Notebook: Young receivers and defensive backs draw attention
Mark Dantonio announced the results of the first scrimmage on Tuesday. He as well as stars on both sides of the ball commented on the individual performances that produced the 49-43 result in favor of the offense. The team held their first official scrimmage of spring ball on Tuesday.
All eyes will be on senior quarterback Brian Lewerke and his health as he comes off a shoulder injury that had him periodically sidelined throughout 2018.
Despite not throwing extensively in the offseason, the fifth-year signal caller earned a positive evaluation from his coach in these early stages of the spring season.
"He's had an opportunity to work before spring ball in terms of just throwing it. He took it easy a little bit, but his arm's fine,” Dantonio said.
Another crucial injury to a starter was that of punter Jake Hartbarger. Dantonio confirmed Tuesday that the former all-Big Ten punter will return for a sixth year of eligibility.
Offensive coaching changes certainly raised questions concerning potential approaches to offensive strategy this season, and junior cornerback Josiah Scott pointed out early signs of progress from the unit.
“Tempo offense kind of caught us off guard a little bit at the beginning of the scrimmage,” Scott said. “They tried to get up to the ball, get the defense confused a little bit. So that's been an asset to them and helping them out.”
Junior receiver Cody White and senior Darrell Stewart will likely assume starting roles following Felton Davis’s departure, and Stewart had much to say concerning the corps’ depth and potential breakout candidates in the slot. “One thing I like about this upcoming season, you’ve got so many young guys who are displaying their talent at a high level, so we're looking forward (to it),” Stewart said.
One of the young pieces Stewart referred to was Laress Nelson. Often used sparingly on special teams, Nelson looks poised to garner more consistent snaps as a slot threat in 2019.
“I saw Laress Nelson. We call him the human joystick. This guy's like somebody's controlling him from the top,” Stewart said of the junior. “This dude jukes somebody, spin move and jukes back. We call Laress the magician as well because 'now you see me, now you don't.' He's so good.”
Also earning the praise of Stewart were sixth-year senior Brandon Sowards and junior C.J. Hayes.
After Dantonio deemed that the offense earned the victory in the scrimmage, he acknowledged notable performances from early enrollees.
“I think that the skill players show up a little faster," Dantonio said. "Anthony Williams had some runs out there today. He's quick. He's got a burst. Tre Mosley made a couple catches as well and he's been solid as well. So those guys seem to show up a little faster at the skill positions.”
The freshmen, listed at running back and wide receiver, respectively, earned praise along with sophomore running back Elijah Collins who “made a couple of big plays.”
The Spartans will have to fill the voids in the defensive backfield left by former starters Khari Willis and Justin Layne.
Dantonio, a former defensive back himself, voiced high praise of his young secondary’s performance thus far, listing multiple players poised to retain snaps at safety.
“Michael Dowell is playing very, very well right now. Emanuel Flowers is back over there. He's been very solid as well. And Tre Person's back over there. He's been very, very good,” Dantonio said. “All three of those guys have shown stuff and then X (Xavier Henderson) and David (Dowell) have had good springs so far.”
At the corner position, Josiah Scott asserted full confidence in his likely counterpart and fifth year senior Josh Butler.
“He's the guy now,” Scott stated. "He knows he's the guy. So it's just building confidence now and just going out there and being able to do it every single play.”
Locker Room Energy
Coming off a disappointing 7-6 season, the Spartans certainly raise concerns coming into this season, but Stewart was the first to assert the group’s newfound energy coming into this spring.
“The energy is bursting through the roof just because we get another chance to come out and prove ourselves and I see the confidence of so many people just jumping, everybody's happy,” Stewart said. “Everybody honestly wants to go out there and just prove people wrong from last year, the doubters and the naysayers.”