Michigan State 2019 spring football preview: Can offense bounce back?

Mark Dantonio's team finished a disappointing 7-5 last season. Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Spring practice can't come soon enough for Michigan State, which is looking to get the bad taste of the 2018 season out of its mouth. After finishing 7-5, and following that up with a loss to Oregon in the Redbox Bowl, the Spartans are looking for a fresh start.

There were issues across the board on offense last season and the team found itself in close games primarily thanks to its defense.

To show the stark contrast between the two groups, the defense ranked 11th in yards per game while the offense ranked 115th in offensive yards per game.

Instead of making any coaching changes, Mark Dantonio decided to reshuffle his assistants, giving out new roles to most of them. The most notable change is quarterbacks and running backs coach Brad Salem moving to offensive coordinator, and former co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner and Jim Bollman filling Salem's old spot.

If those personnel changes and a few healthy players on offense can spark enough change, spring in East Lansing should be an improvement over how the season finished in December.

2018 record: 7-6 (5-4 Big Ten)
Spring practice starts: March 12
Spring game: April 13, 2 p.m., Spartan Stadium

Biggest question of the spring: Will the offense show improvement?

The Spartans had injuries across the board at different times throughout the season and were depleted along the offensive line, at wide receiver and eventually at quarterback. Even when healthy, though, they struggled on offense.

Quarterback Brian Lewerke seemed to regress in 2018 after throwing for 2,793 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2017. Lewerke passed for 2,040 yards, eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2018.

He dealt with an injury of his own after hurting his throwing shoulder and was never able to fully recover throughout the season.

The offensive line had issues as well, which impacted the run game. Michigan State ranked No. 114 in rush yards per game last season. Connor Heyward, the leading rusher, had only 529 rush yards.

With Salem taking over as offensive coordinator, it's unclear how much the offense will change or if Salem will bring a new philosophy to a somewhat stale and predictable offense. Keeping Lewerke healthy and getting him back on track, improving the run game and solidifying the offensive line will be big points of emphasis this spring.

Position group to watch: Offensive line

The answer really could be quarterback, wide receiver or running back, as all of those position groups need to improve from 2018. But no group needs to show more improvement than the offensive line.

David Beedle is the only offensive line starter Michigan State is losing, but having experienced players doesn't necessarily mean better results will come. This is a group that allowed 26 sacks for a loss of 192 yards on the season.

Former offensive line coach Mark Staten was moved to special teams and tight ends, with Jim Bollman now coaching the offensive line. Maybe that new voice can help this group. If there isn't improvement, the offense could have issues once again.

Instant-impact addition: OT Devontae Dobbs

Typically, offensive linemen aren't instant-impact type players, but Michigan State landed the five-star offensive tackle in the 2019 class and it couldn't have happened at a better time.

Dobbs is 6-foot-5, 304 pounds, and could play early along this offensive line that needs an infusion of talent.

2019 game to get excited about now: Arizona State

Michigan State lost its second game of the season in 2018 to the Sun Devils and that loss started the Spartans' eventual spiral. The team has a chance to start the season off on the right foot in 2019 with Arizona State coming to East Lansing for the third game of the season.

If Michigan State can get off to a 3-0 start, it would do a lot for the team's confidence ahead of a stretch that includes Northwestern, Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State all in a row. A win against Arizona State is almost a necessity for the Spartans to have an improved season.