MSU's Brian Lewerke, Joe Bachie and Raequan Williams on the start of spring practice. The Detroit News
East Lansing — For almost a month, Brian Lewerke didn’t throw a football.
The Michigan State quarterback had been in and out of the lineup the second half of last season, dealing with a bum shoulder he originally hurt in a mid-October win at Penn State.
As the Spartans offense stumbled through the season, Lewerke tried to play but often it came with frustrating results. There was the 5-for-25 outing in the loss to Michigan, followed by 11-for-20 at Maryland and 11-for-28 against Ohio State. By the time the Spartans hit the final two weeks of the regular season with any chance at winning the Big Ten East lost, Lewerke gave way to redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi.
He came back for the Redbox Bowl against Oregon, but the arm was still not fully healed, and the offense dealt with familiar issues in a 7-6 loss.
It was clear at that point Lewerke needed to give the arm a break.
“I tried to stay away from throwing too much,” Lewerke said Tuesday. “I probably didn’t throw for a month after the season ended, just trying to let it heal up. Then, once winter workouts stared and all that we would have sessions where we’d throw with all the receivers. But mostly just letting it heal and trying to get that feel.”
Michigan State begins spring practice this week and will take the field for the first time Thursday. Lewerke will do so feeling better than he has in months.
“I’m pretty much 100 percent now,” Lewerke said. “I had time to let the shoulder heal. No surgery was needed or anything like that. Just took time to heal, but I’m just hoping to kinda get back to what I was doing in ’17 with my arm strength and the confidence in my arm.”
What he did in 2017 ramped up the expectations for 2018.
As a redshirt sophomore, Lewerke started all 13 games in 2017, leading the Spartans to a 10-3 record while throwing for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns along with running for 559 yards and five more scores. His 3,298 total yards were the second most in a single season in Michigan State history.
Entering last season, there was Heisman Trophy talk surrounding Lewerke. However, a slow start was compounded by Lewerke’s injury, along with the loss of running back LJ Scott, wide receiver Felton Davis and a rash of injuries along the offensive line.
It led to plenty of frustration Lewerke and the Spartans as crowds were calling for Lombardi to take over. The redshirt freshman did and played well in a win over Purdue, but he took a step back in his last two starts.
It all led coach Mark Dantonio to say in early January that he was putting his faith in Lewerke without specifically saying Lewerke would be the starting quarterback. Entering spring drills, the competition appears to at least by somewhat open.
Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio says spring practice a chance for program to "drive forward." Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
“We’re gonna always play the best players,” Dantonio said. “We’ll measure that collectively in every aspect. So, if our backup quarterback plays like he did against Purdue the whole season then you take it from there. If he’s playing like he did against Rutgers, then you take it from there. So everyone will be judges on what they’ve done lately and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
Lewerke said he’s been studying plenty of film and has reviewed every play from last season. And while it was difficult to go through, he believes he’s better for it.
“It’s stuff I’ve been saying, never take anything for granted,” Lewerke said. “You always gotta be working, always gotta be sure that your availability is your best ability, so just trying to stay healthy through all that.”
Dantonio likes what he’s seen from his quarterback in the offseason and, like he did throughout 2018, pointed out that all of the offensive woes aren’t because of Lewerke’s struggles.
“I think when we’ve been consistent at that position we’ve had unbelievable offenses and teams,” Dantonio said. “You can just look at the past and look across the country. When there’s inconsistency or those type of things or mistakes made, then it all sort of unravels a little bit. So you’ve got to be a little more consistent in completion percentages, but we had two guys playing — a redshirt freshman and a guy that was banged up a lot the second half of the year. We lost some players, whether it’s Felton or LJ, that are difference-makers. So, it’s a collective issue, I would say.”
Spring to it
Michigan State will have its first of 12 practices Thursday. The Spartans also plan to have two scrimmages with the 15th and final date of spring workouts culminating with the Green and White game at 2 p.m. on April 13.
“I’m excited about 2019," Dantonio said. “As I’ve said, you define things by how you handle things when there are some downfalls or some problems. So, to me this is an opportunity to step back in. I’m excited about spring ball and I’m gonna immerse myself in terms of what we do on day-to-day basis and look at everything and stay positive and stay current. But, I’m excited about it and I think our football team is, too.”
Dantonio confirmed defensive end Kenny Willekes would sit out spring practice as he recovers from the broken leg he suffered in the Redbox Bowl. Fellow defensive end Jack Camper, who is entering his redshirt sophomore season, also will sit out with an undisclosed injury.
… Punter Jake Hartbarger and wide receiver Brandon Sowards are going through spring drills as they await a decision from the NCAA on a sixth year. Michigan State expects both to be granted the extra year, making them eligible once preseason camp begins.
… Dantonio confirmed redshirt junior tight end Noah Davis will practice this spring. He played 11 games in 2017 before an injury wiped out 2018.
… At least four players with eligibility remaining were not on the spring roster, including defensive end Justice Alexander. Also not on the roster were linebacker Mitchell Sokol, wide receiver Khylin Barton and wide receiver Nick Krumm, all walk-ons.