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East Lansing — The hard part is done.

OK, maybe not the hardest part, but at least the one that can be the most challenging physically and mentally.

Michigan State broke preseason camp Thursday, and getting that break for a couple of days before returning to campus Sunday to prepare for next week’s season opener is always a milestone the players and coaches are happy to achieve.

“It’s always exciting to go to camp and then it hits 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 days and it starts to become a grind,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “And just when you can’t take it anymore you move to the next thing. Game week is coming, and I know we’ll be excited next Friday night.

“Phase one is down. Phase two begins here on Sunday. We’ll give them a couple days off to get their legs back and take it from there.”

More: Khari Willis, Joe Bachie, Brian Lewerke uniquely qualified to lead Michigan State

Dantonio said that the Spartans went through better than 400 plays at Spartan Stadium during scrimmages over the past three weeks. And while there weren’t many position battles to be hashed out, camp still went as well as could be expected.

“We got a good foundation of playing live football,” Dantonio said, “where our coaches can step back and allow our players to play, which I think is as close you can get to game situations.”

The Spartans expect to be good on both sides of the ball by the time they open the season next Friday at home against Utah State. The defense returns all but two starters to a unit that ranked seventh in the nation in total defense and was second in the country in rushing defense.

“We had a good camp,” junior linebacker Joe Bachie said. “Guys got through it healthy so that’s a great thing. We have a bunch of smart players on defense, which helps a defense. Talking and being confident, that makes a good defense.”

Offensively, the Spartans will be trying to improve on the 24.5 points a game it produced in 2017.

“We always talk about playing to our strengths and minimizing our weaknesses,” Dantonio said, “and trying to work on those areas of weakness too, trying to become a better football player day-in and day-out.”

Butler did it

There are some starting positions to figure out for Michigan State.

With sophomore Josiah Scott out for a few more weeks, Dantonio said junior Josh Butler is the likely starter at the end of camp. Also in the mix for playing time are redshirt freshman Shakur Brown and freshman Kalon Gervin.

As for replacing Chris Frey at the money linebacker spot, there are plenty of options, including junior Tyriq Thompson and sophomore Brandon Randle.

“There are a lot of ways we can go with the linebackers,” Dantonio said. “I think it’s still up in the air where we go with the money linebacker.”

At center, junior Tyler Higby is still No. 1, but that could be changing.

Matt Allen is making a push,” Dantonio said.

On Ohio State

Dantonio was asked about the suspension of Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, but declined to offer his opinion.

“I’m not here to comment on anybody else’s program,” Dantonio said. “We’re just gonna focus on ourselves.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

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