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Battle shaping up to be next Spartans quarterback

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — There will be several decisions Mark Dantonio and his staff must make before Michigan State kicks off the 2016 season.

But none will garner the attention the starting quarterback position will. And with spring practice more than a month away, who will succeed Connor Cook is already a hot topic.

It’s something the Spartans haven’t dealt with since Cook took over the second week of 2013 and went on to become the winningest quarterback in program history.

Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor and junior Damion Terry have the advantage in experience, but that doesn’t mean redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke and true freshman Messiah deWeaver won’t get a shot.

“Certainly Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry have played in games, they performed well in games,” Dantonio said Friday. “We can see how everyone plays relative to everybody else as we go through spring practice. Brian Lewerke has shown some tremendous things, including the week after the Ohio State game where he really took all the reps with the twos, he looked very, very good. Messiah deWeaver’s a new freshman coming in so we’ll have an opportunity looking at him as well.

“So to me, you don’t name a starting quarterback until you get to September.”

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That doesn’t mean Dantonio won’t have an idea before September.

The last time there was a quarterback battle, Dantonio went with fifth-year senior Andrew Maxwell to open 2013. In Week 2, Cook took over as fans at Spartan Stadium were chanting for Terry, but by the time the Big Ten season started, Cook had solidified his spot.

Terry would seem to have the best shot to change that scenario, but O’Connor clearly has the leg up entering spring practice.

The two teamed up in the victory at Ohio State last season, but O’Connor has seen more time under center. He is 34-for-54 for 374 yards and two touchdowns the last three seasons, while Terry is 14-for-26 for 103 yards. He was 2-for-7 last year.

“We’re going to play the best player, I don’t really care what class they’re in,” Dantonio said. “Certainly Tyler’s played well and he’ll start the process and he’s got great leadership skills. Our players have great respect for him, he’s going to be a fifth-year senior, but he’s gotta make plays. And Damion Terry’s gotta make plays. All of them have gotta make plays, and they’re going to have an opportunity to do that.”

One thing that could help determine the starter is a tactic Dantonio has used in the past — making quarterbacks live in practice. He did it in the spring of 2013 and again at times in preseason camp that year.

Will he do it again this time around?

“I guess it depends on how practice is going,” he said. “Sometimes it just sort of flips and changes. The intent right now is probably to make it active, not live. But who knows? You just go with the flow sometimes.”