Michigan State continues to bolster depth at running back
Head coach Mark Dantonio isn't worried about Brian Lewerke's health — despite concerns from many the senior quarterback's arm was not fully healed. At practice Tuesday, Dantonio simply said, "his arm's live."
Ahead of Michigan State’s spring game 2 p.m. on Saturday, first-year offensive coordinator Brad Salem and quarterbacks gave insight to the progress of their respective side of the football.
Naturally, questions diverted to the running back room, one of concern after MSU’s rushing woes last year. The Spartans produced a subpar 124.8 yards per game on the ground, averaging 3.5 yards per attempt. That won’t work for a program built on its establishment of a ground-and-pound identity.
Dantonio’s praise of freshman running back Anthony Williams has been noteworthy, as he commented on the early-enrollee’s explosiveness. Lewerke also granted praise to the young tailback Tuesday, along with sophomore back Elijah Collins.
“Anthony Williams and Elijah Collins, both guys have shown very good athletic ability, especially Anthony,” Lewerke said. “He's a guy that can make people miss and has speed to the edge and Elijah is really hitting the holes hard and been able to have good vision.”
Along with Williams are the plethora of young legs rostered at back for the Spartans this upcoming fall, most notably junior Connor Heyward, who should see his role increase further with the departure of LJ Scott.
“Right now I expect him to be the number one guy,” Lewerke said. “With his experience, obviously he won the offensive MVP last year for our team, I expect a lot out of him again this year.”
While Heyward was a lone bright spot in the struggling offense last season, sophomore running back La’Darius Jefferson retained significant snaps as he displayed why he earned the honor of Michigan’s Mr. Football in 2017. He was a quarterback at Muskegon High School but made the switch to halfback and looks retain the role as the second back on the depth chart.
The viable options at tailback extend beyond the three aforementioned runners. As junior cornerback Josiah Scott suggested the offense developing tempo, which “caught (the defense) off-guard”, sophomore running back Weston Bridges is called into the discussion.
Bridges, seeing the field only sparingly until 2018, garnered intrigue in his performance in a 29-19 loss to Northwestern. As the offensive game plan shifted towards the option, Bridges flashed explosiveness and field vision on a pitch that was controversially called back for an illegal forward pass.
And with Brandon Wright set to enroll in the fall, the Spartans’ new offensive play caller expressed the options he has at the position.
“We’ve got seven guys, eight guys that are running tailback," Salem said. "So we're trying to rep them all, figure out who fits, and (for) them just to get better with their steps and vision and making plays with the football in their hand. It's hard to even use three. You’d like to. If you've got a third down guy, if you can roll fourth guy in there, but part of it too is who gets a hot hand, if it's in a game or if it's for the season, then that'll be the guy."