Aug 14, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. - On another near-perfect August day, with clear sunny skies and temperatures in the high 60s, the Michigan State football team conducted its 14th practice of preseason camp on Wednesday.
After having to replace nearly its entire receiving corps in 2012, Michigan State returns four of its top six reception leaders and does not lose a single letterwinner from last season. About halfway through preseason camp, Samuel likes what he sees from his group after seeing several young players go through growing pains one year ago.
"Guys have been making a lot of plays in camp - I'm really happy with where we're at right now," said Samuel, who's entering his third year as MSU's wide receivers coach. "The biggest thing is there's chemistry. The quarterbacks understand a little bit more of what we're doing, and we understand what the quarterbacks are going through. That's necessary and essential in this game at this point in time for the quarterbacks and wide receivers to spend that quality time during the summer and understand the subtle nuances of their jobs.
"I think we're on a better page than where we were last year. You see it. You see their confidence and their execution in practice now."
In his first year as a full-time starter, Fowler led the Spartans as a junior with 524 receiving yards and ranked second with 41 receptions. But no one is satisfied with last season.
"I'm being more vocal - there's a bigger role being placed on my shoulders as being a senior leader," said Fowler. "I'm enjoying the role and just continuing to push forward."
Fowler is off to a fast start in preseason camp, tying for a team-high five receptions on 65 yards in the first jersey scrimmage last Saturday, including two touchdown catches.
"Just being that consistent playmaker," Fowler said on the goals of the wide receivers in 2013. "Third down, every down, just doing the little things. Getting the inches."
In addition to Fowler, Kings, a sophomore, also had a touchdown grab in the scrimmage on a 19-yard pass from Andrew Maxwell. Kings, who played in eight games as a true freshman but only caught four passes for 25 yards, is ready to make more of an impact in his second season.
"Macgarrett is a big play waiting to happen," said Samuel. "He's just got to learn how to be consistent with his routes. It's still coming, but he's in a good place right now."
"I feel real comfortable with the plays," Kings remarked. "Last year, I wasn't as comfortable as I should've been. But this year, I'm getting more reps and feel way more comfortable.
"Coach Samuel is a very good coach. He takes it slow with us. He makes sure that we know the little things, the details - the `art' of playing football."
The receivers are still relatively young, as Fowler is the only senior, but the group is much more experienced heading into this fall. Keith Mumphery, a junior, started in 12 games and led the team with 42 receptions, Tony Lippett ranked fourth on the team with 36 catches for 392 yards, and Aaron Burbridge hauled in 29 catches for 364 yards to earn Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors. DeAnthony Arnett, Andre Sims Jr. and Kings are also returning letterwinners.
Last season, Fowler was the only receiver with any starting experience - and that was just one game as a red-shirt freshman. Entering this season, there's a combined 31 starts.
"We definitely feel like we have a chip on our shoulder," said Kings. "I read an article that said we were halfway atrocious last year. That being said, that put a fuel under us. I have that article taped to my locker, and every day I go out to practice I look at it and I tell my fellow wide receivers that we have to get it done this year."
"I think the entire group has learned from last year," commented Samuel. "Now we just have to carry it on into a game."
HAVING SOME FUN DURING CAMP: Through the years, Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio has tried to mix things up during preseason camp to keep things fresh. Early on Wednesday morning, the tables were turned. Check out the "Mannequin" video on YouTube to see the latest round of comedy from the Spartans during preseason camp.