East Lansing – — Details about Michigan State’s first scrimmage last weekend were hard to come, but judging by the comments from coaches and players, at least one position of interest is being hotly contested:
The quest to replace running back Jeremy Langford.
Coach Mark Dantonio didn’t offer any specific statistics Monday, but was quick to bring up the running game.
“I thought our running backs ran well,” he said. “Ran the ball very effectively.”
A lot of that can be attributed to an offensive line that might be among the best in the Big Ten, but that would be selling short the talent of the group entrenched in the competition.
Sophomore Gerald Holmes has the most experience — albeit limited — while redshirt freshman Madre London and freshman LJ Scott are hot on his heels. And this week, junior Delton Williams, who gained 316 yards and scored five touchdowns last season, will be full-go and immersed in the competition.
But even while all impressed during the scrimmage, a clear leader has not emerged.
“All of them played well,” Dantonio said. “I look for yards after contact. The ability to break runs and make yards after contact. And all three of those guys really played well.”
It was a feeling shared by Holmes, who was quick to point out how well all three backs played.
“We came out pretty strong,” Holmes said. “We’re all running strong, running hard. I feel like Madre did his job and the young bull, LJ, he came out strong and was really impressive.”
Scott has drawn the most attention after Michigan State won a contested recruiting battle with Ohio State to land the Hubbard, Ohio, native.
And while his high school numbers were impressive — 2,819 yards and 38 touchdowns — the comparisons to former Spartans standout Le’Veon Bell have many taking notice. Not only does Scott look like Bell, he runs like him, too.
“That is the constant comparison,” said Dave Warner, co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach. “Hopefully he can get to that point.
“He is someone who has been here about a week and picked things up very well. We’ve thrown a lot at him and he’s done very well from a mental aspect of learning the offense, especially pass protection and things like that. ... With the ball in his hands he shows patience, lags behind the blockers and lets things happen and when he likes his crease he takes it. And at 230 pounds, he can run pretty powerful.”
From every indication, it seems Scott is working toward a significant role as a true freshman.
“Impressive,” Dantonio said of Scott. “He’s got the ability to stay square, get up the field. And you know, he’s a very impressive running back. Basically what you see right now is he’s ready to play.”
None of that, however, eliminates the others from contention.
While Holmes has a slight edge in experience, London has improved his pass blocking and knowledge of the offense while proving he can be a game-breaker.
“I made a lot of big plays,” London said of the scrimmage. “I was breaking a lot of tackles, running hard and running downhill. I make a lot of good plays, but like I said, there is still more room for improvement.”
Both have had “great camps,” according to Dantonio, and now that Williams is close to returning, the running back contest will get ramped up as the Spartans try to find the right player, or group of players, to make up for the 1,522 yards and 22 touchdowns Langford had in 2014.
“They’ve done a good job, but they’re in progress,” Dantonio said. “It’s new. You’ve got Delton who has been actively coached for basically two years. So he’ll be back in the mix. And then you’ve got three guys that are relatively new.
“Now, they have the physical tools to do it, and that’s the positive thing. It’s not can they do it, it’s can they get the right guy at the right time, at the right moment.”