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Young players shine in MSU scrimmage

Michigan State hopes its improved depth makes a difference in the close games that have dogged coach Mark Dantonio for most of his tenure.

If Monday's scrimmage at Spartan Stadium is any indication, the Spartans will have more options in 2010.

All-American linebacker Greg Jones did his thing (12 tackles, six tackles for loss, four sacks), but several young players also performed well in the jersey scrimmage, which the defense won 95-89 based on a modified scoring system. The young standouts included:

  • True freshman running back Le'Veon Bell, who led all rushers with 50 yards on 12 carries, including an 10-yard touchdown run. Bell also hauled in an 11-yard scoring pass from Kirk Cousins.

  • Redshirt freshman defensive end Denzel Drone recorded seven tackles, including a sack, and also forced and recovered a fumble.

  • Sophomore cornerback Johnny Adams, coming off of a shoulder injury, had seven tackles, an interception and two pass breakups.

  • Sophomore linebacker Chris Norman had 11 tackles, including a 7-yard sack.

  • Dantonio singled out freshmen defensive backs Darqueze Dennard and Isaiah Lewis for their play, saying that both could contribute this season.

  • Dantonio also reiterated that he wants to find spots for freshmen linebackers William Gholston and Max Bullough. "We want to make sure that we put them into situations where they can contribute on a consistent basis because you don't want to just take away a guy's year [of eligibility]," he said. "Those guys can play and have an impact."

I continue to be surprised by how much Michigan State throws the ball in its scrimmages. The Spartans were unquestionably a pass-first team in 2009, when they finished second in the Big Ten in passing (269.4 ypg), but it seemed likely they would stress the run more this fall.

It still could happen, but since Cousins stepped into the spotlight at quarterback, Michigan State has taken to the air. And for good reason. The Spartans' receiving corps is stacked, and they have two tight ends (Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum) on the Mackey Award preseason watch list.

Cousins attempted 42 passes Monday, completing 26 of them for 306 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Emerging star Keshawn Martin led the way with eight catches for 83 yards, while B.J. Cunningham had seven receptions for 65 yards and two touchdowns.

According to Dantonio, turnovers were the difference in the scrimmage, which is good and bad. But after Michigan State struggled to generate takeaways in 2009, it's more of a promising sign than a negative one.