By Ashley Dunkak

EAST LANSING (CBS DETROIT) – Michigan State opens its season Aug. 29 against Jacksonville State, and Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio spoke Thursday about the progress of various players, including freshman defensive tackle Malik McDowell, whose signing turned into a spectacle when his mother initially refused to sign his letter of intent.

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McDowell’s time in East Lansing has evidently gone well so far, however, because Dantonio listed the highly prized recruit as one of the young players likely to contribute right away to the defense that made the Spartans so formidable in 2013.

“Malik is a guy that’s going to probably play,” Dantonio said. “Craig Evans is another guy, and then maybe Enoch [Smith Jr.] and David Beedle. All four of those guys are good football players, so we’ll just have to see how it plays out, the health issues, those type of things, but those guys are in the mix. They’ve played with the ones, and they’ve certainly played with the twos, all of them.”

Dantonio also announced that Taiwan Jones will take over the middle linebacker spot previously held down by Max Bullough, who graduated last season, and Darian Hicks will be the starting corner.

The coach called Jeremy Langford, who rushed for 1,445 yards in 2013, the clear starter at running back, but Dantonio did not offer much of an order beyond that.

“I think Nick Hill’s had a great summer camp, but I think all three of those other guys are players that you might see,” Dantonio said. “The only question is do you see Madre [London] because you don’t want to run him one or two plays. I think he’s going to be a great running back, but you don’t want to take the redshirt off him and have him not get the work, but he’s in the mix too.  They’re good football players. We’re going to lose two of them, two of them are seniors, but those guys are good football players.”

Aside from Langford, Hill and London, the options for the Spartans at running back are redshirt freshman Gerald Holmes, freshman Gerald Owens, sophomore Delton Williams and junior Phillip-Michael Williams.

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Dantonio also stayed vague when he discussed who will be the primary backup to quarterback Connor Cook, but the coach sounded positive about the options.

“These things that were weaknesses before have become strengths,” Dantonio said. “I think Tyler O’Connor’s had a great camp, Damion Terry’s had an excellent camp as well, he’s been cleared to go live, so we’re right on task there, right on target.”

Dantonio noted that both Kevin Cronin and Michael Geiger have looked good but said he has not yet decided who will get the kickoff duties. He said the depth chart will also contain “or”s – rather than clear number ones, twos, etc. – at tight end and wide receiver.

The coach announced the team captains Thursday, and the ones earning the distinction were junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun, senior safety Kurtis Drummond and senior offensive lineman Travis Jackson.

“All three of these guys played as redshirt freshmen,” Dantonio said. “They didn’t play as true freshmen; they played as redshirt freshmen, so they were guys that were on the scout team, they paid their dues, they got stronger, they acquired more football knowledge, they played themselves into starting positions on the field, so they’ve sort of done it the hard way. Nothing’s been given to them, and they’ve come up through in that respect, and I think people appreciate that and respect that.”

With quarterbacks often heralded as team leaders, it came as something of a surprise that Cook was not selected as a captain, but he was not eligible to be chosen because he is not currently a member of the team’s 12-man leadership council, the group from which captains are picked. Dantonio was not concerned that Cook is neither a member of that council nor a captain.

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“A lot of guys float in and out of that 12, and that’s the key thing,” Dantonio said. “He was on it, and then he gets – so he sort of floats, but by position I think he’s done a very good job. He’s leading on the field. Off the field it just takes a little bit more time. He’s a younger player, just like Shilique. The other guys are older, are seniors. Really we’ve got three underclassmen out of the 12, so it’s a pretty heavy senior group, so that’s not anything to be concerned about. He leads by position, just the nature of his position. All of our quarterbacks, all three are good leaders, and Connor’s done an outstanding job. He does a great job on the field.”