MSU head football coach talks about the passing of coaching legend Jud Heathcote, support for victims of Hurricane Harvey, and the season opener.
East Lansing — Michigan State released its first depth chart on Tuesday, and while it shed light on position battles that have been taking place throughout preseason camp it’s hardly a guarantee of how things will look all season.
The Spartans open the season Saturday when they host Bowling Green, and the depth chart coach Mark Dantonio released wasn’t exactly full of shocking news. The givens were there with sophomore Brian Lewerke the starting quarterback and all three running backs — LJ Scott, Gerald Holmes and Madre London — listed as co-starters, much as they have been the past two seasons.
There were some eye-openers, too, but nothing that would qualify as shocking. Of course, the Spartans have yet to play a game, so things could change significantly over the next few weeks.
“Really when you look at the depth chart right now, it's a starting point for us,” Dantonio said. “We've got some guys that obviously have played a lot of football for us. They're solidified.
“And there are other guys that are sort of in flux a little bit. Not that they're playing poorly or anything like that, it's just we have some good football players that have elevated their play. They're younger players, so the curve is more significant. They're able to improve more significantly in the last couple of years, over the last year, and I think that shows.”
The secondary provided what would qualify as surprises. At safety, junior Matt Morrissey is listed as the starter at field safety. He’s played in 22 career games but started just once. Most projections has junior Grayson Miller getting the call there, or even sophomore David Dowell. However, Miller is listed No 2 behind boundary safety Khari Willis and Dowell is No. 2 behind Morrissey. True freshmen Tre Person and Dominique Long are listed No. 3 at each of the safety positions.
At cornerback, sophomore Justin Layne holds one starting spot while sophomore Josh Butler got the nod ahead of freshman Josiah Scott, who Dantonio has said for some time is the likely starter but missed Michigan State’s last scrimmage of camp.
“Josh Butler has had an outstanding summer camp,” Dantonio said Tuesday. “He's playing very, very well. He's been one of the guys you point to in camp and he's been solid. Pass breakups, interceptions, those kind of things. He's tackling well.
“Josiah Scott had an outstanding spring. He got nicked up, we held him back a little bit. He's back now, in the last week or so he's been full-go. Both of those guys are going to play. Who starts really will define itself probably this weekend, because we still have practice this week. Probably today is a big day. But they're both good players. We expect them both to play.”
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At defensive end, two former walk-ons — sophomore Kenny Willekes and junior Dillon Alexander — are listed as starters with fifth-year senior Demetrius Cooper at No. 2.
Cooper, who had 2.5 sacks last season. has been working throughout camp to get back on scholarship following an off-field problem last fall.
“We've gone slowly with Coop as we've gone through this,” Dantonio said. “But it's been performance-based. He'll play. We anticipate him playing.”
Redshirt freshman Brandon Randle, the talk of camp after the linebacker started working also at defensive end, is listed No. 2 at the STAR linebacker spot behind Andrew Dowell.
“He'll work either/or as we go,” Dantonio said. “Just depending on the depth chart and how he plays. He's a very active football player. He's got a big upside. He can make plays for us. So, again, we're going to watch him. But he's a special guy. At this point in time they're all sort of in flux, they're all in the mix.”
The offense was straightforward with four true freshmen — wide receivers Cody White and Hunter Rison along with right guard Kevin Jarvis and right tackle Jordan Reid — on the two-deep with Mustafa Khaleefah is No. 3 at left tackle, Matt Dotson is No. 3 at tight end and Laress Nelson is No. 3 at flanker.
“Our depth chart, it's a starting point for us,” Dantonio said. “But I feel very secure and very confident in the work we're doing right now.”
Michigan State got through camp relatively healthy, however, it did lose junior wide receiver and punt returner Brandon Sowards for the season because of an ACL injury. That moves sophomore receiver Darrell Stewart into the No. 1 spot at both punt returner and kick returner.
“I think Darrell has the opportunity to be a big-time football player here and make plays for us,” Dantonio said. “He's a big physical guy that can run and catch, and he does a good job catching the football in the back end.”
Dantonio also said redshirt freshman offensive lineman A.J. Arcuri is dealing with an injury that kept him off the depth chart.
“We do expect him back,” Dantonio said. “He has an injury problem, obviously. He's a good football player. We'll see how it sort of handles itself throughout the season as we go.”
Coghlin earns job
The depth chart lists Matt Coghlin OR Brett Scanlon as Michigan State’s kicker. However, Dantonio said Tuesday that Coghlin, a redshirt freshman, will be the kicker while Scanlon, the fifth-year senior, will handle kickoffs.
“He's done a great job really all summer long, did very well in the spring, as well,” Dantonio said of Coghlin. “We brought in Cole Hahn to provide an added … competition, but Coghlin responded.”