Each week heading into the Spring Game for MSU Football, The State News will be taking a look at each position group on Mel Tucker's roster as the Spartans prepare for their second season under the Tucker regime. In this edition, Eli McKown dives into who could make a difference under center.
On April 24, Michigan State Football will participate in their annual Spring Game after missing it last Spring due to the pandemic.
The Spartans have been very active in recruiting and in the transfer portal, meaning there will be plenty of new faces for the Spartans along with the familiar names from last season.
The State News leading up to the Spring Game will be breaking down each position, starting this week with the quarterbacks to give an idea of what Michigan State will look like when they open up against Northwestern on Sept. 4. In this week's edition of "Spring Ball Breakdown", we take a look at who will be calling plays under center.
The Spartans will have a fierce competition this fall after initial starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi departed Michigan State for Northern Illinois this winter and Anthony Russo transferred from Temple.
Russo comes into East Lansing with one year of eligibility remaining after starting in 26 games and playing in 31 games for Temple. In his time with the Owls, Russo is third all-time in passing yards, passing touchdowns and completions.
Standing at 6’4 and 245 pounds, Tucker thinks he’s got someone with NFL potential in his quarterback room.
"He's got a big arm,” Tucker said. “He's tall, he can make every throw, good ball placement accuracy, has clutch production, he is confident in the pocket, he has very good pocket awareness and instincts and has all the traits to be an NFL quarterback.”
Russo will likely be the favorite heading into fall camp to take the starting job or at the very least have a sizable chance at playing time during the 2021 season. For Russo, his chances will depend on how quickly he can adapt to the offense and adjust to the way things are done at Michigan State.
“He competes,” Tucker said. “...I can tell that he's becoming more comfortable with our game, more comfortable with our coaching and just being in our program. As that happens, he's going to play faster, he's going to play with more confidence, but from a competition standpoint there's no question about that, he competes.”
After Russo, there is very limited experience in the rest of the quarterback room, but Thorne carries the most from what the quarterback room is returning from last year.
In four games, Thorne threw for three touchdowns and three interceptions along with 582 yards. In his single start against Penn State, Thorne threw for 325 yards – a Michigan State freshman record – and three touchdowns in their regular-season finale loss to the Nittany Lions.
Thorne in his other three games was playing against tough opponents in Iowa, Indiana and Ohio State and checked in when the game was already out of hand.
His fight in those games was something the coaching staff liked to see.
“I think no matter what the score is, you've got to keep fighting,” Thorne said. “My dad actually has told me for the past years just to fight one more round, kind of a boxing analogy, and that really has stuck with me. It doesn’t matter how bad you’re getting beat in the face.”
Thorne is right there along side Russo in competing for this job and brings an element with his legs that Russo might not, but Thorne to earn this starting job will have to show maturity and consistency to get the nod from tucker and the coaching staff.
“Payton did some good things, we were obviously able to move the ball and sustain drives consistently,” Tucker said after the Ohio State loss. ‘But we were only able to move the ball in spurts, we need to build on those things that we did well just like every week. Spurts is not going to get it.”
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Fay is the dark horse candidate among the five quarterbacks we’ll discuss here. In high school, Fay was hurt in his junior season and played limited snaps at quarterback, but flashed lots of potential during his short three-game junior season and shortened senior season.
Tucker had previously offered Fay a scholarship when he was the head coach at Colorado after seeing his talent. Standing at 6’5 and 215 pounds and having some solid arm talent, Fay certainly has the talent to compete for this job.
However, Fay will have to show that he understands the offense enough and can be the leader of the offense at a young age with limited snaps. However, enrolling early may give Fay the advantage that he needs.
“It helps quite a bit because you get a chance to learn the playbook,” Tucker said. “You get a chance to get to know the staff, get indoctrinated to the strength and conditioning program, also nutrition. Academically, you get a chance to get your feet on the ground and it's an opportunity to get off to a great start academically without the pressures of having to play a game.”
The college game can be much faster than high school and can be a lot to absorb, something that even Fay will admit to you.
“We've all been learning from each other from all the quarterback meetings that we've been having,” Fay said. “We've been going up and meeting altogether and we've been going really fast with coach and he's teaching us something new every day and it feels like a whole lot.”
As we saw last year, Tucker won’t be afraid to play a freshman if he gives the team the best chance to win with guys like cornerback Angelo Grose or wide receiver Ricky White, but Fay will likely need to exceed expectations by a lot to get the chance to play as a freshman.
Day is an intriguing one after replacing Brian Lewerke on two different occasions as a freshman in 2019. It seemed apparent that Day was seemingly going to at least get some snaps if things went south for the Spartans after flashing potential and even getting attention from the coaching staff.
“When I watch his tape, the ball comes out of his hand real well,” Johnson said last April. “I’m excited to get with him more in person and get on the field and do some things with him.”
Day has the physical gifts to get a shot, but this Spring Game will be the first chance in about a year and a half since we have seen Day take the field. We haven’t seen a depth chart in the Mel Tucker era, but based on what we have seen, Day is likely behind at least Russo and Thorne until proved otherwise and perhaps even behind Fay.
We still have not been able to see Kim take a snap for the green and white since he arrived in East Lansing, but he is someone the coaching staff has brought up before, naming him offensive scout player of the week prior to their matchup against Northwestern.
A three-year starter in high school, Kim threw for 6,756 yards and 110 total touchdowns, 23 coming on the ground.
A lot is unknown about Kim since we have been unable to see him, but Tucker and the coaching staff have recognized him as someone with talent and the ability to sling it and will likely get a chance to prove he can be the guy. However, he has a long ladder to climb with the talent and experience ahead of him.
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