5 things to watch at MSU spring game: Corley catches on

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Tyler O'Connor

East Lansing — Michigan State closes spring practice with its annual Green-White game Saturday at Spartan Stadium, and it will be the first chance for fans to see the team since last December’s Cotton Bowl.

Plenty of new faces will be on the field as the Spartans look to replace the likes of quarterback Connor Cook and receivers Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings, as well as All-American offensive lineman Jack Conklin and Jack Allen.

Defensively, there will be plenty of attention on the defensive line as Shilique Calhoun, Lawrence Thomas and Joel Heath are all off to the NFL.

Here’s a look at what to watch in Saturday’s game:

Quarterback battle

This is no surprise considering Cook was the winningest quarterback in Michigan State history. Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor has separated himself this spring and said he hopes to improve on his past spring game performances. He’ll likely be the clear starter entering preseason camp while the real intrigue could be who will be the No. 2. Junior Damion Terry is expected to be the primary backup and could even see regular playing time, but redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke was selected ahead of Terry in the player’s draft and has had an impressive spring. True freshman Messiah deWeaver will be interesting to watch, but it will be tough for him to see action in the fall.

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The real deal?

The Spartans have lost their share of production at wide receiver over the last two seasons, but it appears the next standout is already on campus. True freshman Donnie Corley has been the star of the spring and will almost certainly be a big part of the offense this fall. He’ll get plenty of work Saturday as plenty of receivers will get a shot to jump into the rotation. Senior R.J. Shelton is the mainstay while sophomore Felton Davis should be ready to play. Fifth-year senior Monty Madaris has had a solid spring while redshirt freshman Darrell Stewart should get plenty of opportunities, as well as true freshman Cam Chambers.

Up front

It doesn’t generate the headlines of a quarterback competition, but replacing three starters might be the most important thing the Spartans do this off-season. Conklin and Allen were as good as there is and Donavon Clark’s experience and versatility will be hard to replace. Fifth-year senior Kodi Kieler and junior Brian Allen will certainly play significantly, but there are plenty of folks battling to get in the rotation. Junior tackle Dennis Finley is recovering nicely from his broken leg while sixth-year senior Brandon Clemons is steady inside. Fifth-year senior Benny McGowan can play multiple spots inside while sophomore David Beedle has been working at both tackle and guard. Senior Miguel Machado might be ready to break out and redshirt freshman Cole Chewins has been getting positive reviews at tackle. Expect to see plenty of guys get a shot, including true freshman Thiyo Lukusa.

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Don’t forget the defensive line

The Spartans were already dealing with losses to the NFL, and this week’s news that tackle Craig Evans and end Montez Sweat have left the program makes things even more uncertain. Junior tackle Malik McDowell could be primed for a big year, but everything after that is up in the air. Much is expected of junior end Demetrius Cooper and fifth-year senior Evan Jones is getting his shot. Inside, Damon Knox is back for a sixth year while redshirt freshman Raequan Williams has been turning heads this spring. It might look much different in the fall, however, when the likes of Auston Robertson, Josh King, Naquan Jones and Mike Panasiuk arrive.

The next generation

Last season’s spring game was the start of an impressive summer of recruiting, and the Spartans are hoping it is again this season. They’re hosting a long list of recruits and dinner at President Lou Anna K. Simon’s house is one item on the agenda. Plenty of high-profile juniors will be on campus, including three from Detroit Cass Tech: safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell, wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, the state’s top prospect, and offensive lineman Jordan Reid. Detroit King’s Ambry Thomas will also be on campus.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau