to assess Michigan State football's final spring practice beyond the scrimmage portion

More: How Mel Tucker is molding Michigan State football's 'thin' back seven in Year 2

Hazelton pointed to a play in MSU’s second spring scrimmage where sixth-year senior defensive end Drew Beesley jumped offsides. Coaches didn’t even need to yell, because Harvey immediately got in Beesley’s ear to let him know what he did wrong.

“I think Noah Harvey's done a great job,” Hazelton said. “He's in a position where he might not be the guy that you see, like the Ray Lewis-type that has the ability to go scream and discipline the defense like some of those guys did. But he's also doing a good job in being able to grab a guy and say, 'Hey, come here, we don't do that like that.'”

Michigan State linebacker Noah Harvey during spring practice in East Lansing
Michigan State linebacker Noah Harvey during spring practice in East Lansing

Harvey worked in the offseason with Simmons and a few other teammates at Elite Tackling System in Grand Blanc to prepare for an even greater workload to try and make up for the 75 stops Simmons made last season.

And it also means taking on Simmons’ role of defensive mentor, with the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Harvey the only linebacker back with any starting experience — 12 straight that included the final five games in 2019 after Joe Bachie was suspended.

“This year, it's going to be a big year of leadership for me, because I've already I've already been through that process of learning how to play in these games,” said Harvey, who has 105 tackles and three sacks in 32 career games. “And now with new guys coming in, whoever is the starting 11 out there, I'll be able to help them along in their little in their process.”

Junior Chase Kline is the only other linebacker in camp with any significant playing experience, getting the bulk of his 226 plays and 29 tackles last season while Simmons was nursing an injury against Iowa, Indiana and Northwestern.

MSU has eight linebackers in spring practice, five of whom are redshirt freshmen. The Spartans are expected to welcome at least two transfers at the position in the summer (Itayvion Brown and Ben VanSumeren) along with four-star recruit Ma’a Gaoteote and three-star prospect Carson Casteel to enhance the competition.

“We're a little thin at the linebacker, so it'll pick up in the summer and especially in the fall. But right now, we got the younger guys, they're obviously competing against each other. It's really just helping them understand that we only have 15 practices, and it went by fast. I mean, we have the game this weekend, so letting them understand that every single day counts will really help them.”

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State football leans on linebacker Noah Harvey's leadership