Dienhart: Fun takes from Michigan State football practice

@BTNTomDienhart

Dienhart: Fun takes from Michigan State football practice

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The BTN Bus Tour stopped in East Lansing, Michigan, today to watch the defending Big Ten champions practice.

Mark Dantonio and the Spartans are coming off a Big Ten title and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Yes, there are some holes to fill, but this roster is loaded with talent from top to bottom.

Here are my fun takes from today’s Michigan State football practice.

Most impressive player: WR Monty Madaris has been impressive all camp. And that continued on this day. He may be the top wideout on the squad.

Top specimen: Defensive lineman Malik McDowell is an NFL player masquerading as a college player.

Loudest coach: D-line coach Ron Burton is loud and intense. I pity the player who doesn’t heed his directions.

Impressive newcomer: WR Donnie Corley may be the top true freshman WR in the Big Ten. He’s a gazelle.

On the rise: Looking for the next d-line star? It’s redshirt freshman tackle Raequan Williams.

Nagging question: Is Tyler O’Connor the answer at QB?

Under the radar: Vayante Copeland. He missed most of last year with a neck injury. He’s back—and looking to make the secondary the “No Fly Zone” once again.

Number: 6-1, the Spartans’ record in games decided by eight points or fewer in 2015. Going back to 2010, Michigan State has 21 wins in games decided by eight points or fewer and its .724 win percentage is the highest in the nation in that span.

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NOTES

The last time Michigan State needed to replace a quarterback, it wasn’t a smooth transition. After losing three-year starter Kirk Cousins in 2011, Andrew Maxwell took over. And, he flopped. Maxwell completed just 52.5 percent of his passes in 2012 with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions as the Spartans went 7-6. This year, there is an open competition but Tyler O’Connor is expected to win out over Damion Terry. The QB derby continues. No word on when a starter will be named. Know this: The staff wants its QB to run more this year. Each is capable. O’Connor threw the ball well today and showed some niftiness.

Keep an eye on TE Josiah Price. He could be a sleeper weapon on this year’s team and nice security blanket for the new QB. Six of his 23 receptions last year went for TDs. This offense likes to make use of its TEs. This could be a big season for Price.

Yes, the secondary got beat often in 2015. But it could be good this fall. The safety duo of Demetrious Cox and Montae Nicholson is strong. And corner Vayante Copeland is back from a neck injury to pair with Darian Hicks, giving MSU a nice cornerback tandem. The first corners off the bench are Tyson Smith and Josh Butler. Khari Willis is the top safety in reserve. This group is underrated.

Staff continuity has been big for MSU. Co-defensive coordinator/DB coach Harlon Barnett, o-line coach Mark Staten, OC/RB coach Dave Warner and co-DC/LBs Mark Tressel all are still on the staff after arriving in East Lansing from Cincinnati with Mark Dantonio.

Big Ten WR of the Year Aaron Burbridge is gone, but WR coach Terrence Samuels is looking to R.J. Shelton, Darrell Stewart and Felton Davis to be good leaders. Monty Madaris is another. In fact, he has been the best of the bunch so far, according to WR coach Terrence Samuel. Shelton looks good, and Stewart has had a nice camp. Davis is a big target. Michigan State may have the best collection of true freshmen wideouts in the Big Ten led by Donnie Corley, who looks like the best of the bunch. He may be a future star. Cam Chambers is another blue-chipper along with Justin Layne and Trishton Jackson, who has made strides in camp and is right behind Corley. All four of those incoming freshman wide receivers were rated as four stars by Scout.com.

MSU has two grad transfers on the d-line in tackle Kevin Williams from Nebraska and end Gabe Sherrod from Delaware State, who had 25 TFLs and eight sacks last year at the FBS school. Williams is running with the second team, while Sherrod figures to be used in pass-rushing situations.

Speaking of the d-line, the first unit is Demetrius Cooper and Evan Jones on the ends with Malik McDowell and Raequan Williams inside. There is no shortage of size, athletic ability and talent. This is a good-looking group. Watch true freshman Mike Panasiuk at tackle. He has been impressive.

The offensive line looks strong on the interior with Kodi Kieler at center flanked by Benny McGowan and Brian Allen. The tackle spots merit watching. David Beedle has taken the left tackle spot of Jack Conklin. The right tackle is former JC transfer Miguel Machado. Here is good depth with Dennis Finley, Brandon Clemons and Cole Chewins. Line coach Mark Staten always does a good job with this group. Allen, Clemons and McGowan have stood out thus far, according to OC Dave Warner.

The LB corps is strong. For now, the starters are Chris Frey, Riley Bullough and Jon Reschke. The unit could get a lift from the return of Ed Davis. He missed last year with a knee injury suffered in camp. The staff says Davis must graduate this summer and will get word on if that’s the case Friday. Davis then can petition for a sixth year of eligibility. He would be eased back into the lineup until he’s up to speed.

Spoke to OC Dave Warner, who also coaches the RBs. He told me he would like one back to emerge. Last year, that wasn’t the case, as Gerald Holmes, LJ Scott and Madre London shared the load. Warner says an upcoming scrimmage will help with separation. He’s not sure when he’ll name a No. 1 guy. But I like Scott, the biggest of the bunch. He has dropped 15 pounds and it shows. He’s a bit quicker.

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