Lombardi shows 'moxie' as MSU position battles heat up
East Lansing — Michigan State hasn’t released a depth chart since preseason camp began nearly three weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t competition on the field to help the coaching staff sort one out.
The second scrimmage of camp takes place Friday, and that will go a long way toward getting a clearer picture of where everyone stands with one week of camp to go and two until the first game.
One position that seems clear at the top spot might end up getting the most scrutiny when it comes to the backups. That spot, of course, is quarterback.
Sophomore Brian Lewerke is the starter and nothing has happened that will change that.
“Our quarterback is gonna be a top guy,” offensive line coach Mark Staten said Thursday when talking about the offense. “I see his ability to lead. … It’s fun to watch him go, fun to watch people follow him and now he’s starting to trust that.”
Quarterbacks coach Brad Salem has seen the same things over the past few weeks, adding he has been impressed with Lewerke’s knowledge of the offense as well as his accuracy throwing the ball.
But getting nearly as much attention is sorting out the rest of the quarterbacks. Right now, it appears to be a two-man race for the backup spot between fifth-year senior Damion Terry and redshirt freshman Messiah deWeaver. But a wild card in that might be freshman Rocky Lombardi.
“He is as far ahead as any freshman we’ve had here, mentally,” Salem said “And I think he’s thrown the ball … a lot of times you get handicapped a little bit from the mental aspect of the game and knowing where to go (with the ball) but that has not limited him as far as knowing where to go and throwing it accurately. He’s a big strong guy, has the ability to extend plays.
“But we’re just excited about his, sort of, moxie as a leader, his ability to throw on the run and his leadership at quarterback.”
While Salem has been rotating Terry and deWeaver into the first-team offense with Lewerke throughout camp, he’s held off on getting Lombardi much work with the starters.
“He’s been in a little bit with the twos and stuff like that, but not with the ones. Part of it is you want to put him in a comfortable position a little bit going with the twos and threes getting reps, but he’s sort of at a comfort level now where when we do inside drill he’s down there with the ones and doing that stuff and running the offense.”
Could it lead to Lombardi getting work with the first team in the scrimmage?
“That’s our hope,” Salem said. “Trying to divide up four guys, really, with two groups is tough but that’s our goal.”
Similar decisions are being made in front of the quarterbacks along the offensive line.
Staten said his five starters are set, for the most part, but things aren’t quite as clear cut as they’ve been.
“The ones are still the ones with a little fluctuation that’s been happening,” Staten said. “It will be interesting to see (Friday). Ask me about that next week.”
Part of the reason things are yet to be determined has been the play of redshirt freshman Matt Allen. His play at center could allow his brother, Brian, to move to one of the guard spots if the Spartans feel like they’re struggling at that spot.
The assumption is sophomore Tyler Higby will start at left guard and junior David Beedle at right guard, but now it appears that could change.
“It’s absolutely based on Matt’s playing and one of the two guards, and I’m not gonna let that one out,” Staten said. “He knows who he is.”
Add into the mix the fact three true freshmen could play up front and Staten feels like he has plenty to work with, as tackles Mustafa Khaleefah and Jordan Reid have played well along with guard Kevin Jarvis.
Getting those first-year players to continue to progress with the season just around the corner is key as Staten said he could “comfortably” play seven different linemen at this point.
“Some (of the freshmen) continue to learn and continue to become more and more impressive,” Staten said. “Like Mustafa has really continued to blossom and he’s really starting to show himself, where if you miss a day here or there or you don’t have a good day and kind of fall a day behind. I’m not saying with the other guys that happened, but it’s exciting when we’re watching film and Jarvis is using some of the technique some of our older guys are using.”
The defensive line also will generate plenty of attention. While most of the focus will be at end, the rotation at tackle that starts with sophomores Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk will continue to get ironed out.
“Gerald Owens, Naquan Jones, Devyn Salmon — who is a senior this year and shows some ability against the run and in short-yardage — and Kyonta Stallworth,” defensive tackles coach Ron Burton said. “These guys have improved, so we’re gonna have six guys right now that have the ability to help us and we think we are a group that will be playing by committee.”
Owens is a junior who steadily has improved after coming to Michigan State as a running back, while Stallworth, a sophomore, made the move from offense before last season. Jones redshirted last year, but has already turned heads in camp.
“If you ask me, it’s a close race,” Williams said. “I like all of our D tackles right now. We’re bringing a lot of energy and the whole defense is feeling good.”