Dantonio makes depth chart changes prior to Iowa game

It’s a week of change for the MSU football team (4-2 overall, 1-1 Big Ten).

As injuries pile on and players begin to bloom, head coach Mark Dantonio made some adjustments to his depth chart in preparation for Saturday’s homecoming game against Iowa (3-2, 1-0).

After sophomore linebacker Taiwan Jones turned in a four-tackle performance that included one tackle for loss, it appears he’ll challenge senior linebacker and team captain Chris Norman for the starting spot on Saturday.

Natalie Kolb / The State News

Junior safety Jairus Jones now is backing up junior Isaiah Lewis at strong safety, while either redshirt freshman RJ Williamson or sophomore Kurtis Drummond will start at free safety.

Finally, after sophomore running back Nick Hill muffed another punt at Memorial Stadium Saturday, he’ll be relieved of his punt return duties by either redshirt freshman wideout Andre Sims Jr., or junior running back Le’Veon Bell.

“I wanted to take the pressure or the stress off of Nick a little bit,” Dantonio said. “I do still have faith he can go back there and catch a punt, but I think his decision making at times (needed improvement).”

With junior tight end Dion Sims sidelined with a left ankle sprain, Dantonio has to find a replacement for his quarterback’s favorite target.

The depth chart lists redshirt freshman Paul Lang, sophomore Andrew Gleichert or junior Derek Hoebing as players who would step in for Sims, but when Dantonio was asked about the possibility of converted fullback Lawrence Thomas being shifted onto the line, he didn’t dismiss it.

“He’s very much like a tight end,” Dantonio said about Thomas. “He’s a guy that is very similar to Dion in a lot of respects — and I won’t go beyond that. But I think he figures in. He’s been figuring in and I just think he’s a guy that can make plays for us.”

Thomas converted to fullback from linebacker and defensive end earlier in the year, and already has four catches out of the backfield for 35 yards, including a 12-yard gain against Indiana on Saturday. He played some tight end in high school, in addition to running back, wide receiver and punter.

Last week, sophomore fullback Niko Palazeti spoke about Thomas’ versatility, and indicated he wouldn’t be surprised to see him move about on the offensive side of the ball.

“I can see him staying on offense, evolving into a tight end, (halfback), fullback position, going back to defense playing (defensive tackle), (defensive end), linebacker — he’s such an athlete, he can play anything,” he said at the time. “Whatever our needs are, he can go there and he can play anything.”

Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell was a little more guarded about the possibility of Thomas’ switch to tight end, but acknowledged the team would be rotating a number of players in at the position.

“Be it formationally, be it grouping things, working different guys in different spots, (Thomas) could be a guy who plays a factor in that,” he said. “But we’ll see as the week goes on.”

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