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Despite double duty, Lippett still a catch at receiver

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Let's be clear about this. Yes, Michigan State senior Tony Lippett is going to start at cornerback and receiver on Saturday at Penn State. But if he were to hand out resumes to prospective NFL teams right now, he would list receiver as his primary position.

"Yeah, wide receiver is still my (spot)," Lippett said Tuesday.

Nobody is arguing with him. He leads the Big Ten with 1,071 receiving yards, and a 97.4-yard average per game. His 10 receiving touchdowns also leads the conference.

He joins Plaxico Burress, Charles Rogers and B.J. Cunningham as the only receivers in Spartans history to record 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in a season.

So, yeah, he's first and foremost a receiver.

"I think he's a wide receiver at the next level," head coach Mark Dantonio said of Lippett. "I think he catches the ball too well and is too important as an offensive figure for us to just say, 'Hey, he's going to play nothing but defense on Saturday.' He's got to be equally productive on offense."

Lippett played his redshirt freshman season, 2011, at cornerback. But he hadn't as much as taken a practice rep on defense until last week, when Dantonio saw Lippett as a solution to a continuing problem at cornerback.

Lo and behold, Lippett stepped in against Rutgers like he'd been playing corner all along.

"He did not take reps prior to this last week, but his retention was there in terms of what he had retained from being a starter there," Dantonio said. "You got to remember, he worked there for a year, for a full season. There wasn't a lot of change. He was in meeting rooms, so he understands the terminology and all the different things that go along with that and the techniques involved."

His technique was rusty, Lippett admitted, but with another week to work on it, he's not anticipating any problems.

"I like to have fun," he said. "I like to embrace situations. I mean, there are probably a lot of other players that can do the same thing as me, play both sides of the ball, but a lot of them aren't.

"So I just try to embrace that and not let either one fall, like production fall. If I'm doing bad on defense because I'm playing offense or something like that, I don't want that ever to be the question."

Seeing Lippett play two ways had Dantonio reminiscing about his days at Ohio State when, as the defensive coordinator under Jim Tressel, he allowed cornerback Chris Gamble to play both cornerback and receiver on the 2002 National Championship team.

"He was playing over 100 plays in three straight games," Dantonio said. "So, I mean, it was pretty amazing what he was able to accomplish. That was because we pushed the issue there, and I think issue can be pushed if you have the right person with the right mentality. I think Lippett has that mentality."

Lippett played 40 plays combined in the blowout win last week. His workload is likely to increase significantly this week — though probably not to 100 plays. He's going to be asked not just to play on both sides of the ball, but to be a playmaker on both sides of the ball.

"I think he's taken that step," Dantonio said. "His confidence — you have to remember this guy was a quarterback in high school and he was the guy at (Detroit) Crockett. He was used to delivering for his football team. He had the confidence. I think he had the mindset that he could be that guy, he could be the guy. I think that's what's taken off.

"Every year your leaders, you have to assume that leadership position. I think that comes naturally to people…If you're going to lead, you have to make plays. Regardless of what position you're playing, you have to play and you have to be playing pretty well, too. I think he's done that sort of naturally. I think it's inherent in him, and I think that's taken him to the next step as a football player, too."

Lippett has been invited to the Senior Bowl and he will go there as a receiver. But, just in case any NFL team was wondering, he is open to playing other positions.

"You never know in the future years because, I mean, if that's what I have to do to make a team, hey, I'll do it," he said.

And having some fresh film of him playing defense for scouts to look at can't hurt.

"It's definitely going to make me look better," he said. "Playing on both sides of the ball at a collegiate level, it's a high level. A lot of players only play one side of the ball and you really don't want them to get overwhelmed so much.

"Just to know that I can go out there and flip a switch and just play hard on both sides of the ball and understand things and still know the game on both sides — it just shows that I can be versatile."

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky