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Spartans' QB Lewerke is 'the guy to beat out'

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Mark Dantonio speaks at his news conference Thursday.

East Lansing —  Michigan State played three quarterbacks in 2016, but headed into the next season, it’s clear the Spartans have already identified their No. 1 option.

On Thursday, coach Mark Dantonio indicated that Brian Lewerke, who was a redshirt freshman in ’16, has a leg up on the rest of the competition, including senior-to-be Damion Terry, freshman Messiah deWeaver and incoming freshman Rocky Lombardi.

“I do think Brian Lewerke did some great things this season, probably would have been our guy through the last four games,” Dantonio said. “And I think he's done enough to warrant him to be the guy to beat out. He's the guy. So I say that with respect to Damion. Damion's been in and out with injuries and he played well in the Penn State game. But he's gotta maintain his health.”

Dantonio said Terry suffered a knee injury in preseason camp that put him behind all season. And Lewerke, of course, did not start the final four games after suffering a broken leg late in the loss to Michigan. However, before that, Lewerke showed flashes in four games, going 31-for-57 for 381 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He also ran the ball 21 times for 149 yards.

Lewerke started twice during a year where finding the correct quarterback eluded the Spartans. Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor started 10 games while Terry got the call in the finale at Penn State. None could fill the hole left by the departure for Connor Cook, but Dantonio feels Lewerke is in the best position to succeed.

“There's a lot of things that go into this as to whether a guy is productive or what's going on,” Dantonio said. “But quarterbacks obviously are a big part of everything, and that's not to lay everything on our quarterback position, but all you gotta say is we played three quarterbacks this year. What would you expect?”

While Lewerke appears to be the likely starter at this point, it doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. If Terry stays healthy, he can make in impact, and deWeaver took advantage of the injuries to the other quarterbacks to get important practice time.

“Messiah got a lot of the two reps, so he grew immensely in terms of coming off the scout team to being the quarterback there to getting active reps with our twos,” Dantonio said. “He showed some promising things, but he also showed some things that lend to him being a freshman and being not in the mix for six, seven weeks.

“But I think there was growth there. He's got a live arm. He's a big guy, but there's other things he's gotta work on as he continues to improve. He's got good ability, and we'll see how he shows in the spring.”

Receivers among recruits getting special attention by Spartans

Same coaching staff will return

Dantonio said after the Penn State game that he did not intend to make any changes on his coaching staff and he reiterated that on Thursday.

“There will be no changes made on my behalf on our staff,” Dantonio said. “It's the same staff we won the Big 10 championship that everybody was celebrating last year. It's the same staff that won the Rose Bowl basically, same staff that went to the Cotton Bowl that had record-setting numbers in '14.

Dantonio added there will be no changes in terms of coaching responsibilities but conceded a coach could leave for a possible promotion.

“I mean it always could happen,” he said. “I think this is the time of year it happens, and there's always going to be movement in early February it seems like.”

Offensive line coach Mark Staten interviewed for the head coaching job at Northern Michigan before pulling his name from consideration while quarterbacks coach Brad Salem could draw interest from former colleague Pat Narduzzi, who is looking for an offensive coordinator at Pitt.

Expect some attrition

As of Thursday, Malik McDowell is the only non-senior who will not be back with the Spartans next season. Dantonio said he didn’t know of any other players planning to transfer or take a shot at the NFL, but he expected there might be.

“Absolutely I do, I expect some attrition, but I can't go into specifics right now or names,” Dantonio said. “But I do expect that. We're going to find out who wants to be here and we're going to make sure that everybody is doing the correct things here and if they're not, then there will be some exits.”