East Lansing — LJ Scott isn’t looking to give up too many carries this season, but when he does take a break during his senior season, he’s confident to whom the ball will be going.
That will likely be Connor Heyward, who saw limited action last season as a freshman.
“He’s gonna be a special guy,” Scott said.
It’s probably fitting, considering the 6-foot, 228-pound Heyward got his feet wet last season on special teams, specifically returning kickoffs. But what Scott was talking about was the impact Heyward could have carrying the ball out of the backfield.
As Michigan State prepares for Saturday’s spring game, Heyward has been working hard to establish himself as the Spartans’ No. 2 back behind Scott.
“He’s done well with it,” offensive coordinator and running backs coach Dave Warner said. “He’s done a great job with him in that position, but he’s also a guy that’s very, very versatile. You know he can play slot receiver for us, he can do a lot of different things, but as far handing the ball off to him he’s doing a great job. He’s picking up the offense well and he’s done very well.
“He’s got very good and more patience than other running backs. He’s got a good feel for allowing blocking screens to take play and then finding the hole and exploding through the hole.”
Some of that might be inherited considering Heyward’s father, Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, had a long career in the NFL as a bruising running back. However, his versatility is a family thing, as well. His brother, Cameron, is a defensive end for the Steelers.
It’s that versatility that first got Heyward on the field last season, first on special teams and then in various positions on offense, more often in the slot and a few times in the backfield.
“I just went out there, and they trusted me,” Heyward said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity and hopefully I can make more of it. Anything — special teams, that’s the way. Most guys don’t understand that. You show what you can do on special teams. If they can trust you with that, they’ll trust you with anything.”
They trusted him plenty late in the season — Heyward scored his first touchdown on a 7-yard catch in the final regular-season game at Rutgers — and it has resulted in the opportunity he’s now getting this spring to have a larger role in the running game.
“It’s a big thing but I can’t let that get in my head,” Heyward said. “It’s spring ball and everybody else in the room is competing. I have to get better each and every day and I can’t just settle. You have to go out there and practice like you’re not a starter or you’re not a 2.”
So far, it seems like that approach is paying off. His coaches are seeing it and so are his teammates.
“I think he’s going to be a big part of the offense this year for sure,” quarterback Brian Lewerke said. “He’s one of the guys that is very good at seeing the hole and hitting it hard. He also likes to run over guys, so those are two big things that are good for him.”
Early this week, coach Mark Dantonio said Grayson Miller’s move from safety to STAR linebacker is permanent, citing the crowded depth chart in the secondary.
In order to get Miller on the field, the move was made and it is a welcomed one from Miller, who enters his senior season having played in 33 games while recording 51 tackles and grabbing one interception.
“I think it was an opportunity,” Miller said. “But this is my first full transition, being fully healthy there. I bring a skill-set from playing in the back end and being able to come play in space a little bit more and learning how to play in the box is completely new to me. It’s just an opportunity for me to learn and give an element from the defensive back room to be able to come back in the linebacker room.”
And if the Spartans ended up needing help at safety? Miller could easily transition back.
“They know if it’s a safety or two that goes down they know that I know everything on the back end, I’ve done it for three years,” Miller said. “It wouldn’t be a big deal if I had to go back, and it’s great if I have to stay in the linebacker room.”
Before Saturday’s spring game, the coaching staff and players will conduct a free youth football clinic. Children ages 8-12 are invited to attend (no registration required) from 12:30 p.m.-2 p.m. Gates to the John and Becky Duffey Practice Fields, located off of Shaw Lane, will open at noon.
Participants will be assigned by age to a practice field to rotate through all drills (Duffy Daugherty Football Building indoor facility and John and Becky Duffey Football Practice Fields). After completion of all drills, Dantonio will address all youth clinic participants.