Michigan State assistants Brad Salem and Ron Burton talk about quarterbacks and the Spartans' next opponent, Maryland. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — As redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi spends another week preparing to be Michigan State’s starting quarterback, the man he is filling in for is slowly working his way back.
Junior Brian Lewerke injured his shoulder in the victory at Penn State, then played through that injury the next week against Michigan. It might not have been the best move considering Lewerke was just 5-for-25 against the Wolverines, leading to Lombardi taking over last week against Purdue.
But as Michigan State prepares to take on Maryland on Saturday, Lewerke is showing signs of progress.
“This was the best Tuesday of the last three weeks as far as what he did yesterday and what he's capable of doing,” quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said.
Lewerke has been taking part in as much of each practice as he can, but the coaching staff has limited him when it comes to throwing the ball. That is again the case this week, and Salem said it’s necessary considering how driven Lewerke is to getting back on the field.
“Happened yesterday, and so you're trying to do a pitch count a little bit with him,” Salem said. “He wants to get in there and get the reps, just to get back into rhythm, but we'll just kind of play it out through the week.”
During last week’s win over Purdue, Lewerke found himself on the sidelines for the first time since late in his redshirt freshman season. He had started 20 consecutive games for the Spartans, and wearing the headset last Saturday — outside of holding for field goals and extra points — was a different look.
However, it had its benefits, as well.
“I think the game slows down so much and he's signaling and we're kind of sharing that with all of us that do that, but just being able to see something and then comment to Rocky when we come together between series or even if he's off on the sideline,” Salem said. “I think there's a real comfort there with those two guys, and Brian will kind of share something maybe that we're not, just because he's stood in the position and understands what he's thinking in a certain situation.”
The comfort level between the two will be important moving forward, as the coaching staff determines which direction to go when both are healthy.
Lombardi said this week that Lewerke is one of his best friends and has been invaluable in getting him ready to be the starter. And the week before, Lewerke said he’s been doing whatever necessary to help Lombardi.
“We've been very blessed, in that room,” Salem said. “The quarterback room are kids that care about each other. They compete against each other, but they're there to help each other and you saw that on Saturday with Brian, with Rocky, like you did with Tyler (O'Connor) and Damion (Terry) and Connor (Cook) in that situation, so the positive is you've got two quarterbacks who can win games.”
Until Lewerke is 100 percent, he’ll continue to support Lombardi, who at least allowed the coaching staff breathe easier with the way he played against Purdue.
While the numbers were solid — 26-for-46 for 318 yards and two touchdowns — it was Lombardi’s command of the offense and the confidence he exuded throughout the game that were most impressive. It’s something the staff thought was there, but until Lombardi proved it on Saturday was never a guarantee.
“I think you look at Saturday, you're always waiting for proof,” Salem said. “You sort of have an idea of what you think through scrimmages, through a year-and-a-half of scout team or different opportunities, but really until you see game reps, how does a guy really manage that? Rocky did a good job of just being calm, knowing where to go with the football, prepared himself well and really played very well.”