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'Nobody cares what we did last year:' News and notes as MSU turns page on new season

March 16, 2022
<p>Michigan State football head coach Mel Tucker greets fans with a &quot;Keep Choppin&quot; gesture as they enter the Breslin Center on Feb. 26, 2022. The Spartans upset No. 4 Purdue, 68-65.</p>

Michigan State football head coach Mel Tucker greets fans with a "Keep Choppin" gesture as they enter the Breslin Center on Feb. 26, 2022. The Spartans upset No. 4 Purdue, 68-65.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

Monday’s for many are the snoozy day of the week – a drowsy recovery day from a long weekend. Nobody likes Mondays. It’s the day for an extra cup of coffee. 

Leave it to Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker to provide the priceless, caffeine-free energy to get the week started. Tuesday marks the beginning of spring practices and Tucker made it very clear the team is nowhere near satisfied after last season. 

“Nobody cares what we did last year,” Tucker said. “Last year wasn’t good enough anyway.”

It was an intense, tone-setting introduction to the beginning of the spring. Despite MSU’s magical season, Tucker was imminent that there is no content until a National Championship is won. Here are some updates on the team as they begin a new chapter of Tucker’s third season as head coach.

What to expect from spring practices

A month’s worth of practice kicks-off Tuesday all leading up to the Apr. 16 Spring Game. Practice is held three times a week and based on Tucker’s message, it will be just as competitive, if not more, than preseason or regular season training. 

“And like I told those guys when we started the eight week program, no one has a job,” Tucker said. “Just because you started last season, that doesn't mean you're going to start this season. This is open competition. There's no sense of entitlement. You'll get what you earn and we have to prove ourselves every single day.”

According to Tucker, the goal of practice is to mirror games in terms of intensity and pressure. It’s the easiest way to translate practice execution into game execution. Every single detail will be evaluated from chin straps to shoe laces.

“It's not just the first week it's every single day,” Tucker said like a vehement drill sergeant. “Everything we do is just a relentless amount of effort. There's never going to be any let up. It's never going to stop. So there's no ability to be comfortable. There's no relief. It's just a constant pressure cooker.”

The quarterback battle that redshirt junior Payton Thorne ultimately won just before the season opener was the hot topic of last spring, but that appears to be settled this offseason following Thorne’s dynamite showing as a full-time starter. 

Rather, how MSU attempts to replace the production of junior running back Kenneth Walker III will be one of the main storylines heading into the season. The running back group is one to watch with transfers such as sophomore Jalen Berger and junior Jarek Broussard joining the mix of a handful of returners. Berger is with the team now and Broussard will join the team in the summer, but 15 spring practices may establish a foundation of what to expect.

Continuing the effective ground game goes in hand with the offensive line, which experiences some turnover this offseason with the departures of A.J. Arcuri, Matt Allen, Kevin Jarvis, and Blake Bueter. Tucker went as far to say there isn’t a more important position to develop on the team than the offensive line. 

“Offensive line development is huge,” Tucker said. “And we got the coach to do it, coach (Chris) Kap(ilovic). He's a great teacher. He motivates and inspires guys, develops players.”

Coaching changes bring “juice” to team

The Spartans have three new faces as position coaches on the team, elevating Effrem Reed as the running backs coach, and bringing in Marco Coleman as the defensive line coach/run game coordinator and Brandon Jordan as a pass rush specialist. 

Jordan is the big name that has received the most excitement, given his track record working with a myriad of NFL players. He and Coleman, who previously was a defensive ends/outside linebackers coach at Georgia Tech, both received high praise from Tucker for their work so far. 

“With Marco and B Jordan, that’s juice,” Tucker said. “That’s more juice. That’s more intensity. That’s more attention to detail. That’s more of being specific.”

A couple other roles on the defensive side were modified with defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton now overseeing the linebackers and special teams coordinator Ross Els overseeing the nickelbacks. 

Michigan State Pro Day

Michigan State didn’t have a player selected in last year’s NFL Draft for the first time in 80 years. With tight end Connor Heyward, wide receiver Jalen Nailor and Walker participating in the Scouting Combine two weeks ago, the likelihood of a Spartan getting drafted seems certain. 

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“They are chasing the dream and they’re getting it done so I’m looking forward to those guys getting back,” Tucker said.

Those three and any others hoping to make the jump to the next level have a chance to showcase their skills Wednesday at Michigan State’s Pro Day. Scouts, coaches, and general managers will all be in attendance to take a deeper look at some of the future NFL players.

Tucker said his involvement with the prospects through the draft process isn’t too large, mostly just exchanging text messages, but he spends a lot of time talking with scouts not just about Michigan State players, but some of Tucker’s former players too.

Ben VanSumeren enters transfer portal

Redshirt senior linebacker Ben VanSumeren withdrew his name from the program Monday, just one day before spring practices started. It’s his second time in the portal after transferring from Michigan last offseason. 

VanSumeren struggled to garner extended playing time, in part because of MSU’s two linebacker scheme. Freshman Cal Haladay emerged as one of Michigan State’s best defenders and junior Quavaris Crouch was solid too, taking up both starting spots. Even when either Haladay or Crouch were not on the field, it was mainly redshirt senior Noah Harvey who got the nod over VanSumeren. 

Of note, VanSumeren’s younger brother, Alex, a freshman early-enrollee, is with the program for the spring. A four-star prospect and top recruit in the class, Alex VanSumeren could be a candidate to have a significant impact as a freshman.

Darius Snow practices with linebackers

Junior safety Darius Snow had an impressive, breakout sophomore campaign playing the free safety, strong safety and nickelback positions. He's quickly become a fan favorite for his hard hits on the field and graphic design skills off the field.

Snow, during MSU's first spring practice Tuesday, was with the linebackers rather than the safeties or cornerbacks. It's still early and he's unsure if he will be playing some linebacker come the fall as MSU has considerable linebacker depth, but he's approaching it as an opportunity to gain versatility to one day make it to the NFL.

"What I played last year as a nickel, a lot of times when we play certain defenses, I kind of play like an outside linebacker, which is how some people look at it," Snow said. "Some people can't look at it. At that same time when we play certain man defenses and different things, I'm playing like a slot corner in some instances."

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