EAST LANSING - Five games in and junior running back Le'Veon Bell may be proving to be even more valuable than anyone could have imagined before the start of the season.
Bell has already proven he is not immured to being an every down back, he has participated on special teams as a punt returner and after his performance as a pass catcher in Michigan State's loss to Ohio State, Bell could easily be considered a triple threat.
In that 17-16 loss to the Buckeyes, Bell finished tops in number of catches in the receiving game.
With the Buckeyes stacking the box with as many as eight defenders on downs, MSU chose to sneak Bell out of the backfield for dump offs ad check downs from quarterback Andrew Maxwell.
As a result, Bell finished with more receiving yards than he did rushing yards, 58-45.
It might be something Spartan offensive coordinator Dan Roushar might want to add permanently to the Spartans' offensive gameplan.
In his first four games, Bell totaled 12 receptions for 75 yards.
If teams are going to stack the box in an effort to quell Bell's running prowess, MSU may just have to continue with the strategy of making him part of the passing game that has already suffered from too many drop.
Bell likes the idea but knows it can't be forced into the gameplan.
"It's just going to depend on who we're going against. Our gameplan for Ohio State was just to try and get me open space in the passing game because we knew those guys would stack the box. So the idea was to get me out and get Larry (Caper) into the game a little bit more.''
A little bit more Bell could me a lot more offensive success for MSU.
"Hopefully, we're going to keep getting better at that and growing as an offense. Finding different ways to get me the ball and getting our playmakers more involved.''
PRO POTENTIAL: MSU may only be five games into the season but it doesn't look like it's too early to start talking about junior tight end Dion Sims as an early departee for the NFL.
While there are still some aspects to his game that need improvement, Sims is proving to be a quick study in terms of what it's going to take to succeed at the next level.
Already known for his good footwork and soft hands, the 6-foot-5, 285-pound junior has shown noticeable improvement in his blocking and the other intangibles of the game.
"Me getting better is just part of me working hard everyday in practice It's up to me to keep working hard on things I need to get better at.''
It was apparent what he had to do after watching film on Ohio State before MSU's game against the Buckeyes. While he may be known as more of a finesse tight end despite his size and strength, Sims added a higher grade of physicality to his game for MSU's meeting with the Buckeyes. Something he also knows he will need to concentrate more on in Big Ten play.
"After watching film, I knew their defensive ends were very physical and that they were known for being a hard-nosed tough team. I just felt like I had to step it up a notch (physically). I kind of stepped out of my box.''
As a result of his increasingly strong play, he enters MSU's game at Indiana as the Spartans' leading receiver with 24 catches for 313 yards and two touchdowns. He is averaging 13 yards a reception, numbers that might make opponents think he is a wide receiver in a run-dominated offense.
But that's all part of a skill set that has earned a No. 2 ranking from NFLdraftscout.com.
And his numbers may even be more impressive when you consider the fact that teams are making it more of a priority to take Sims out of MSU's offense.
"I can see that defenses are picking up on trying to keep me in the box so it's just pushing me and speeding (up) my work ethic to work harder, and to pick it up a little more. Even if (the ball) is not coming to me I still treat it as it is because you never know. The first option may not be there, the second option may not be there so it's just important to play all out.''
ONE ANGRY GUY: Indiana may want to keep tabs on where Denicos Allen is lined up on Saturday.
The normally even-tempered Allen was not in a very good mood on Tuesday after MSU's one-point loss to Ohio State.
"You're always upset to lose but losing your first Big Ten game at home, it really gets you going. We're upset and we're upset most that we lost by a point because we didn't get the last stop. So we've got a chip on our shoulder and we've got something to settle with ourselves.''
Allen's sour mood wasn't helped by the fact that as an Ohio native, he tasted defeat against his homestate school after finishing with just six tackles, two solo, with no sacks or tackles for loss.
"I don't think we played as fast as we should've in that game as linebackers. We had holes we could have hit but we were kind of hesitant and by the time we hit it, the linemen were on us. We just need to play faster like we usually do. I'm not happy with the pressure we're getting. We can get better pressure up front, winning on the line and winning on blitzes. Nothing's holding us back. We're just not pushing hard enough.''
Either way, expect stronger performances from the SAM backer and the entire defense in the weeks ahead.
"We've got to play a lot better up front. That's our main problem so far. I want to say we're not as physical as we were last year up front but we are, we're just not doing the job. We don't have everybody on the same page.''
Part of that may come with the loss of Jerel Worthy, now with the Green Bay Packers. Allen said, not only was Worthy a great player but a great communicator.
"Really, it's just communication. We've got to communicate with each other. Jerel Worthy was a great communicator last year. He'd talk to his d-line and make sure they knew what they were doing. We need more leadership.''
THE CURIOUS CASE OF DAN CONROY: Don't worry, fifth-year senior Dan Conroy is just as baffled as everyone else about his field goal kicking performance this season.
Two seasons removed from a 14-of-15 (.933) effort that earned him first team All-Big Ten honors, the Wheaton, Illinois native has regressed in field goals made.
Last season, as he junior, he converted just 17-of-23 (.739) kicks eventhough he scored 99 points, 12 more than his first full season as the starter.
This season though, his last as the team's field goal kicker, has produced some baffling and strange results.
He has missed at least one field goal in three of MSU's games.
On the season, so far the Lou Groza Preseason Watch List candidate is just 10-for-15, where he is just 2-for-5 from 40-49 yards and 3-of-5 from 30-39 yards.
"I've been trying to figure it out a little bit too. I'm happy that I'm responding well (after I miss kicks) and in some case I'm getting a good start but there's does need to be a consistency factor and right now that's not happening, so I have some work to do''
While he has been shaky on intermediate distances, oddly enough, he has mastered short and long distances - remaining perfect from 20-29 yards (2-for-2), while going 3-for-3 from 50 yards or more.
And the reason why? Conroy has no idea. He says he has changed nothing in his mechanics. So in an effort to straighten out his problems because you know there is going to come a time this season when MSU has a chance to win a game because of his foot, the 5-foot-10, 186-pound former walk-on is going back to the drawing board and the film room.
"Really, I'm just trying to look at all aspects because last year I didn't start the year off shaky. The previous year, I had a streak of 14, so I'm trying to get back to the mindset of what was I doing when I was on the streak. What was my attitude, what was I really doing. So I'm taking a look at that but I'll be back.''
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