Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News breaks down Michigan State’s offense ahead of the season opener on Saturday against Bowling Green.
Clear-cut at QB
It’s been clear since last spring — Brian Lewerke is Michigan State’s starting quarterback. That’s a bit of a change from last season when the Spartans went well into preseason camp before naming Tyler O’Connor the No. 1 QB, and from all indications Lewerke has taken advantage of it and has established himself as a leader on offense. How it translates in game action is still a bit of a question mark. The sophomore saw action in four games last season and started twice, but a broken leg against Michigan ended his season early. However, there were enough signs a season ago to believe Lewerke has what it takes. He’s got a strong, accurate arm and has the ability to extend plays with his feet. The experience he did get last season also will help, but if he falters, the bigger quarterback question is who would step in? Fifth-year senior Damion Terry has battled injuries his entire career and might start the season as No. 2, but redshirt freshman Messiah deWeaver is healthy after missing the spring and has drawn positive reviews throughout camp, putting him in a position to see more playing time and prove that he’s worthy of the high accolades he came to East Lansing with more than a year ago. True freshman Rocky Lombardi has shown a maturity level beyond his age and experience, but the chances of him seeing the field this season seem small with a redshirt most likely.
Front and center
Michigan State is used to using plenty of players along the offensive line — sometimes because the depth has been solid, and others because of injury. Where this year’s unit falls remains to be seen. What does seem sure is the Spartans will be counting on several players taking a big jump. The starting five seems clear headed into the opener — senior Brian Allen at center, sophomore Cole Chewins at left tackle, sophomore Tyler Higby at left guard, junior David Beedle at right guard and redshirt freshman Luke Campbell at right tackle. But several are being pushed and outside of Allen, all are a bit thin on experience. Beedle has played in 21 games but started just five while Higby was playing well last season until a broken ankle ended things after six starts. Chewins started three games in 2016 while Campbell redshirted. After that, some true freshmen are likely to see the field, with Kevin Jarvis at guard and Mustafa Khaleefah and Jordan Reid at tackle. Also in the mix is redshirt freshman Matt Allen, who could slide in at center and allow his brother, Brian, to play one of the guard spots. However it plays out, the fate of the MSU offense likely lies in the players up front.
Of Michigan State’s potential starters at wide receiver — junior Felton Davis and sophomores Darrell Steward and Trishton Jackson — there are only 20 career catches and fewer than 300 yards between them. Clearly, the experience is lacking. However, the Spartans feel they potentially have plenty of playmakers. Davis is a big target who played as a true freshman but has battled injuries. He could break out as a red-zone threat this season, while Jackson was the star of the spring game and has big-play ability. Stewart hasn’t seen much playing time. but is a tough runner after the catch. The talent doesn’t stop there. Several first-year players could end up rising to the top before long, led by Cam Chambers, who redshirted last season but will have the chance to live up to his potential while. Two true freshmen are almost certain to have opportunities early in the season, as Hunter Rison enrolled early and played well in the spring while Cody White has been solid in preseason camp.
Something to prove
Michigan State has been spoiled over the years with good tight end play. But with Josiah Price — the career leader in touchdown catches for a tight end — and Jamal Lyles now gone, the Spartans find themselves without a proven replacement. The most likely to start is junior Matt Sokol, the former high school quarterback who has seen plenty of action on special teams, but has just two career catches. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, he has the size and athletic ability to stand out. The depth is the concern, as no other tight end has seen game action. Noah Davis is expected to get a shot after redshirting last season while Matt Dotson and Jack Camper are true freshmen. Camper enrolled early and took part in spring practice, but Dotson was highly recruited and has drawn praise throughout preseason camp as a true freshman who could see the field early.
Plenty of options
There’s one spot where the Spartans aren’t worried about the lack of depth or inexperience — running back. Fifth-year senior Gerald Holmes and juniors LJ Scott and Madre London are good enough to start at most Big Ten schools and all have had time as a starter at Michigan State. Scott, last season’s leading rusher, is still seen as the player with the highest ceiling and is positioned to get plenty of work, especially after off-season surgery on both of his shoulders are now 100 percent. Holmes is the workhorse and the leader of the group, the one who will get the tough yards, has deceptive speed, can catch the ball out of the backfield and is the best blocker of the group. London is a bit of a wild card after injuries derailed his season in 2015 and his work was limited last season. He still has big-play ability and surely will see some work early in the season as some sort of rotation is worked out.