East Lansing — There is no quarterback controversy at Michigan State.
Following a sophomore season where Brian Lewerke established himself as a dual threat and was named honorable mention All-Big Ten, there is no doubting his position as the Spartans’ No. 1 signal-caller as spring practice gets rolling.
“Brian Lewerke is a proven commodity,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said last week after the first spring workout. “And what he did last year — he had a tremendous, I think, sophomore season and he’s got to take that and build on that going forward.”
He’ll be building on what can best be described as a breakout season. After seeing action in four games in 2016 as a redshirt freshman, Lewerke took over last season and proved he could be a weapon both in the air and on the ground.
Lewerke threw for 2,793 yards and ran for 559, giving him a total of 3,352, which ranked as the second most in a single season in Michigan State history. He also accounted for 25 touchdowns — 20 in the air and five on the ground.
Against Northwestern, Lewerke threw for a program-best 445 yards and followed that with 400 yards the next week against Penn State, matching the mark for the second-most in MSU history.
However, that doesn’t mean Lewerke is content.
“I think timing and my feet is one of the big things I’ve been working on,” Lewerke said last week. “I noticed I kind of threw off-balance a lot, so I’m working on that and making sure I can be more accurate and all that comes with your feet, too, so I’m just kind of working on that.”
While Lewerke continues to hone his game, this spring offers a chance to see who emerges as his backup. It’s an important position battle considering there is not another quarterback on the roster who has taken a snap.
In fact, last season Michigan State threw the ball 424 times. Lewerke threw it 417 times while Damion Terry (0-for-4) was the only other quarterback to attempt a pass.
With Terry graduated and Messiah deWeaver deciding to transfer, that leaves redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi and incoming freshman Theo Day, who enrolled early, to get most of the work behind Lewerke.
“I think that it’s gonna be real interesting to watch Rocky and then also Theo Day,” Dantonio said. “Rocky is an exciting player. He was exciting last year, and I think that he’s another commodity for this program.”
While Lewerke likely will take the majority of the snaps, having a backup ready is vital. While Lewerke started all 13 games last season, his time in 2016 was cut short by a leg injury suffered late in the season. If something similar happened, who the Spartans turned to will suddenly become a vital part of the team.
The early favorite to win the job would be Lombardi. The native of Clive, Iowa, threw for more than 5,800 yards and 66 touchdowns in high school and a was rated the No. 11 dual-threat quarterback in the nation in 2017 by 247Sports. He was also a standout wrestler, finishing second in the state of Iowa at 220 pounds as a senior while being ranked No. 9 in the nation at 220 pounds.
With a year in the system, the athletic Lombardi will have the leg up on Day, who has only been on campus since January.
“He’s a proven winner from high school,” Dantonio said. “He’s tough, he’s big, he’s raw, he’s athletic and I’m going to be very excited to watch him this spring.”
And he’s a guy the rest of the team already has faith in.
“He’s well-respected among all the guys,” Lewerke said. “With his wrestling background he’s a tough guy, so guys respect that. I can definitely see him as a guy that will step up in that role, too.”
The Spartans are hoping they won’t have to count on Lombardi for some time. Instead, this is Lewerke’s team and he, too, is taking a larger leadership role after already proving he can get it done on the field.
“I think he was proving himself last year and gaining leadership as he went through it,” Dantonio said. “I think he’s now assumed that responsibility a little bit more and can be a little bit more confident. But he’s cool. He’s very cool under center in the game. No situation is too big for him.”
With students on break this week, Michigan State resumes spring practice next week. The annual spring game is at 5 p.m. on April 7.
MSU spring game
When: 5 p.m. Saturday, April 7,
Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
TV: Big Ten Network