Spring game takeaways: McDowell gets help on D-line

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Evan Jones, right, is listed as a starting defensive end against Furman.

East Lansing — It’s more than four months until Michigan State kicks off the 2016 season against Furman, but Saturday’s Green-White game gave a glimpse at what the Spartans will be dealing with next fall.

Defending its Big Ten title and getting another crack at the College Football Playoff will be no easy task with plenty of holes to fill, including quarterback and wide receiver, as well as along both the offensive and defensive lines.

Here’s a look at some of the important takeaways from Michigan State’s spring game.

O’Connor steps up

The quarterback competition is still officially ongoing, but there’s little doubt that fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor has separated himself from the pack. He had the best command of the offense Saturday and showed his ability to move the ball when he engineered a third-quarter drive in a two-minute scenario, completing all three of his passes and capping the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to freshman Cam Chambers.

O’Connor relishes the chance to be the starting quarterback, saying Saturday he wants “to be the man.”. It’s the perfect mentality for a quarterback, and while junior Damion Terry might possess more potential play-making ability, O’Connor showed he’s ready to step in right away.

Help for McDowell

Michigan State loses plenty of production along the defensive line with Shilique Calhoun and Lawrence Thomas now preparing for the NFL Draft, but the next standout will undoubtedly be junior tackle Malik McDowell. He was a disruptive force most of last season and was again Saturday.

It also looks like the Spartans have found a worthy running mate for McDowell on the inside with redshirt freshman Raequan Williams. At 6-foot-4 and better than 300 pounds, Williams is a physical force that should soften the blow from the graduation of Joel Heath.

“We are excited about him,” co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said of Williams. “The big thing is that we need him to understand that he is going to be one of the guys next year.”

Junior Demetrius Cooper recorded a sack and looks ready to assume a starting role while freshman Mufi Hunt was also active, recording a tackle for loss.

Dowell a force at linebacker

Sophomore Andrew Dowell was all over the field Saturday. He had five tackles, including one for loss and had a pass break-up.

Dowell, who saw action in 13 games last season, has the versatility and ability to play on the perimeter, something coach Mark Dantonio emphasizes, and there’s little doubt he’ll be a big part of the defense this fall.

“Andrew Dowell, that’s a guy that took a big step forward,” Tressel said. “He can make plays and now his knowledge is taking a step forward.”

Young receivers ready

The Spartans have lost their share of offensive weapons over the past two seasons with wide receivers Tony Lippett, Keith Mumphery, Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings having all graduated. But the next generation could end up being just as good or better.

R.J. Shelton is the senior of the group, but true freshmen Donnie Corley and Cam Chambers gave a glimpse of what could be in store next season. Corley was the star of spring practice, and his one catch for 18 yards in the game Saturday was a beauty.

Chambers saw more action late in the game. He made a nice catch down the seam and then hauled in a touchdown pass from O’Connor late in the game.

Corley and Chambers look to be primed for significant roles in their first season on campus.

Offensive line looks fine

It’s hard to get a gauge on the offensive line when the units are split into two teams, but with some major holes to fill, both offensive lines were solid. There wasn’t a lot of room to run the ball, but the protection was there as only three sacks were recorded.

Figuring out the line rotation will be ongoing in preseason camp, but there appears to be some solid options to replace the likes of Jack Conklin, Jack Allen and Donavon Clark. Fifth-year senior Kodi Kieler did not play, but he’ll start at one of the tackles, and junior Brian Allen is a good bet to start at center.

Sophomore David Beedle had a good day and should see significant time on the inside of the line while junior tackle Dennis Finley looks completely recovered from the broken leg he suffered last season.