Dienhart: 5 things to watch in Michigan State's Spring game
It’s time for Michigan State to reload coming off a monster season that saw the program win double-digit games for the fifth time in the last six years en route to earning a playoff bid.
No doubt, a strong foundation has been laid as Mark Dantonio enters his 10th season in East Lansing. But big holes need to be filled.
Here are five things I will be watching in Saturday’s spring game from the press box in East Lansing.
1. Quarterbacks. Life without Connor Cook begins. And it’s an understatement to say that he leaves a big hole to fill. All eyes will be on the signal-callers. Tyler O’Connor is the favorite to win the job after flashing nice skills in a huge win at Ohio State last season. Damion Terry also is in the mix, along with Brian Lewerke and Messiah deWeaver. Interestingly, Lewerke was picked ahead of Terry in the players’ draft for this game. The redshirt freshman could be special, as Dantonio has compared him to Kirk Cousins in some respects. Yes, spring games mean little, but it sure would give this program a boost if O’Connor and others excel.
2. Wide receivers. This unit is green and has a lot to prove. But potential looms. There are some big holes to fill, as MSU lost Big Ten wide receiver of the year Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings, Jr. R.J. Shelton is key. He has seen his production increase each year and must play a big role. Can he become a go-to guy? Will Monty Madaris finally break out? Lots of promising youngsters will be on display. Felton Davis III was a true freshman who played in seven games in 2015. The coaches wanted to get him some experience last season knowing he would be playing a big role this upcoming season. Davis was Burbridge’s backup last season. And keep an eye on redshirt freshman Darrell Stewart. Two early enrollees, Donnie Corley and Cam Chambers, will be in the mix. Corley has created a big buzz.
3. Offensive line. Lots of work to do. Gone are starting left tackle Jack Conklin, an All-American who left early for the NFL. Also departed are two-time All-America center Jack Allen and two-year starting guard Donavon Clark. Line coach Mark Staten is a good one whose unit in the fall could roll out Dennis Finley—coming off a broken leg–at left tackle and rising star Brian Allen at left guard with Benny McGowan at center. The right side could have Brandon Clemons (an ex-d-lineman) at guard and Kodi Kieler at tackle.
4. Defensive line. Some big-time attrition here, as the Spartans lost three starters in Shilique Calhoun, Lawrence Thomas and Joel Heath. The unit then took a big hit in depth when Montez Sweat and Craig Evans parted from the team this spring. Malik McDowell will anchor the line and is looking to become one of America’s top linemen. Tackle Damon Knox has starting experience and will likely get a sixth year of eligibility in 2016. End Demetrius Cooper was third on the team with five sacks last year playing end behind Calhoun primarily as a third-down rusher. End Evan Jones and tackle Enoch Smith, Jr. will have a chance to shine. And keep an eye on Raequan Williams. MSU has many good youngsters on hand, including Josh King, Gerald Owens, Justice Alexander, Cassius Peat and Robert Bowers.
5. Running backs. This unit needs some juice. The last time we saw the Spartans, their four tailbacks carried 15 times and gained a combined 31 yards against Alabama in the playoff loss. Madre London broke off the longest run in the group at eight yards. Dantonio has said the Michigan State backs need to do a better job of getting on the so-called “edge,” pointing out that Michigan State lost a fast, talented player in Jeremy Langford. There is no shortage of options with LJ Scott, Madre London, Gerald Holmes and Delton Williams back. Is there a stud in the group for what will likely be a shorter rotation of backs in 2016? Scott has had the best spring and could be the guy.
Read more of our recent spring football coverage via the links below.
- Big Ten Spring Football Preview: Michigan State Spartans
- Big Ten Spring Football Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes
- Big Ten Spring Football Preview: Indiana Hoosiers
- Big Ten Spring Football Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini
- Dienhart: Look for these transfers to make an impact in 2017
- Dienhart: These junior college transfers will help Big Ten teams
- Dienhart: Grad transfers give Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers a lift
- Post-spring position check: Top Big Ten backup QBs
- Post-spring position check: Top Big Ten punters
- Post-spring position check: Top Big Ten kickers
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