Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Spartans close spring practice

April 15, 2002
Sophomore quarterback Aaron Alexander calls out a play during the Spartans’ spring scrimmage Saturday. Alexander split time at quarterback with junior Jeff Smoker and sophomore Damon Dowdell. —

The MSU football team concluded spring practice Saturday with its Green and White spring game at the Duffy Daugherty Football Building.

“This has been a very positive spring practice for us,” MSU head coach Bobby Williams said. “We were able to work on a lot of different situations, put the team in a lot of third-down situations.

“We’ve had a chance to develop the depth on this team. I’m really impressed and pleased by the overall athletic ability of this football team. The team speed really, really improved, and the physical strength of the offensive and defensive line.”

Despite its improvements, Williams’ biggest worry coming out of spring practice is an area the team struggled with last season - the kicking game.

Williams said the kickers didn’t get much work during spring practice because the team only practiced outside four times.

“It’s probably the area we didn’t get a chance to get a lot of quality work, primarily because we had to practice inside,” he said. “We’ve had limited practice area with the stadium being redone and not having an artificial surface outside.”

Weather conditions also affected Saturday’s scrimmage. The game originally was scheduled at Okemos High School because natural grass is being installed in Spartan Stadium. But poor field conditions forced Williams to move the game to the team’s practice field and close it to the public.

Only family and friends of the team watched the Green squad win the 88-play intrasquad scrimmage 17-0 in 70-degree heat.

“Our conditioning really showed today because it marked the first warm day of the spring and our guys hung in there for 90 minutes,” Williams said in a statement. “This final scrimmage gave us an opportunity to look at a lot of players under game conditions.”

After both teams combined for a total 105 yards and five first downs in the first half, the Green team, made up of first-team players, struck on its first offensive possession of the second half.

The seven play, 75-yard drive ended with a 37-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Jeff Smoker to senior wide receiver BJ Lovett.

Smoker said the game was an opportunity to test out new plays.

“The more comfort and time you have working together, it allows you to do different things, to experiment,” Smoker said. “We’ll check out what worked and what didn’t.”

Smoker, who was removed after the touchdown pass, threw for 137 yards on 11-of-14 passing.

Lovett, who caught five receptions for 71-yards, said his performance was a step toward locking up the No. 2 wide receiver position opposite junior Charles Rogers.

“It went real well,” Lovett said. “I gained a lot of confidence, too. I just want to try to get better in the summer and try to earn that No. 2 spot.”

Rogers was held out of the scrimmage by the coaches along with senior tailback Dawan Moss.

In Moss’ absence, junior Mike McConnell carried the ball six times for 17 yards for the Green team, while senior Shawn Foster led the White team with 34 yards on nine carries.

The low rushing stats were a result of good defense on both sides. Senior linebacker Richard Bryce led all tacklers with six, including five solos, while the Green team recorded three sacks.

Junior defensive end Greg Taplin said the defense focused on improving its pass rush in spring practice since it only recorded 18 sacks last season.

“It’s very important,” Taplin said. “We’re working real hard at that. We’re working on pass rush moves and we plan to get to (the quarterback) a lot more this year. We’ll have a lot more sacks that we’ve had in the past.

“It was very frustrating, we worked so hard at it but we had such a young defensive line and now it seems like we’re all taking steps because we’re all older.”

After it opened the half with a touchdown, the Green team opened the fourth quarter with another scoring drive. Sophomore quarterback Damon Dowdell, who started the game for the White team, took over after the Green team’s first scoring drive. Freshman Aaron Alexander took over at the helm for the White team.

Dowdell hooked up with junior wide receiver Ziehl Kavanaght for a 37-yard touchdown. Kavanaght also ran two reverses for 21 yards.

Williams’ kicking concerns didn’t fall on deaf ears. Sophomore kicker Dave Rayner was 2-for-2 on extra points and made his only field goal attempt of the scrimmage, a 31-yarder.

2002 team captains: Prior to the scrimmage, Williams announced that senior defensive back Thomas Wright, junior center Brian Ottney, Smoker and Moss will be the Spartans’ captains for the upcoming season.

“I thought they did a tremendous job with their selection of team captains this year,” Williams said. “These guys will assume that role today and throughout the summer and into the fall.”

Wright credited former MSU defensive backs Aric Morris and Sorie Kanu for teaching him leadership skills.

“I came up behind Aric Morris and Sorie,” Wright said. “I followed behind them and I think it kind of rubbed off on me - I’m proud to be a captain.”

Williams said everyone on the team voted for Wright.

“He was a unanimous choice of the entire team,” Williams said. “A guy that has played a lot of football here, a guy who demands a lot of respect not only from the defense but the whole team.

“I could see that happening last year when he took ownership of the secondary when we lost all those players to injury. He kind of held that group together and it really migrated throughout the entire defense.”

While Wright is a vocal leader, the other senior captain led by example this spring as he ran over everyone in his path.

“He doesn’t say much,” Williams said of Moss. “But Dawan is a guy that commands respect, primarily because of his work ethic, because of his toughness. That toughness sent a clear message to the team.”

With only 16 seniors on the 2002 team, Williams understands how Smoker and Ottney were voted captains.

“The leadership is going to come from a lot of our juniors,” he said. “That’s why you see the votes coming for Jeff Smoker and Brian Ottney, they have done a great job really taking ownership of this team.”


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