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Stanton, Dowdell No. 1 at QB for spring practice

March 21, 2003

As the MSU football team starts spring practice Saturday, head coach John L. Smith has two priorities: Sort out the quarterback position and repair a tarnished program.

The Spartans, coming off a 4-8 season, will have four signal-callers competing for a starting job - one of which includes embattled senior Jeff Smoker. Smoker was indefinitely suspended from the team last year for substance abuse.

"I'm not going to miss kicking his tail," Smith said of Smoker. "He's still earning his way back to the team. Jeff really has a good heart. He's a good kid, and I think he wants to do the right thing, so we're going to give him the opportunity."

Smith said he talks to Smoker at least three times a week and won't know until the fall if the Spartans' leading passer from last season will be with the team for the 2003 season.

Junior Damon Dowdell, redshirt freshman Drew Stanton and sophomore Aaron Alexander will also be in the mix for the starting job.

Smith said seniority will not be a factor in his decision, however, it will be based solely on who is playing the best. If a senior and a freshman are playing equally good, then he'll go with the freshman. Heading into spring, Dowdell and Stanton are both listed at the No. 1 position on the depth chart. Both Smoker and Alexander are in the next tier.

With Smith bringing a spread offense to East Lansing, the quarterback position is definitely a key. Smith said he would like to start with three wide receivers, a tight end and a running back as his base offense. But he would add more receivers if he has the talent. Spartan fans can expect to see MSU pass on first down and run on second down.

In addition to quarterback, nearly every position will be up for grabs with a new coach running the show. But defense concerns Smith the most.

"We're lacking on the defensive side of the football a lot," Smith said. "We've got to stay healthy on the defensive side. (They) can't get injured, because we're going to have to play these guys all year long."

Freshman offensive tackle Pete Clifford and junior-college transfer cornerback DeAndra Cobb will be the only two players from MSU's recruiting class to participate in spring practice. There will be 15 practices, which will culminate in the annual Green and White spring game on April 19.

But filling positions on the roster is not Smith's only concern.

"You look into a mirror and what do you see?" he said. "You see (a 4-8 record) and you see a tarnished program and you see kids in trouble and you see a lot of things you shouldn't be seeing.

"What we need to do is throw that out the window and create something new, a positive image. So when we look into the mirror, we see a winner. Someone who goes to class, someone who helps the community and someone who is a hard worker."

Smith said he wants to accomplish that goal by sending players into the community to partake in various hospital and charitable activities.

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