East Lansing — A renewed energy around the Michigan State offense has apparently resulted in an explosion early this spring.
Explosive plays from running backs Anthony Williams and Elijah Collins were cited by coach Mark Dantonio and quarterback Brian Lewerke as providing a boost in the team’s first scrimmage Tuesday.
Williams, an incoming freshman from Chicago, and Collins, a redshirt freshman from U-D Jesuit who had two carries last season, represent what could be a boost for an offense in need.
“There were some explosive plays out there on our offensive side of the ball,” Dantonio said. “The skill players show up a little faster in spring.”
That’s was the case Tuesday, as the MSU offense edged the defense in the first spring scrimmage, a result that would be considered a huge upset given the status of the units coming off last season.
But spring means renewal and that’s the hope for Michigan State, which went 7-6 last season despite a dominant defense.
To help the sputtering offense, which ranked 116th out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in yards per game, Dantonio shuffled the deck of the offensive coaching staff.
Brad Salem has shifted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, switching roles with Dave Warner. Mark Staten moved from offensive line coach to tight ends, and Jim Bollman moved from co-offensive coordinator to the offensive line.
When asked specifically what’s improved about the offense since a couple months ago, junior wide receiver Cody White said “no comment.” He offered the same non-answer when asked again about last season.
“We’re really excited, and we don’t really want to say 'prove' or that last year wasn’t as good, because we want to, like, start on a new track,” White said. “We all know that we haven’t been where we want to be, so we want to change it up.”
White, a junior from Walled Lake Western, will move into the No. 1 wide receiver role with Felton Davis graduated.
Junior Darrell Stewart also returns as an experienced weapon for Lewerke and Rocky Lombardi, who is also getting significant snaps under center this spring. Incoming freshman wide receiver Tre Mosley from West Bloomfield also caught Dantonio’s eyes.
Another relative unknown caught Stewart’s eyes, whichever nickname you prefer for him.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I saw Laress Nelson … we call him the human joystick,” Stewart said of the Florida junior. “This guy is, like, somebody is controlling him from the top.
“This dude juked somebody, spin move, and juked back. We call Ress ‘The Magician’ as well because now you see me, now you don’t.”
After a month off from throwing for Lewerke, Dantonio said, “His ball is coming out. His arm is live.”
The senior said he’s his own toughest critic and provided some perspective about the spring results.
“I do feel much, much better than what I did,” Lewerke said. “Obviously still a little bit of soreness — with any injury that will happen, but I do feel a lot better.
“We want to be able to get back to the successes we’ve had, but honestly, it’s kind of hard to tell from spring ball. I’ve been through times where we’ve had really good spring ball, then not so great for the season, and we’ve had an average spring ball and have had a very good season.
“I don’t think spring ball is too much of an indicator of it, but I have seen some good things from some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.”
The defense is without defensive ends Jack Camper and Kenny Willekes this spring because of injuries. Dantonio said redshirt freshman linebacker Edward Warinner is also out.
The Spartans will have one more scrimmage before the spring game, which is at 2 p.m. on April 13.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.