Spring practices are in full swing for the Michigan State football team. After a disappointing 2022 season, the Spartans working to improve before the start of the 2023 season.
After losing to Indiana and Penn State in the last two games of the year, MSU failed to qualify for a bowl game. This came as a surprise, as the Spartans earned an 11-win season and a victory in the Peach Bowl over Pittsburgh to put the program back on the map in 2021. The team has been working hard to erase the memory of the 2022 season and raise expectations back to where they were a year ago.
Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach Jay Johnson emphasized how the team is ready to move on from the past and set a new standard in 2023.
“We are a completely different team, a completely different team than what we were a year ago ” Johnson said. “You know, if you remember because of just some certain circumstances with injury and what not, I mean we had like six or seven O-linemen. Now we have like 19, and some really good players. The defense too is in the same mold where we are at a completely different level there…We feel like we are getting some real quality work in.”
Like many other aspects of the team last year, the offense was certainly questionable. Redshirt senior quarterback Payton Thorne had a regressional season in 2022. He threw for 2,679 yards, 19 passing touchdowns to 11 interceptions and only 223.3 pass yards per game. During his breakout 2021 season, Thorne posted 3,233 yards, 10 interceptions, 248.7 yards per game and a career-high 27 passing touchdowns.
As a result of Thorne’s play, redshirt freshman quarterback Katin Houser and redshirt junior quarterback Noah Kim are expected to compete for the starting position during the upcoming season. Johnson touched a bit on the progress he has seen from the three quarterbacks and how the coaching staff has developed them as they are at similar skill levels.
“We do a pretty good job of looking at it everyday of all the team 11-on-11 reps and the 7-on-7 reps,” Johnson said. “And I think after the scrimmage on Saturday, I think they are all within like a rep or two, those top three guys between Payton, Katin and Noah.”
Johnson also explained how he has moved each of the quarterbacks around to get them comfortable with situations they may have not encountered or need to work on. He also noted that it has been a very competitive environment and battle for the position, and how it has been a mostly equal fight for each quarterback.
The wide receiver group took a hit over the offseason as star redshirt senior Jayden Reed declared for the NFL draft in hopes to begin his professional career. Junior wide receiver Keon Coleman is now expected to carry the weight at the position after having a solid 2022 season filled with promise. He caught 58 balls for 798 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns, quickly became one of the primary targets for the offense.
Coleman addressed his role for 2022 and the expectations that both the coaches and himself have for the upcoming season.
“I try to thrive in it, and also bring the younger guys with me,” Coleman said. “...I mean we might need me to get things started, but when all hell breaks loose and and you know, they put all the coverage on me, I got to be able to trust my young guys to be able to make those plays.”
Coleman also noted that he is excited to be the player who defenses focus on primarily, and that it feels normal at this point as he began to see some of that type of specific pressure at the tail end of last season.
The health of the team dating back to last spring wasn’t in favor for the Spartans. Many injuries piled up throughout camp and into the season. Coleman experienced pain from the pressure he put on his body in the season with limited training in the spring due to participating on the basketball team last spring semester. He didn’t miss any games, though he sat out of a few practices.
“It was like kind of a partial tear in my iliopsoas, kind of like in that hip flexor area,” Coleman said. “I kind of strained that a little bit, and it kind of sidelined me a little bit. But I was able to make it for every game.”
Redshirt senior offensive lineman J.D. Duplain explained how helpful it is to have the numbers for practices in order to prepare in the off-season.
“Just having a whole you know, three deep groups of offensive linemen, we didn’t have that last spring,” Duplain said. “They played with five guys out there at times, so having the full group is huge for us right now.”