East Lansing – — Michigan State fans still trying to get over the basketball team’s untimely exit from the NCAA Tournament will have at least one way to clear their minds as the football team begins spring practice this week.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio will meet with the media today and the team will go through its first practice Tuesday.
Repeating as Big Ten champions and getting back to the College Football Playoff will be the goal, but there are plenty of questions to answer. The Spartans will begin to try to answer them this month culminating with the annual Green and White game at 3 p.m. on April 23 at Spartan Stadium.
Here are five things to watch entering spring practice:
It’s been a few years since the Spartans were unsure of who would be under center when the season started, but that’s where they are after Connor Cook graduated as Michigan State’s all-time winningest quarterback.
Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor will likely get the early edge based on experience alone, but that experience is limited. Junior Damion Terry shared time with O’Connor in the Ohio State win and his endless potential will likely be given every opportunity to win the job.
The wild cards are redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke and true freshman Messiah deWeaver, who enrolled early. Lewerke spent most of his first year running the scout team while deWeaver is quickly trying to pick up as much as he can.
Replacing All-Americans Jack Conklin and Jack Allen will be difficult, as will replacing the versatile Donavon Clark. The sure-things appear to be senior Kodi Kieler and junior Brian Allen, though where they play could evolve right through next fall.
The status of tackle Dennis Finley, who broke his leg last season, will determine plenty while Miguel Machado might finally find a spot. Senior Benny McGowan has also been solid at center and guard, as well as Brandon Clemons, who is petitioning for a sixth year. Sophomore David Beedle also had solid stretches at guard last season.
The Spartans have lost their share of playmakers the past two seasons with Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery leaving for the NFL last year and Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings Jr. on their way out. That leaves senior R.J. Shelton as the only receiver coming back with significant experience.
Sophomore Felton Davis saw limited action as a freshman, but the real anticipation comes with true freshmen Donnie Corley, Cam Chambers, Justin Layne and Trishton Jackson. Corley and Chambers enrolled early and will get a chance to establish themselves this spring.
More holes to fill here as Shilique Calhoun, Lawrence Thomas and Joel Heath are gone, but there is plenty of talent on the roster.
Tackle Malik McDowell could be an All-American while junior end Demetrius Cooper could be primed for big things. Sophomore Craig Evans might also be ready for a breakout season while the status of end Montez Sweat remains up in the air after he was suspended much of last season.
Sophomore Enoch Smith, senior Evan Jones and redshirt freshman Raequan Williams are three players to watch.
It appears Vayante Copeland will be back after he suffered a neck injury in the second game of the season in 2015 and missed the rest of the year. He looked sharp early as a redshirt freshman and should grab hold of a starting spot once again, barring any setbacks.
The interesting battle will be on the other side. Darian Hicks will be a senior and likely has the early edge, while senior Jermaine Edmondson is solid. But Tyson Smith played some as a true freshman while Josh Butler and David Dowell redshirted. All three have drawn praise from the coaching staff and any one could make a huge jump over the next few weeks.