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Spartans Head into Fourth Week of Spring Practice

March 26, 2018

EAST LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan State football team is entering its fourth week of spring practice as the Spartans continue preparations for the annual Green-White spring game on Saturday, April 7 at 5 p.m. in Spartan Stadium.

Last week was a busy one for MSU, as the team held four practices, including its first spring scrimmage on Thursday, while also hosting Pro Day on Friday. With nine of the allotted 15 spring practices already completed, the Spartans are scheduled to practice twice this week (Tuesday and Thursday) before taking the weekend off.

“There’s a lot of retention,” assessed head coach Mark Dantonio during the midpoint of spring practice last Friday, as the Spartans return 19 of 22 position starters from last year’s 10-3 team that finished No. 15 in the final Associated Press Poll. “There’s a lot of guys playing competitively as to whether they’re one’s or two’s or two’s or three’s, so that’s good – especially on the defensive side of the ball. We’ve tried to become as active as we can in terms of whether it’s tackling or playing off the blocks or doing those types of things, so that’s been a positive.

“I think a lot of retention but there’s still a ways to go. I think that’s the way it is with every football team, and when you’re trying to go past the bar that maybe you’ve set before, that’s always a challenge.”

The defense, which finished No. 2 in the FBS last season in rushing defense and No. 7 in total defense, brings back nine starters, including rising junior defensive end Kenny Willekes, who led the team in sacks (7) and tackles for loss (14.5) in 2017.

“I think everyone is just playing fast,” said Willekes. “Obviously we’re returning so many starters and having a lot of guys coming back that played and know what they’re doing, so there wasn’t as much of a teaching period (at the beginning of the spring). Everyone is just coming out and playing really fast and physical.”



Offensively, the Spartans are losing just one starter in center Brian Allen, but it’s a big hole to fill. That position has been up for grabs this spring as several players have been competing for the open spot.

“Well, when you lose a guy there like Brian Allen, you know you’re going to be searching a little bit,” said Dantonio. “But Matt (Allen) is playing well. We’ve worked (Tyler) Higby in there, we’ve worked Jordan Reid in there. David Beedle has the ability to go in there. I think Blake Bueter has taken steps pretty much like Connor Kruse (former MSU walk-on lineman) had maybe. Not a scholarship guy, but he’s 306 pounds. He’s athletic and so he’s done some good things in there.

“Those guys are all sort of working things in there and one day they get the reps and one day they get slid to another position, so it’s been a positive.”

Although the offense nearly returns intact, returning starting quarterback Brian Lewerke knows there’s still things that need to be worked on, especially after the defense came away with the win in the team’s first scrimmage.

“It was good to be able to get in a live situation like that again, all that sort of thing,” said Lewerke of playing back in Spartan Stadium for the first time in 2018. “The offense obviously has a ton to work on. Still pretty young up front, so trying to work through that. Overall, we can improve in all aspects, pretty much.”

One area the offense can count on in 2018 is in the backfield, as rising senior LJ Scott announced after the Holiday Bowl victory over Washington State he would be returning for his senior season. Following the team’s eighth practice of the spring, Scott was smiling as he talked about why he decided to come back to East Lansing.

“It was a long decision during that process, but I’m glad to come back this extra year,” remarked Scott, who has rushed for more than 2,500 career yards with 25 touchdowns. “I get to get a lot more learning in and try to get better at my craft every day.

“I am enjoying it – every moment of it. It goes by fast and I know once I move on I’m going to miss it so just trying to enjoy it, take it all in, and live it up.”

Additional Spartan player quotes:

Junior quarterback Brian Lewerke

On the competition for the center position…
It’s good. We’ve got probably four guys working out there right now so whichever one comes out, I’m happy with. All the guys can do the job well.

On if it’s equal reps for the guys for the most part…
I’d say probably Matt Allen is getting the most. He’s been most of the time, so he’s probably the guy I’ve been working with the most.

On how he changes his preparation going into this season versus last season…
It doesn’t really change too much, you still got to prepare no matter what position you are in.

On the importance of the guys behind him getting reps this spring…
I mean, for Rocky (Lombardi) who was on the scout team all last year, he wasn’t really learning the offense as much as a guy that would be, not on the scout team, I guess. And Theo (Day), obviously just got here so it’s very important to get those guys reps here, let them learn the offense.

On if he tries to help them out as much as he can…
I do. I tell them stuff that I’ve picked up in games, on certain plays, in certain coverages and how I identify certain coverages and all that sort of thing.

On adding to the playbook now that he has a year under his belt…
Coach Warner and Coach Salem are always looking to add plays, looking at other offenses and seeing what we can put into ours. So we’ve molded a lot with the RPO (run-pass option) stuff…we got a lot of different styles that we can do.

On what he’s seen from Emmanuel Flowers as a receiver…
He’s been solid. I haven’t had a ton of reps with him just because he’s rolling with the other guys but from what I’ve seen he’s got good footwork, he’s quick, he can get off the ball well.

On Theo Day
Yeah, he’s very smart, from just being here a couple months. I was overwhelmed for my first year here just with all the new playbooks. I think his high school offense prepared him well. He’s been dropping dimes, he’s been very good.

On how working with many different centers has been for him…
It’s good. It’s fine with me. I mean, I’ve gotten reps with all of them, even last year I was getting a lot of reps with Matt when Brian (Allen) was hurt or something like that. It’s been fine, it hasn’t been a problem for me whatsoever.

Senior running back LJ Scott

On what he saw from the guys in the first scrimmage…
The scrimmage was a great scrimmage as a team, a lot of learning out there. A lot of guys flying around to the ball on the defensive side. As an offensive side we’re still putting pieces together and we’re learning – it’s a process, we’re still learning. But we should be good, we should be in a great position.

Junior defensive end Kenny Willekes

On the most important thing they need to work on this spring…
I’d say we’re focused on getting the ball out a lot more and just continuing to work on that effort – the fast, physical, toughness and the way we want to play.

On who is stepping up this spring…
I’ve been really impressed with the way Justice Alexander has been playing at defensive end. He’s coming along very nicely, playing physically and really buying in. Having him in my room, he’s been buying in and playing very well.

On new defensive ends coach Chuck Bullough
I love the guy. He brings energy and enthusiasm every day, no matter how you’re feeling he’s going to make sure you’re ready to go and ready to practice. The techniques and things he’s teaching me is incredible and is going to help raise my game a ton.

On if Chuck Bullough can have a major impact on him…
Yeah, he has already had a major impact on me.

On how he is better because of Chuck Bullough
He’s been helping me with the little things – the little techniques, my footwork. He’s harping on me every day so I can’t get complacent.

On how they’ve developed since spring break…
Yeah I thought we came back from spring break pretty nicely – we put the pads on right after break. I feel like with having so little turnover from last year with so many guys coming back that was very smooth, people are playing fast.

On what the defense took away from the scrimmage…
I feel like we played fast and physical. There are still going to be little tweaks, there are a couple of guys in new spots, so we’ve got to make sure we have the defense down pat. But I thought we played pretty fast and physical. Justice Alexander stepped up. Shakur Brown’s playing well so some of the younger guys are stepping up and playing good.

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