Aug. 20, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Dion Sims worked tirelessly at becoming the nation's most productive one-handed, pass-catching tight end last season.
All that practice went for naught, however. After catching 12 passes for Michigan State in the first seven games of 2011, the cast protecting his broken wrist limited him to zero in the final seven.
The effort won't have been in vain if Sims comes up with a spectacular circus catch, or two, or three, or more, this season.
Sims has been known for his soft hands since becoming a Spartan in 2009, and his preference is to use two whenever possible. However, he has expanded his repertoire out of necessity.
"Obviously, I had a hard time catching the ball because of the positioning of the cast I had on," Sims said Monday. "With the cast, I tried a lot of one-hand catches and now with two hands it's a lot easier.
"I practiced a lot over the summer making one-hand catches, and over the shoulder, difficult (moves) like turning in the opposite direction and staying in bounds."
With 10 catches for 171 yards and a 12-yard touchdown, Sims was MSU's most productive offensive player, beside quarterback Andrew Maxwell, in Saturday's scrimmage.
"I think I was capable of more," Sims said. "I'm just doing whatever I can to make us complete as an offense. I feel like I'm Maxwell's safety valve. I feel like I have a lot of game experience. If it's my job to carry the offense, I'm ready to take it on."
Sims burst onto the scene in 2009 when he converted three of just 11 catches for touchdowns and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team by the Sporting News and Rivals.com.
Last year was shaping up as a breakout season for Sims before he got hurt. After logging no catches in the opener against Youngstown State, he had four for 27 yards versus Florida Atlantic, three for 38 at Notre Dame, two for 15 against Central Michigan, one for 7 at Ohio State and two for 10 against Wisconsin.
Then, what was trending as a 25-30-catch season stopped cold, at least from a statistical standpoint.
In addition to trying to convince the coaching staff he could still catch the ball, he devoted more time to becoming an effective blocker. The injury will pay even more dividends if forcing Sims to become a more complete tight end is another byproduct. The departure of Brian Linthicum and Garrett Celek leaves the Spartans with untested backups behind Sims.
"I'm definitely going to be ready," Sims said. "The scrimmage went well and gave me a lot of confidence for this upcoming game. I went through a lot of adversity and have had a lot of setbacks. I think this is that time that I pretty much forget about everything that made me stronger and just come out ready to go."
At 6-foot-5, 285 pounds - his body fat has dropped from 18 percent to 13 percent - Sims is extremely quick and athletic for his size. He has the ability to catch the ball down field and is a load for defensive backs weighing 100 pounds less to bring down.
"I just use my body frame," he said. "Once I catch it I turn and go and I have a tendency to fall 2 or 3 yards forward."
Coach Mark Dantonio felt a little better about the tight end position after Sims' performance in the scrimmage.
"I thought Dion played very, very well," Dantonio said. "He caught the ball very well, obviously, but great throws by Maxwell on those as well. It was a good thing to see, just being able to mix things up with out tight end, running backs and wideouts.
"I think he's matured. He's solid in his disposition, the way he carries himself on the field. His business-like attitude on the field gives you examples (of his leadership). He's very quiet and unassuming for as big as he is, you don't know if he's in the room. But it's like that elephant in the room - he's there, I promise you."