Dienhart: 5 things I'll be watching at Michigan State practice

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Dienhart: 5 things I'll be watching at Michigan State practice

Another year, another double-digit win season? We shall see. Michigan State has many challenges looming as it looks to reload and repeat as East Division champion.

[ MORE: @BTNStatsGuys: 5 fun facts for Michigan State ]

One of the biggest: find a QB. Gone is Connor Cook, the winningest signal-caller in school history (34-5 record) and the school-record holder for most passing yards with 9,194 and passing TDs with 71. Senior Tyler O’Connor is the top contender. He is famous for starting and leading the Spartans to a huge win at Ohio State last season.

Here is what I’ll be watching at practice.

1. How do the wideouts look? 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. 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. Monty Madaris also is back. And keep an eye on redshirt freshman Darrell Stewart. Two early enrollees, Donnie Corley and Cam Chambers, will be in the mix, along with potentially two other incoming freshmen in Justin Layne and Trishton Jackson. All four of those incoming freshman wide receivers were rated as four stars by Scout.com.

2. Is the offensive line developing? 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. It will be interesting to see how projected tackle Kodi Kieler does at center, a spot most thought Brian Allen would occupy.

3. Is the d-line developing? Some big-time attrition here, as the Spartans lost three starters in Shilique Calhoun, Lawrence Thomas and Joel Heath. Malik McDowell will anchor the line and could play a multitude of positions; he has played on the inside his first two seasons and will also see action at end this season. End Demetrius Cooper could be a good one. He was third on the team with five sacks last year playing end behind Calhoun primarily as a third-down rusher. Redshirt freshman Raequan Williams has a chance to make an impact on the inside. Can’t wait to see him. There is lots of good, young talent at this spot.

4. How do the QBs look? Gone is Connor Cook, the winningest signal-caller in school history (34-5 record) and the school-record holder for most passing yards with 9,194 and passing TDs with 71. Senior Tyler O’Connor is the favorite to win the job. How are teammates responding to him?

5. Is the secondary up to its usual standards? The unit must improve. The Spartans were ripped for 285 passing yards or more seven times in 2015. The pass rush did its part, and it should be able to again from all sides. If the defensive backs can tighten up, this could be another vintage Spartan defense. I wanna watch corners Darian Hicks and Vayante Copeland, along with safeties Demetrious Cox and Montae Nicholson.

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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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