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Smith says one QB 'needs to step up'

April 7, 2003

With no single player emerging as a favorite for MSU's vacant starting quarterback position, a dead heat is on.

With two spring scrimmages under the Spartans' belt, incumbent junior quarterback Damon Dowdell is battling redshirt freshman Drew Stanton for MSU's starting spot in the Aug. 30 opener. Senior Jeff Smoker, who was suspended indefinitely from the team last season, is also taking snaps this spring, but won't enter the starting quarterback picture until at least August.

Add it all up, and it equates to a bottleneck for the Spartans' most important position.

"I'm pleased with the progress the quarterbacks have made but somebody needs to step up and separate himself from the pack these last two weeks," head coach John L. Smith said. "These guys are becoming more confident and comfortable in the offense but it's important that somebody take charge of this offense."

And so far, none of the three quarterbacks are head and shoulders above the others.

In two scrimmages, Dowdell has completed 13 passes for 178 yards, Stanton has 14 completions for 171 yards and Smoker has 14 connections for 120 yards.

"The first week, they all looked very mechanical," Smith said. "But I think they're loosening up as time goes by."

The close competition for the starting role, though, appears to be encouraging Dowdell and Stanton to display their best stuff.

"Competition breeds success," Stanton said. "Hopefully (the team) can take that and get some success.

"I'm making big steps already in a week and a half. I've gotten a lot of confidence in a short period of time, so it'll just continue to grow."

Stanton, a native of Farmington Hills, Mich., said Smith's new spread offense is perfect for his style of play. The 6-foot-3 signal caller, who has never played a down of college football, has a cannon arm and deceptive speed, ideal for the pass-oriented scheme.

Inexperience could take a back seat in the competition for starter, though.

Dowdell said he enjoys the competition, but his five starts last season in relief of Smoker is a testament to his ability.

"(The competition) will be good for us," Dowdell said. "(I think) it's an even job."

The 6-foot-1 Detroit native completed 92-of-165 passes last season, throwing 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. He was 1-4 as a starter on an already demoralized team, but often displayed flashes of talent as an open-field runner.

"We might have to install some plays where we break down real quick and let him go," Smith said.

Sophomore wide receiver Aaron Alexander - who recently switched from quarterback - said the logjam for the top spot is a boon to the team's confidence level.

"It's good for both of them that the competition is so hot," he said. "It's going to make both of them better, and that's what the coaches are hoping for."

Fans will get their first chance to see Dowdell, Stanton and Smoker on April 19, when the Spartans play their annual intrasquad Green-White game. It will be at 1 p.m. at Spartan Stadium.

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