CHICAGO — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has no concerns about Brian Lewerke’s ability to handle pressure. In fact, he’s inviting it.
“You need a guy that has supreme confidence in himself,” Dantonio said Monday at Big Ten Media Days. “You’ve got the head coach getting buried, and then you’ve got the quarterback. They assume a lot of risk and responsibility and leadership, and it’s tough on a young person. But I think he’s equipped.”
Lewerke, who played in four games and started two as a redshirt freshman in 2016, looks like the starter heading into the fall. Dantonio described him as “a cut above” the other three quarterbacks on his roster and even compared him to Kirk Cousins, the former Spartans signal caller who now stars in the NFL.
Dantonio said Lewerke doesn’t quite have the vocal leadership of Cousins yet, who captained Michigan State for three years from 2009-11. But as far as the skill set and self-belief, it’s there.
“He’s got game experience,” Dantonio said of Lewerke, who threw for 381 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2016. “He’s almost up to 220 pounds, he’s got a great arm, he’s very cool under pressure. I think he understands our players. He knows our players very well, knows things schematically. I think he’s a very quick learner.
“He has all the attributes that we need to be an outstanding, championship-type quarterback.”
Added offensive lineman Brian Allen, “Everyone has respect for him. He commands the huddle, and people listen to him. So it’s good having a guy with confidence like that.”
Could all this praise go to Lewerke’s head? Dantonio doesn’t think so. He’s too “calm and collected.” He just wants to inspire confidence in the quarterback who likely will lead his offense.
At the same time, Dantonio made sure to note that all the pressure doesn’t lie on Lewerke’s shoulders. He may have the edge in the battle, but it won’t necessarily be all on him. We may see several different players behind center this season.
“I think we’ve got other quarterbacks that can take the stress off of him a little bit, quite honestly,” Dantonio said. “[Senior] Damion Terry’s played a lot of football for us, been in the program five years and I think he’s talented. He’s got to stay healthy. I think [redshirt freshman Messiah] deWeaver, he’s still a young player. He was unable to perform in the spring, so we don’t know.
“And I think [true freshman Rocky] Lombardi coming in, he’s got a lot of intangibles and he’s a big athlete. If you took our four quarterbacks walking in the door, you’d see four guys that are impressive-looking guys.”
It’s Lewerke’s job right now. As Dantonio has said, “He’s the guy.” But that doesn’t mean he has to go it alone. And rather than seeing it as pressure mounting for his starting job, Dantonio wants Lewerke to look at the other quarterbacks as support behind him.
“We’ve got four good quarterbacks,” Dantonio said. “Four guys that are big, four guys that have Big Ten abilities.”