East Lansing — It’s fitting on a sunny, spring afternoon at Michigan State Mark Dantonio was talking about change.
Not a change in philosophy, but in look and a willingness to experiment.
With spring practice beginning today, Dantonio will be looking for a lot of answers over the next few weeks before summer hits. At the top of that list is the quarterback position, where the Spartans must replace Connor Cook, the winningest quarterback in program history.
There are plenty of other positions in flux, as well, including offensive line, wide receiver and defensive line.
But the constant will be the ultimate goal. That won’t change for Michigan State.
“The final goal would be back-to-back,” Dantonio said. “And by that I mean win back-to-back championships as we go toward this next phase.”
It would mean another Big Ten title to match the one Michigan State captured last season by winning the East Division and rallying to defeat Iowa in the conference championship game. The season, however, ended with a 38-0 loss to eventual national champion Alabama in the College Football Playoff.
Taking a step back might be expected by some, but not those inside the program.
That makes this spring especially vital. Dantonio said everything will be examined, adding there will be “tweaks” in every aspect.
And it starts at quarterback.
Dantonio said fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor heads into the spring ahead of the competition, but junior Damion Terry will push him, as will redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke and freshman Messiah deWeaver.
“We’ve got a lot of different levels of experience,” Dantonio said. “But with that, I think it’ll be an exciting quarterback race, and we expect great performance there. You’ve got to play, though, in the games and be consistent, be a playmaker.”
Finding that consistent playmaker likely won’t be decided by the end of the spring.
The questions don’t stop there.
Wide receiver is a open with senior R.J. Shelton as the mainstay. But sophomore Felton Davis is expected to make a big jump while true freshmen Donnie Corley and Cam Chambers are on campus and expected to contribute.
The offensive line is also a work in progress after three starters are headed to the NFL. Senior Kodi Kieler and junior Brian Allen seem like sure starters, but after that, the combinations could go a number of ways.
Defensively, Michigan State is replacing Shilique Calhoun, Lawrence Thomas and Joel Heath up front while a young secondary continues to evolve.
“Spring is to figure out who’s who,” Dantonio said. “Our players come here and they work, and I think probably as big as anything, the key to our success here has been our chemistry and our work ethic.”
Some other interesting experiments include junior Drake Martinez moving from linebacker to tailback and redshirt freshman Kyonta Stallworth going from offensive line to defensive tackle.
And, senior Delton Williams is listed as the starter at fullback as well as No. 4 at tailback behind co-starters LJ Scott, Madre London and Gerald Holmes. Dantonio said Williams will be back on scholarship this summer after he played without one last season after being arrested on a weapons charge.
“Delton is a good football player,” Dantonio said. “He’s a big guy. I think he can make that transition and we’ll see how that works out. But I think he’s a football player. I think we have to give him the opportunity to show that.”