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ORLANDO, FL - Stung by the loss of senior defensive end Jonal Saint-Dic, Michigan State is turning to senior tight end Kellen Davis and sophomore Brandon Long to fill the void.
Saint-Dic was declared academically ineligible and will not participate in the bowl game effectively ending his Michigan State career.
His loss creates a huge void, Saint-Dic set a conference mark for forced fumbles and is expected to be a mid-round NFL draft choice. Still, MSU feels that this is an opportunity for Davis, who excelled as a situational pass rusher and Long, who began the season as the starter, to rise to the occasion.
Davis is relishing the challenge of playing both ways in front of a national television audience and the NFL scouts on hand in Orlando.
“It’s like a rejuvenation," said Davis. "You go out there on offense, then you hear your name called down the sideline, and you run down there and see (defensive line) Coach (Ted) Gill, and Coach Gill says go in there and make a couple of plays. It definitely amplifies the whole atmosphere for me. It’s a totally different attitude going from offense to defense. I love playing defense.”
And what about the NFL scouts looking on?
“I think it’s helping out a lot. It shows I’m a versatile player, that you can put me anywhere on the field. I can get out there and make plays on defense. It shows that I can do something extra.”
Long said after getting over the initial disappointement of losing his job to Saint-Dic, he's happy to have a shot at redemption.
"For any competitor, it’s going to be an obvious disappointment, but you have to look at it from the standpoint of what’s best for our team. When a guy forces a fumble a game it’s easy to understand why he’s playing. I take my hat off to Jonal, he had a great season. I had a pretty big role in our dime package, and I got a lot of reps in our base too, so I wasn’t completely out of the picture.”
But Long admits, he's no Saint-Dic when it comes to forcing turnovers and won't try to be. “I wouldn’t mind having a couple of forced fumbles, I’m not going to lie about that one," he joked, "but obviously you have to bring your own abilities to the table and your own style. I’m not going to be Saint-Dic in there, and I’m not going to try and be. I’m going to play my game, which I feel will be a solid game.”
For his part, Davis says he knows why he's going to be called.
“They like to throw the ball a lot. They throw a lot of screen passes out to (Andre) Callender…What Coach Gill has been talking about is that (Matt) Ryan is really good at stepping up in the pocket under pressure, so we’re going to have to try a lot of moves to get some pressure on him.”
Long said he had to change his mindset now that he knows Saint-Dic won't be coming in to relieve him.
“Absolutely (it changes). You come into a game as a backup guy and you’re looking at 20 reps, as opposed to what I’ll get now, which is 60 or 70. You prepare yourself a little bit harder mentally and physically, and make sure you watch a little bit of extra film on (Matt) Ryan.”
Another thing that had to change was his mindset about spending the holidays in sunny Orlando rather than snowy East Lansing.
“Waking up, looking out at palm trees, was a little bit different than Ohio or Michigan," admitte Long. "It was interesting for sure, to say the least. It didn’t really feel like Christmas, but it’s a great thing to be here.”
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