5 things Tom Dienhart learned at Michigan State practice

@BTNTomDienhart

5 things Tom Dienhart learned at Michigan State practice

The seventh stop on our annual summer bus tour the Big Ten brought us to East Lansing, Michigan, where I got the chance to see Michigan State practice on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Fun notes from MSU practice | Tweets from MSU practice ]

Here are five things I learned at the Spartans’ practice.

1. The offensive line is impressive. Prior to arriving in East Lansing for practice, I thought this was one of the top fronts in the Big Ten. I had my belief confirmed while watching this front work out. Very physically imposing and well-coached. And the unit has underrated athletic ability. Junior left tackle Jack Conklin continues to get better. The guy figures to be a high first-round draft choice one day. Hard to believe he began in East Lansing as a walk-on, coming from a small high school. Conklin just envelopes his foe with size and technique. One area he wants to improve: His kick-back on pass blocks. Senior center Jack Allen may win the Rimington Trophy. Conklin described Allen as “nasty.” He’s just a guy who always has a mad look on his face. We just leave him alone.” Sorry, Ohio State, but this may be the best line in the Big Ten.

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2. Michigan State will be OK at running back. Yes, Jeremy Langford and his 1,522 yards from 2014 are gone. But talent percolates in the backfield. I really like true freshman LJ Scott, a big back who may be special by the time it’s done after he rebuffed home-state Ohio State to ink with MSU. If he picks up his pass blocking, he will be OK. Redshirt freshman Madre London is another physical back. Sophomore Gerald Holmes also is in the mix, along with junior Delton Williams, who is back from suspension. Bottom line: There is no shortage of options. It may take a few games to sort out, but a No. 1 workhorse will emerge.

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3. The defense can compensate for the loss of OLB Ed Davis, but it will be difficult. It was a tough blow last week when the talented senior was lost for the season with a knee injury. This was gonna be “his year.” Not now. Sophomore Chris Frey was running with the first team today on the strong side—or “money side,” in MSU defensive parlance. Frey is capable but is no Davis. Sophomore Jon Reschke has moved from the middle to outside to compete with Frey for the spot. JC transfer Drake Martinez is one to watch, too, according to LB coach Mark Snyder. Riley Bullough is an anchor in the middle after playing on the strong side in the past. The “Star,” or weak side, belongs to senior Darien Harris. But watch true freshman Andrew Dowell. Snyder raves about the kid. There is plenty of talent at this spot.

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4. The cornerback spots need to be watched. This program has developed a reputation for tremendous secondary play for a unit famously dubbed the “No Fly Zone.” The last two years, the Spartans have produced first-round picks in cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and then Trae Waynes. Who will be the next stud corner? This defense relies on one, as the Michigan State defense is built around press-man coverage that often leaves the corners on an island. Junior Demetrious Cox, sophomore Arjen Colquhoun and junior Jermaine Edmondson are in the mix. And redshirt freshman Vayante Copeland has the size/speed combo the staff loves. One thing you notice about these guys? Size, as each is 6-0 or taller. Junior Darian Hicks, who is 5-10, worked out in shorts as he overcomes mono.

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5. The receivers will be OK. Yes, leading wideout Tony Lippett is gone, but there are lots of options left for WR coach Terrence Samuel. Seniors Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings Jr. lead the pack and need to be go-to guys—especially Burbridge. There also are junior R.J. Shelton, senior DeAnthony Arnett, junior Monty Madaris and senior AJ Troup, who is one of Connor Cook’s favorite targets. Shelton is good on jet sweeps. No doubt, having Cook throwing passes to this unit will make it better, too. And junior Josiah Price and junior Jamal Lyles form perhaps the most underrated tight end duo in the Big Ten. Price is a pass catcher and red zone threat; Lyles excels in-line as a blocker.

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About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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