O'Connor, Terry race ahead in Spartans QB battle

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Tyler O’Connor appears to be strengthening his position in the quarterback race at Michigan State, but the fifth-year senior is hardly content with his play.

Coach Mark Dantonio said on Monday that O’Connor and junior Damion Terry have pulled away a bit from redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke and freshman Messiah deWeaver, but O’Connor is pushing for more.

“I, personally, didn’t play my best,” O’Connor said of his performance in the scrimmage on Saturday. “I wasn’t as accurate as I wanted to be. There was a lot of inconsistency that we have to take care of as a group. Personally, I wasn’t at my best.”

Statistics weren’t available from the first scrimmage of preseason camp, but that didn’t stop Dantonio from seeing the gap widen.

“I think there was a little bit of movement,” Dantonio said before the Spartans practiced on Monday. “I think you see the two older guys separate a little bit this last scrimmage, but that’s not to say the other guys won’t have a great week this week. So it’s a little bit hard there.”

Dantonio emphasized the fact O’Connor and Terry have experience, as opposed to Lewerke and deWeaver. That, as much as anything, has been the biggest difference.

It’s something that comes from playing in big games, as both O’Connor and Terry did last season in the win at Ohio State. That level of comfort with the offense has been evident through the first week of camp.

“I think that’s obvious with veteran players, guys that have been in the system and around the program,” quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said. “Tyler played very well, very consistent (in the scrimmage). He made some nice checks, getting us in and out of the right play.

“Damion made some big plays down the field and with his feet, and he’s gonna have to. You’ve got to manage the game and make decisions, but you’ve got to make plays too at this position.”

Defensive line still forming

The depth chart continues to take shape as the Spartans head toward their second scrimmage on Saturday. Dantonio said tight end and running back are two spots that are set, while the depth at secondary is also a plus.

Some of the biggest movement should come on the defensive line where tackles Malik McDowell and Raequan Williams are playing well, along with end Demetrius Cooper.

“Who will be that fourth guy is a little bit up in the air,” Dantonio said. “Kevin Williams had a solid week, but you also see a guy like Gerald Owens playing OK and there are different things we can do in there. Evan Jones has been solid.

“Our young players are very talented there; it’s just they got to know what to do. (Mike) Panasiuk has been strong at the point of attack, but we’ve got a lot of players up there.”

Extra points

It’s not a glamorous position, but Michigan State must find a replacement at long snapper, where four-year starter Taybor Pepper has moved to the next level.

Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Collin Caflisch leads right now, according to special teams coordinator Mark Snyder, but he is still competing with freshmen Ryan Armour and Bradley Robinson.

“We’re putting a lot of pressure on them,” Snyder said. “We’re trying to put as much game-day pressure on them as we possibly can.”

… The Spartans have come through the first week of camp relatively healthy.

“We’ve got some guys nicked up but nothing that will create issues,” Dantonio said.

… Meet the Spartans is scheduled from 5-8 p.m. tonight at Spartan Stadium. Admission is free.