Dienhart: 5 things I learned at Michigan State practice

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: 5 things I learned at Michigan State practice

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Even though Michigan State is coming off a Big Ten title and playoff berth, the Spartans are being overlooked by many who favor Ohio State and Michigan in the East.

As we have learned, not heeding the Spartans’ prowess can be a mistake. Yes, Michigan State has some holes to fill. But talent still oozes on this roster.

Here is what I learned while watching the Spartans practice.

1. There has been a lot of attrition along the d line, but the unit still should be good. Mark Dantonio and Co., have recruited well. There is lots of talent and depth but it is largely unproven. Who will rush the passer? The end spot looks good. Evan Jones and Demetrius Cooper are anchors. And at tackle, Malik McDowell and redshirt freshman Raequan Williams are specimens who look good vs. the run. And Nebraska grad transfer Kevin Williams looks good at tackle. Long story short, this should be one of the most formidable defensive lines in the Big Ten, but it has yet to really prove anything.

2. The offensive line will be OK. Michigan State must replace three starters on the front, two of whom were All-Americans. Left tackle Jack Conklin was a first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans while guard Donavon Clark was taken late by the San Diego Chargers and center Jack Allen signed with the New Orleans Saints. David Beedle is penciled in to take over for Conklin. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Cole Chewins. Brian Allen has been flipped from center to left guard. Kodi Kieler has been a tackle by trade but has flipped to center. He’s a big center. Others to watch are guard Brandon Clemons and tackle Dennis Finley, along with tackle Miguel Machado and guard Benny McGowan. Mark Staten will get this group into shape. He’s one of the best.

3. This could be one of the better linebacking corps in the Big Ten. Riley Bullough is a monster in the middle. He is flanked by Chris Frey and Jon Reschke. Bullough is a throwback who plays at one speed. Frey is a nice athlete. No doubt, this is the best area of the Spartan defense. These guys can run. And just watching them, you get the sense they love football. They seem like clones physically—and they fly around the ball.

4. Yes, Connor Cook will be missed. But the Spartans will be OK under center. For all intents and purposes, Tyler O’Connor will be the man—even though that’s not the official word yet. Damion Terry is battling but he lacks the complete skill set to make this attack fully functional. He needs better accuracy and decision-making. Brian Lewerke has a nice skill set and looks like the QB of the future. True freshman Messiah deWeaver can sling it. A big kid. The future looks bright at the position.

5. There are some nice options at running back for a school that over the past few years has produced the likes of Le’Veon Bell and Jeremy Langford. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see LJ Scott become the next in a long line of successful rushers. He is battling Gerald Holmes and Madre London. Scott is the most hyped. RB coach Dave Warner would like to get one guy 20 carries a game and another 10. We will see how this position sorts out. But Warner told me he doesn’t want a rotation of three guys, which is essentially what happened last year. He wants a feature back.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

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, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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