With opening kickoff only eight days away, MSU football wrapped up fall preseason camp on Thursday with one final scrimmage.
No. 8 MSU is now setting its sights on opening night against Jacksonville State, with Head Coach Mark Dantonio giving the players the rest of the week off to relax.
However, before the players break away for a small break, Dantonio announced the 2014 team captains along with weighing in on the current depth chart and season-ending injury to a star Big Ten quarterback.
MSU announces 2014 captains
At the beginning of preseason camp, leadership was one of the buzzwords around Spartan football as the program was in need of replacing stars at each position.
On Thursday, the coaching staff gave the title of team captain to senior safety Kurtis Drummond, senior offensive lineman Travis Jackson and junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun for the 2014 season.
All three of the Spartans that received the title felt honored to be voted by their peers into that leadership role, with Drummond stating he was surprised about being selected.
“This is something that just caught me off guard,” Drummond said. “The group of guys that we have on this team it could have been a bunch of guys who were appointed captain and when he called my name I couldn’t do anything but smile. Just to think about the type of respect and how humbling it is to be appointed this.”
Drummond added that while he is flattered by the new position as a captain, it won’t change how he works from day-to-day and won’t give him a big head.
Junior and returning starting quarterback Connor Cook wasn’t selected as a captain for this season, which came off as a surprise to many, but Jackson isn’t worried about a lack of leadership on the offensive side of the ball. Jackson said as an offensive lineman, he leads by example and looks to help others thrive by his play.
“You’re in the trenches all the time, you’re in every play like I said before, we’re not looking for glory or anything, we’re just excited to get in there and really just focused on the team,” Jackson said. “You want you’re running backs to do well, you’re quarterbacks to do well.”
Jones, Hicks solidify spots as starters
MSU will release an updated depth chart in the coming days, but Dantonio gave a brief preview of where multiple positions currently shake out on Thursday.
Dantonio announced that senior linebacker Taiwan Jones and sophomore cornerback Darian Hicks have solidified their spots as starters at middle linebacker and fieldside cornerback.
Jones has started 17 games at outside linebacker the last two seasons, but was going through a transition to the inside this past spring and fall preseason camp. Redshirt freshman Jon Reschke had received accolades from the coaching staff all camp, and was considered to be pushing Jones for the starting spot.
After mainly seeing action on special teams, Hicks will now step into a concrete spot as a starter with 2013 Jim Thorpe award winner Darqueze Dennard graduating. Hicks will play opposite of returning starting cornerback junior Trae Waynes, who is moving from the fieldside to the boundary cornerback.
On the other side of the ball, there are multiple skilled position spots up for grabs. Dantonio said both the No. 2 quarterback and running back positions are still unsettled as camp comes to an end.
Redshirt freshman Damion Terry and sophomore Tyler O’Connor have been battling for the backup quarterback spot all camp, while senior Nick Hill, sophomore Delton Williams and redshirt freshman Gerald Holmes are competing for the No. 2 running back spot behind senior Jeremy Langford.
Dantonio added that freshman running back Madre London is in the mix for the backup spot, but is looking into redshirting him if the coaching staff can’t find enough carries for him.
Tight end is another unsettled position, where Dantonio said there could be a couple of “or’s” on the week one depth chart. Sophomore Josiah Price, sophomore Jamal Lyles and senior Andrew Gleichert all are in the mix for MSU at tight end, with each expect to see playing time in the opener.
The final tidbit of depth chart news comes from the trenches on both sides of the ball for the green-and-white.
Dantonio said sophomore offensive lineman Kodi Kieler is holding down the starting right tackle spot after junior Donavon Clark was moved to right guard to fill the spot left open by senior offensive lineman Connor Kruse’s injury.
On the other side, Dantonio said he isn’t ready to name who will start on the inside of the defensive line, but isn’t ruling out any of the freshmen who are competing for playing time. Freshmen Malik McDowell, Craig Evans, Enoch Smith Jr. and David Beedle all are still in the mix for playing time on the D-Line this fall.
Dantonio weighing in on Miller injury
While many Spartans were focused on the news of Kruse going down with an injury, the rest of the college football world was in shock after news broke that Ohio State senior quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the entire season with a shoulder injury.
Miller was set to lead the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes in 2014 after compiling more than 3,000 total yards and 36 touchdowns a year ago. Miller has won seven Big Ten individual awards, and was considered by many to be a Heisman candidate this fall.
The loss of Miller is expected to be a big blow to the Buckeyes’ national title hopes, but Dantonio isn’t ruling out the scarlet-and-grey quite yet. The former Buckeye assistant coach said losing a star player can sometimes bring the team together and produce more out of others.
“I will say this, we played without Max Bullough in the Rose Bowl so usually when those things happen, people rise up around them,” Dantonio said. “Everybody becomes a little bit better and what becomes a negative becomes a strength later on.”
MSU will host Ohio State on Nov. 8 at Spartan Stadium as the first time the two teams will meet since the Spartans topped the Buckeyes, 34-24, in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. with the game being televised on ABC.