Michigan State's Cody White, Jalen Nailor, Antjuan Simmons and Elijah Collins talk about the win in the Pinstripe Bowl. The Detroit News
Here’s a look at each position group for Michigan State headed into the offseason:
Outside of the coaching staff, determining the next quarterback is the biggest question of the offseason for the Spartans as Brian Lewerke’s three-year run has ended. Junior-to-be Rocky Lombardi would seem like the obvious choice, but in eight career games, including three starts, he’s never done enough to put pressure on Lewerke. That’s left the door open for Theo Day, who will be a sophomore next season, and Payton Thorne, who redshirted this season. It’s even fair to throw incoming freshman Noah Kim into the mix for what should be a full-fledged quarterback battle beginning in the spring.
While Lombardi has gotten snaps, Day was limited two just two games this season, completing 2 of 3 passes against Penn State. Thorne didn’t see the field but drew rave reviews running the scout team and earned some first-team snaps along with the other quarterbacks in bowl practices. The Spartans could also look to the transfer portal, something Mark Dantonio has not ruled out.
The Spartans clearly have their No. 1 back as Elijah Collins, who did not open the season as the starter, finished his redshirt freshman season 12 yards shy of 1,000 while averaging 4.5 yards a carry and scoring five touchdowns. Freshman Anthony Williams is more of the speed back and played in 12 games while being used in multiple roles. He had six carries for 28 yards and one reception for 14 yards in the Pinstripe Bowl, and indication of how he’ll be used. Fellow freshman Brandon Wright is a tough runner who saw action in the final five games and figures into the rotation.
The only issue in the backfield is depth as Collins, Williams and Wright are all in the same class. The Spartans are continuing to pursue running backs to complete the 2020 recruiting class and could add a back through the portal after the transfers of Connor Heyward, La’Darius Jefferson and Weston Bridges.
This position appears to be full of young potential. Cody White likely will be back for his senior year to lead the group, though he is testing his potential NFL Draft position. Sophomore Jalen Nailor could be primed for a breakout. He missed nine games this season and will technically still be a redshirt sophomore next season, a silver lining from the foot injury that sidelined him for the bulk of the season. His speed and playmaking was on display in the Pinstripe Bowl. Freshman Tre Mosley also continued his late-season surge. C.J. Hayes, a junior, and senior Laress Nelson both provide experience, while transfer Jayden Reed is expected to do big things next season after earning freshman All-American honors last year at Western Michigan.
The Spartans also added four receivers in the 2020 class – Terry Lockett, Ricky White, Ian Stewart and Montorie Foster – and all could get a shot at making an impact. And don’t count out Julian Barnett, who played in all 13 games as a freshman this season and could be trending toward Michigan State’s next two-way player as he could make the shift to cornerback.
Depth is an issue here and the Spartans are attempting to add another tight end to the 2020 class and could dip into the transfer portal, as well. Trenton Gillison flashed his massive potential in the Pinstripe Bowl with four catches for 88 yards and should continue to progress as the Spartans’ top tight end. Matt Dotson will be working back from an Achilles injury as he enters his senior season while freshman Adam Berghorst made the move to tight end late in the season. He could also work at defensive end moving forward as he likely heads to the baseball field this spring.
Redshirt freshman Parks Gissinger provides some depth and played in the Pinstripe Bowl while the Spartans added Dearborn’s Tommy Guajardo to the 2020 class.
A much-maligned group that has suffered two years of repeated injuries, there is some optimism as three freshmen started to emerge late in the season. J.D. Duplain started the final five games at left guard while Nick Samac started four in a row at center before giving way to junior Matt Allen in the bowl game. Devontae Dobbs also played four games at left tackle, starting one, before having his redshirt preserved. The trio should provide the core of the unit moving forward. Kevin Jarvis should be back next season as a junior after getting hurt in the third game of the season. Allen will be back for his final season, as will the Luke Campbell, while juniors Matt Carrick and Blake Bueter are back and offer versatility. Senior Jordan Reid expects to start at right tackle for the third straight season while senior AJ Arcuri started five games at left tackle and junior Mustafa Khaleefah can play both sides.
Depth will be further determined by the likes of redshirt freshman Spencer Brown and Damon Kaylor, as well as sophomore James Ohonba. Also, incoming freshman Dallas Fincher is a player who could see the field early.
Even with Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams gone from the interior, senior Naquan Jones and sophomore Jacob Slade appear ready to step into larger roles. Big things are also expected from Jalen Hunt, who will be a redshirt freshman, while sophomore Dashaun Mallory should also push to see the field. The end position will be one to watch as Jacub Panasiuk is back for his senior year, but after that, the snaps are up for grabs. Senior Drew Beesley and junior Jack Camper have experience but there will be a chance for redshirt freshman Michael Fletcher, who missed most of his first year with an injury. Also, keep an eye on whether freshman Adam Berghorst moves back from tight end. The Spartans also signed five defensive ends in the 2020 class.
Getting Antjuan Simmons back for his final year as the starter at STAR is critical because he’ll be the lone veteran in the group. The Spartans will have a new middle linebacker, and it could be junior Noah Harvey, but sophomore Ed Warinner will get a shot and there’s no telling what other shuffling might occur. Jeslord Boateng and Chase Kline, both entering their sophomore seasons, saw increased playing time on the outside as the season progressed while freshman Marcel Lewis got his feet wet in the final three games of the season to retain his redshirt.
It will be interesting to see how much freshmen Luke Fulton and Charles Willekes progress, while incoming freshmen Devin Hightower, Cal Haladay and Cole DeMarzo will get a look in preseason camp.
The Spartans have produced their share of pros in the secondary over the years but this unit had a tough time as MSU allowed more then 230 yards passing a game and was burned by a large number of big plays. Nailing down the safety position will be critical with Xavier Henderson back for his junior season after starting all 13 games this season. Who starts with him will be quite the battle as senior Tre Person, senior Dominque Long and junior Emmanuel Flowers could all figure into the mix, as well as sophomore Michael Dowell. There are other young names to keep an eye on too, as Tate Hallock played four games before keeping his redshirt and incoming freshman Darius Snow seems destined to play early.
Things changed at cornerback when junior Josiah Scott announced he would forgo his final season and enter the NFL Draft. That guaranteed the Spartans would be looking for at least one new starter with junior-to-be Shakur Brown the likely starter on the other side. Grabbing the spot vacated by Scott will be an interesting battle as sophomores Kalon Gervin, Davion Williams and Chris Jackson will likely be in the mix with Gervin holding the edge on playing time to this point. Incoming freshman Angelo Grose is highly rated and there’s always the potential of Julian Barnett flipping back over from wide receiver or potentially playing both ways, an idea that became more likely with Scott's decision.
Don’t expect much change here as Matt Coghlin will be back for his senior year as the kicker and Jude Pedrozo progressed throughout his freshman season as the long snapper. There will be a new punter as Jake Hartbarger is gone, and that will likely be redshirt freshman Jack Bouwmeester, though junior Tyler Hunt will also be in the mix. As for the return game, the Spartans used a handful of players on kickoffs with Anthony Williams and Jalen Nailor options moving forward. With Brandon Sowards gone, a new punt returner will also be needed as Cody White, Laress Nelson and Nailor could all factor in, as well as Julian Barnett.