After some TiVo issues over the weekend, I finally got a chance to review the Big Ten Network's preview of Michigan State. The crew of Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith watched two practices in East Lansing early in camp.
Here are some notes and observations:
Although the preview only showed the day's second practice, which took place in shoulder pads and shorts and didn't feature much team work, it was an interesting session to watch. Michigan State runs some good one-on-one drills where you can see an individual player's strengths and weaknesses.
Offensive line and secondary are two of the Spartans' biggest question marks entering the season, and both groups had their moments. J'Michael Deane looked very impressive in drills, executing a pancake block against a defender in the half line drill. DiNardo liked what he saw from center John Stipek and guard Chris McDonald, while Griffith was impressed with left tackle D.J. Young. The analysts feel Michigan State can replace three starters up front, but the right side of the line is a bit iffy and depth might be a problem.
After watching the show and talking with Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi earlier today, I think the secondary will be younger but better this fall. Michigan State allowed far too many touchdowns and recorded far too few interceptions in 2009. But the cornerback spot should be better as Johnny Adams rejoins the mix. Both DiNardo and Griffith like Michigan State's freshman defensive backs: Mylan Hicks, Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond. "He's picked up the defense, and I think you’ll see him early in the season," DiNardo said of Hicks.
DiNardo likes the depth at cornerback but isn't at confident about the safety spot after Trenton Robinson and Marcus Hyde.
Freshman running back Le'Veon Bell looked very impressive in drills and gained a big fan in Griffith. Although projected starter Larry Caper is no slouch at 5-foot-11, 220, Bell just looks bigger on the field. His best work came in a pass-blocking drill against the linebackers, and he also showed a nice sidestep in a one-on-one edge rushing drill. "Tremendous pass-blocker as a freshman," Griffith said. "He can flat-out play. I would not be surprised if he ends up being the starter for this offense. He's the total package." When Revsine reminded Griffith about Caper and Edwin Baker, Griffith replied, "[Bell] gives you something that those two don't." Baker, to his credit, showed great wheels in the edge rushing drill.
The linebackers had their ups and downs. Heralded incoming freshman William Gholston bowled over fullback Adam Setterbo in a drill and the analysts marveled at his frame. But DiNardo added, "You can tell he's just getting started." In a pass-rush drill, the running backs seemed to get the better of the 'backers, even starters Greg Jones, Eric Gordon and Chris Norman. Redshirt freshman linebacker Denicos Allen, who earned praise from Griffith for his play, had a nice move against running back Nick Hill.
Like me, the BTN analysts love Michigan State's depth at both wide receiver and tight end and say the offense should allow them to be featured with reverses and other plays. Receiver B.J. Cunningham looked good on a seam route, and DiNardo wondered how the Spartans' defensive coaches haven't stolen 285-pound sophomore tight end Dion Sims for their side of the ball. "He's a biggin," Griffith said.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins told the BTN crew about having "a license to lead" this year as the clear-cut starter. He also has been talking to his MSU predecessor, New England Patriots reserve quarterback Brian Hoyer, about being more mobile. Hoyer's answer: Be like Tom Brady. "[Hoyer] says Tom may not be the fastest guy, but he may be the most mobile quarterback in the NFL because he can avoid the pass rush so well just by sliding one way or the other," Cousins said.
Aside from tackle Jerel Worthy, the BTN crew wasn't wowed by the defensive line and said Michigan State must scheme its way to more pressure without blitzing a bunch of linebackers.
Head coach Mark Dantonio said the place-kicking situation remains unsettled.
DiNardo said the key for Michigan State is a strong start in a favorable schedule. Griffith predicts the Spartans to win nine or 10 games. "I think the momentum is starting to come back," DiNardo said.