Heath: "I will be the dancing bear"

Heath: "I will be the dancing bear"

Junior made switch to defensive end and is ready to make an impact that the Spartans have been looking for in the interior of the defensive line.

Michigan State lost its starting defensive tackles from last season as well as a key reserve.

But Joel Heath, one of the expected starters next season, said the search for "the dancing bear" began before that.

It's been an open position for quite a few years," he said. "They want a guy who can be the dancing bear, which is a guy who can do a two-way go, penetrate and go both ways in the pocket.

"So, it's been open for quite some time. It's time for somebody to step up and dominate."

Former Spartan and current Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Jerel Worthy was the last "dancing bear," Heath said, adding it is a phrase coach Ron Burton uses to describe a player who can do it all in the interior of the defensive line.

"He was the guy for that amount of time then he left and it made a big hole," Heath said.

Moving to the defensive tackle spot from defensive end, coach Mark Dantonio said he thinks Heath can be that guy.

"He's had good days — he's had very good days," Dantonio said. "He needs to continue to work, but Coach Burton is doing a great job with him and he's a try-hard guy and he's extremely athletic. He is what you want at that position."

The 6-foot-6 junior bulked up from 265 to 295 this offseason to make the transition. It took him from during Rose Bowl practices until now, but from eating extra protein and strength coach Ken Mannie's workouts, he put on the necessary weight.

Now, he is ready for the added physicality that the move brings.

"The transition would have to be it's a lot more physical," he said. "You're taking on more guys, you're taking on two guys instead of just one. There's more expectancy to make a two-way go. It's a different feel."

But he also brings the footwork and athleticism of a player more adept at being on the edge.

"Coming from D-end, I did have great footwork in the pass rush," he said. "They used me a lot at D-tackle last year as well last year to get the penetration there."

His classmate and linemate Shilique Calhoun said the past couple months also have shown Heath maturing as a person.

"He's definitely trying to be a leader on the field," Calhoun said. "Not only that, but a leader in the film room. One of those guys who wants to lead by example, who is not just going to talk, but is going to be about it.

"It shows on the field. He critiques himself more so than the coach will."

Heath said that added leadership comes with the territory of being a junior now and having the opportunity to step in as a leader.

"It's a big opportunity to be able to step in at that position," he said.

But there is no doubt that on the field, Heath is confident he can be the answer Michigan State has been looking to find.

So as the search for the "dancing bear" continues, Heath could be the answer.

"I will be the dancing bear," he said.

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