Spring football has come and gone for the seventh time in head coach Mark Dantonio’s tenure.
A disappointing 7-6 season in 2012 can be attributed to a variety of factors, but one of the most glaring problems was the inconsistent and, at times, anemic offense.
After then-freshman quarterback Connor Cook led the game-winning drive in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, a legitimate battle with senior Andrew Maxwell was born and redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor joined the fray this spring.
With spring practices finished after Saturday’s Green and White game, it seems MSU only has made incremental improvements from that December night.
Who is going to be the quarterback? Who knows?
Just as Cook’s performance in the last game of the season thrust him into the discussion, his performance in the spring game — the final day of 15 practices — likely narrowed the gap to Maxwell, who previously appeared to have a comfortable hold on the job.
The fact that Cook was MSU’s most impressive quarterback Saturday while only completing slightly more than 38 percent of his throws is troubling.
What about the running backs? No clue.
Pick a straw on this one. There’s four tailbacks on the roster right now: juniors Nick Hill and Jeremy Langford, redshirt freshmen Nick Tompkins and Riley Bullough, recently converted from linebacker.
None of them have separated themselves in the eyes of the coaching staff this spring, and the fact that Bullough has led the team in rushing the last two scrimmages after just a handful of practices at that spot says a lot about the status of the position.
It’s hard not to believe the job ultimately ends up in the hands of some true freshmen. The Spartans add three more runners in the fall in Gerald Holmes and Delton Williams, each of the bigger variety Dantonio and company have preferred recently, and a burner in R.J. Shelton.
On multiple occasions, Dantonio stressed the need for the current backs to be more consistent and affirmed his willingness to play true freshmen at the position.
Perhaps it will end up being a true by-committee approach with three or more ball-carriers sharing the load.
“I like to have things set. Here’s my guys at all these positions,” said Dave Warner, co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach.
“At the same time, it’s going to provide a lot of competition through the summer, drive guys probably a little bit harder to prepare for August when the jobs will be won.”
Whoever takes the job should be able to find success running behind a veteran offensive line. Even with two projected starters out in the spring game, the unit flexed its muscle with players split among both teams and came away as the most consistent offensive position group.
The defense will be fine. In fact, the Spartan backups likely could field a team that would finish in the top half of the Big Ten defensively.
There are few concerns on that side of the ball outside of getting more pressure from the defensive line. The extremely deep and talented back seven should carry the torch for another top-10 defensive unit this season.
If MSU hopes to improve upon last season — when the Spartans dropped five games by a total margin of 13 points — the offense needs to carry its share of the weight. It’s that simple.
This spring provided few, if any, answers to the questions surrounding the program — nearly all of which fall on the offense’s plate.
The pads have been hung up until August, and the Spartans essentially are in the same position as day one of spring practice.
Stephen Brooks is a football beat reporter for The State News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org