Spartans excel at filling holes in receiving corps
East Lansing — Almost like an NFL team drafting for need, Michigan State set about putting together its 2016 recruiting class knowing it needed to replenish its receiving corps.
With departures over the last three seasons of Bennie Fowler, Tony Lippett, Keith Mumphery and Aaron Burbridge to the NFL, filling some holes was going to be necessary.
The Spartans have done just that, and they’ve done it in impressive fashion.
On Wednesday, Justin Layne of Cleveland (Ohio) Benedictine and Trishton Jackson of West Bloomfield signed their letters-of-intent, joining early-enrollees Donnie Corley of Detroit King and Cam Chambers of Sicklerville (N.J.) Timber Creek.
All four are rated four-star recruits and Corley was the top-ranked player in the state of Michigan.
“I’ve got a bunch of new toys,” Michigan State wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel said. “Even the early-morning workouts have been a nice taste of what is to come because you see them working.”
Samuel said Corley and Chambers already have been standing out with their speed and he expects the same from Layne and Jackson.
“Donnie and Cam are working,” Samuel said. “They are not afraid to work and not afraid to step out and get in front. That’s fun. … And the two coming in might be faster than the ones I’ve got. With Trishton and Justin it is truly like a kid in a candy store.
“The biggest thing will be getting them comfortable and understanding the offense. If they get that understanding of the offense, with their skill set, they’ll make plays and they’ll make plays early.”
Head coach Mark Dantonio expects the same from his crop of young receivers. With senior-to-be R.J. Shelton the only returning receiver with extensive experience, there will be plenty of chances for all four to hit the field this fall.
“You’ve got four wide receivers coming in who I really think are going to play as young freshmen,” Dantonio said. “I really do believe that.”
Corley is the gem of the class, turning down Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan before committing to Michigan State just before enrolling a few weeks ago.
“He’s really exceptional,” Samuel said. “He’s definitely one of the better athletes I’ve ever recruited and he wants to get better. He’s as competitive as they come and with his skill set he can be as good as he wants to be.”
Chambers, one of the first players to commit, and Layne have nearly as many accolades. Layne was the top receiver in Ohio and turned down the in-state Buckeyes. But it was the play of Jackson that forced the Spartans to add one more receiver than planned.
“Initially we were going to take three wide receivers,” Dantonio said. “After seeing Trishton perform, we decided we would take four. He’s that type of player, that level of player.”
DeWeaver looks good already
Michigan State has to replace quarterback Connor Cook, who is off to the NFL after becoming the winningest quarterback in school history, and it added a quarterback to the class with four-star Messiah deWeaver, an early enrollee who already has made an impression.
“You can already see what he’s going to do just by the way you watch him carry himself,” Dantonio said.
Whether deWeaver has a shot at competing this fall remains to be seen. He’ll be battling fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor, junior Damion Terry and redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke. O’Connor and Terry have been through a quarterback battle before, giving them a decided advantage.
“We have to work through the process,” quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said. “The reality of college football is you have to get better every day. We don’t go to Ohio State and win unless Tyler O’Connor is ready. You have to be. You’re one play away.”
Coach’s son walking on
Michigan State added one player on Monday that Dantonio termed a “free agent.”
That player is walk-on Reid Burton, the son of defensive line coach Ron Burton that Dantonio said had “good lineage.”
Ron Burton said it means a lot that his son, who was hampered by injuries at East Lansing, will be part of the program. However, taking advantage of it will be vital.
“This is something money can’t buy,” Burton said. “But we create independence in our house and his opportunity comes from him, not me. What he does going forward will be all up to Reid Burton. It’s a great opportunity and I know he’ll take advantage of it.”
Threesome likely back for more
Michigan State added its share of new players on Wednesday, but getting three veterans back will be just as important.
Dantonio said he expects linebacker Ed Davis, defensive lineman Damon Knox and offensive lineman Brandon Clemons to be granted sixth years of eligibility.
“We’re still waiting to hear,” Dantonio said. “I think that waiver will be granted.”
Knox and Clemons battled injuries earlier in their careers while Davis missed all of last season after hurting his knee in preseason camp.