The wait is over. Football has returned.
Michigan State opted to get started earlier than in years past, commencing its 15 allotted practices on Saturday leading up to the annual Green-White spring game on April 1.
We don’t know yet how much of the action we’ll be able to see firsthand. At the very least, the spring game will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network and allow fans a glimpse into their team’s progress.
As we enter this crucial stretch for a struggling Michigan State program, let’s run down some of the key talking points for spring practice. What might we learn about the Spartans, and what do we need to learn?
1. How will Mark Dantonio and his coaching staff address the turmoil within the program?
The past several weeks have been dominated by a sexual assault investigation that led to the suspension of three student-athletes and a staff member. And on Friday, linebacker Jon Reschke issued a statement saying he would leave the program and pursue a graduate transfer opportunity after making a “totally regrettable comment involving a former teammate.” Fans have every right to be concerned about the discipline and chemistry of the program right now, as well as where it’s headed. Will head coach Mark Dantonio dodge these questions from the media or address them head-on?
2. Will anyone challenge Brian Lewerke for the starting quarterback spot?
Certainly this race won’t be completely decided by the time April comes around. But since Dantonio referred to Lewerke as “the guy” in his postseason press conference, the sophomore-to-be has had the edge, even while he recovered from a broken leg. He’ll have Damion Terry (who had 46 passing attempts in 2016) and talented redshirt freshman Messiah deWeaver coming after him, though. Whoever proves to be the most consistent throughout spring practice will give himself the upper hand.
3. Which young defensive backs will emerge?
Michigan State’s 2016 season ended just how it deserved to, with Penn State peppering the Spartans will long balls downfield. Their inconsistent defensive backs had been susceptible to getting beaten deep throughout the season, even if opponents didn’t try to do so perhaps as much as they should have. The 12th-best pass efficiency defense needs to look to its youngsters to turn things around. Freshman Austin Andrews should have a shot to compete with Vayante Copeland and Justin Layne at cornerback. At safety, underclassmen like Grayson Miller, Matt Morrissey and Demetric Vance will look to prove their worth.
4. Who will fill the void left by Reschke?
Michigan State seemed ready to rely upon Reschke for senior leadership as an elder statesman on a young team. That will no longer be the case. But to fill his spot at middle linebacker, someone will need to show maturity beyond his years. Joe Bachie, Byron Bullough and Shane Jones all saw snaps there during an injury-riddled 2016 campaign in the linebacking corps, and the three of them will likely battle it out going into 2017 as well.
5. How cohesive will the Spartans look?
The spring game and all the coverage of it should give a good idea of where this team stands. Do the issues stem from isolated poor decisions from players, or are they a symptom of widespread disarray? Seeing the players and how they act around each other won’t answer every question, but it will allow us a glimpse into the state of the Spartans’ chemistry.