Spring Football Primer
Updated: Mar 22
Here we stand. Over a year has passed since Mel Tucker was hired as the head football coach at MSU, and while he has already coached 7 games we're finally a day away from his first day of spring football practice. The roster has been completely overhauled, the staff has started to shape their vision, and we will get our first off-season opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at the new boss in town.
When we start examining the "things we're looking forward to seeing" or "breakout candidates" on the roster there is a lot to keep an eye on. New faces litter the program be it via the transfer portal or early enrollee freshmen, we have a full-fledged QB battle, and on top of that Spartan Vision is producing a Hard Knocks style peek behind the curtain throughout the off-season program. All that having been said, I will take a stab at giving you some things to keep an eye on as the attention of the MSU community turns from basketball to football.
I don't want to spend too much time on this, as the topic will be beaten to death from now until season's end. The incumbent, Payton Thorne, comes into the off-season with some momentum with his best football coming in his final game against Penn State with 325 yards and 3 TDs. After starting the season sitting behind Rocky Lombardi, Thorne finally got a chance to show his ability against Indiana in a game that was already out of hand. The first real opportunity came against Ohio State where, while he failed to pull MSU back into a game that was, again, already out of hand, he showed enough to the coaching staff to earn the start against PSU, and ultimately pushed Lombardi out of the program. The challenger, Anthony Russo, is a product of the transfer portal, coming in with 27 games of experience and 44 TD passes. The winner of this battle should give us some insight into what this coaching staff prioritizes at the position as Russo gives the traditional strong armed pocket presence, while Thorne is the mobile game-manager.
Offensive Line Starting 5
The way I see it, two offensive line positions should be locked in. JD Duplain has been the Spartans' best individual offensive lineman since he cracked the starting lineup against Illinois as a true freshman in 2019. Nick Samac took over the starting center spot in week 2 against Michigan and after a solid season, should be locked in his position. This leaves LT, RG, and RT still to be sorted out. AJ Arcuri dealt with injuries in 2019 but started all seven games in 2020. The staff also brought in Jarrett Horst who started 19 games at Arkansas St and was voted 3rd team All-Sun Belt. The common thought at this point is Arcuri likely holding onto his LT job, while Horst moves to RT and Kevin Jarvis moves back inside to his more natural guard position. On top of all of that information, we could be welcoming back Jordan Reid who opted out of the 2020 season after starting 26 consecutive games at RT for MSU. Keep an eye out for Matt Carrick, Matt Allen, Blake Bueter, and Spencer Brown as key reserves who could crack the lineup.
Defensive Backfield Shakeup
Of everything I'm looking forward to seeing over the course of the spring, the defensive backfield might be the most fascinating. Shakur Brown is headed to the NFL after a breakout season, recruiting darling Julian Barnett is headed to Memphis, Chris Jackson is transferring to Washington State, Davion Williams is going to Western Kentucky, and Dominique Long remains in the portal. Incoming are Chester Kimbrough from Florida, Marqui Lowery from Louisville, Khary Crump from Arizona, and Kendall Brooks from North Greenville. Kalon Gervin's spot at CB and Xavier Henderson's spot at S are safe, but who starts alongside them is still to be determined. Angelo Grose proved to be more than capable in 2020, but was best suited in the nickel, Michael Dowell showed some potential in a couple starts last year, Tre Person struggled but brings some experience at S, and Darius Snow was one of the best players in his class last year and has a lot of fans. How exactly it will shake out is anybody's guess.
We discussed the start of spring ball on the podcast this week and you can listen to our discussion here: