April 29, 2011

Your Green-White Game Viewing Guide

EAST LANSING - It's one of the nation's last spring games of the year, and arguably becoming one of the best. Michigan State is ready to put on a good brand of football, Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

Why is this one special?

First of all, it's an actual game. Seniors were divided by coaches, and the two groups of seniors drafted underclassmen to their teams on Wednesday. They practiced on Thursday, and they'll play for bragging rights on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., on real grass, beneath a blue sky, with a crowd of at least 35,000 expected.

They will play 10-minute quarters, with a five-minute halftime. Former Spartan greats will be introduced during the brief intermission.

It will look like football, feel like football, smell like football, sound like football. All of it. Head coach Mark Dantonio has been staging the spring game this way for five straight years. But this year, the Spartans are coming off a conference championship season which saw them hang in and around the Top 10 for most of the year. Michigan State is more nationally-relevant this spring than in previous years.

It adds up to a tasty gridiron appetizer.

The last day of April will be the first chance for Spartan fans to get a close look at several rising players that they have been hearing about for months.

Among the notables:

Redshirt Freshmen On Display For First Time

  • Tony Lippett, (6-2, 185, CB/WR, Detroit Crockett), Green.

    He dominated the headlines at the outset of spring. He's been quieter in recent weeks, but Dantonio was more emphatic than ever last week when announcing that Michigan State will use him on both sides of the ball in 2011.

    "He hasn't had a chance to show it on Saturdays in the fall but we are expecting big things out of him," said quarterback Kirk Cousins. "He is very smooth. He just shows a natural ability, good instincts, things you can't teach. And then when you add the fact that he is 6-foot-3 and he has great speed, there is a lot of upside."

    Lippett and Cousins will be on the same team, Saturday. Keith Nichol and Bennie Fowler will also be among Cousins' top targets.

    On defense, Lippett is likely to start at boundary corner for the White. He admits his defense was a little rusty in the latter half of spring when he moved to defense. White QB Andrew Maxwell may view Lippett as the weak link of the Green defense, and attack him with B.J. Cunningham and/or Keshawn Martin.

  • Mylan Hicks, (5-11, 187, S/CB, Detroit Renaissance), Green.

    Hicks was supposed to be the No. 5 DB for the Green. But then Jairus Jones went down with a major achilles injury during Thursday's practice. Now Hicks is likely going to be the starting strong safety for the Green.

    With Hicks and Lippett working the boundary side of the field, look for Maxwell to make initial reads to that side and test them.

    This fall, Hicks was supposed to be a third-string safety, and likely a scout teamer. But with Jones questionable for several months, Hicks' role may have just increased. Saturday might be the most important practice of his career thus far. Michigan State will need him to mature and expedite his development.

  • Travis Jackson, (6-3, 265, C, New Albany, Ohio), White.

    Perhaps the biggest story of the spring, Jackson has edged ahead of juniors Blake Treadwell and Ethan Ruhland in becoming the first-string center.

    Ruhland was a quality back-up last season, and started as a redshirt freshman at Notre Dame in 2009. Ruhland is not a bad player. But he is third-string now, and Jackson looks like a star-on-the-rise. Jackson, of Columbus DeSales, is also Exhibit A of an improving overall roster for Michigan State. Spartan fans will get to see him for he first time on Saturday, and then they may see a ton of him in the fall.

    "He's tenacious, he's smart, he's sudden," said offensive coordinator Dan Roushar.

  • Taylor Calero (6-3, 230, DE, Southfield Christian), White.

    With Corey Freeman missing the game and in the dog house due to an off-field transgression, there is an opening for a second-string defensive end. Marcus Rush may still have the inside track for the job, but Calero - probably the fastest d-end on the team - is charging hard.

    "Calero is the most-improved defensive lineman on the team," said defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. "He is a guy that right now, wow, we could put him in a game and he'll hang in there and do good things for us. He has some quickness and he plays with great leverage and understands what we're doing, and plays with great technique."

  • Marcus Rush, (6-2, 250, DE, Cincinnati Moeller), White.

    Rush has a great name and a respectable game. His high-effort style will make him a fan favorite.

    "Rush goes fast and plays hard all the time," said senior fullback Todd Anderson.

  • Nick Hill (5-7, 182, RB, Chelsea, Mich), White.

    One of the most prolific RBs in Michigan high school history, Hill showed improved pass protection this spring. He made some loud plays in scrimmaging, but was nagged at mid-spring by an ankle injury. He's supposed to be ready for this one. He'll be fired up.

    He'll share carries with Le'Veon Bell and Jeremy Langford, on Maxwell's team.

  • Jeremy Langford, RB, White.

    With other RBs on the mend, Langford had a scrimmage-high 47 yards rushing last week, including an explosive 17-yard TD.

    "That was against the twos," Roushar said. "He has popped some long runs, here. He is starting to emerge. Nick was out, and Larry has been out, so it has afforded him the opportunity to get a lot more work.

    "It was a tight end side zone play to our left. They ran an interior blitz and we kind of picked it up. Guys did their job and he made a nice run. He came inside and then broke it back outside."

  • Kurtis Drummond (6-1, 200, Masury, Ohio/Hubbard High)

    With Jones' injury, someone needs to step up and earn trust as the No. 3 safety in the program. Drummond has the size and ability, but is still raw after missing last fall. He could use a big Green-White Game. He'll be playing next to Isaiah Lewis against Cousins' team.

    Recently Promoted To First String

  • Will Gholston (6-7, 265, DE, Detroit Southeastern), Green.

    He went low in the draft because of questions about his health. "He looked pretty good to me in the last practice," Dantonio said.

    Gholston hasn't suited up before a crowd since November. He's the new first-string right DE. He'll be jacked up.

  • Isaiah Lewis (5-10, 199, Soph., Indianapolis Ben Davis), White.

    He's a hard-hitting star on the rise. Is he already as good as Marcus Hyde was last year? Maybe. And Hyde was second-team All-Big Ten.

  • Max Bullough, MLB, White.

    He's succeeding the great Greg Jones. Different style of player, but coaches expect him to eventually be better than Jones. He'll be going against Cousins' team, likely taking on redshirt freshman Niko Palazetti on lead plays. Buckle up.

  • Dan France (6-6, 304, Soph., North Royalton, Ohio), Green.

    Another major story of the spring, the France experiment became a permanent move. He will be in charge of Cousins' blind side on Saturday, and has the inside track to winning that role in the fall. He is improving rapidly.

    Will he be on the same side of the line as Denzel Drone? We don't know. Drone, Rush and Calero are the DEs France will face.

  • Denicos Allen (5-10, 218, Soph., Hamilton, Ohio), Green.

    Cousins wanted this guy on his team. Allen is the new first-string 'star' linebacker. He's quick, tough and compact. He'll offer a different style than we saw from Chris Norman a year ago, and he might eventually play it better. (Norman will move inside to Sam this fall).

    Allen was a standout in last year's spring game, when they turned him loose on blitzes. He'll test Todd Anderson, Nick Hill, Jared McGaha, John Deyo, Michael Dennis on blitz pick-ups.

    New-And-Improved Versions Of ...

  • Johnny Adams (5-11, 170, Jr., CB, Akron Buchtel), Green.

    He is the only returning starter on this list. He was second-team All-Big Ten in 2010 as a sophomore, but coaches and teammates wear he has taken it up a few notches.

    "You'll see," said safety Trenton Robinson, who made Adams the No. 1 overall pick on Wednesday. "All I can say is just look out for him."

    More specifically, they say Adams is stronger at the line of scrimmage, more combative and successful in snuffing release moves. He's always had the feet. Now he's smarter, bigger, stronger.

    "I want to see him on an island against Keshawn (Martin) and B.J. (Cunningham)," said Robinson.

    So do we.

  • Denzel Drone (6-2, 260, Soph., DE, Plant City, Fla.), White.

    Senior offensive players such as Anderson, McGaha and TE Garrett Celek were among the guys who apparently lobbied to take Drone ahead of Tyler Hoover. Saturday, we may find out why.

    Anthony Rashad White (6-2, 320, Jr., DT, Battle Creek), Green.

    Narduzzi says White and Worthy are the best DT tag team the coaching staff has had at MSU since they arrived. White has been a big-time performer this spring. Inquiring fans will want to see some of that, Saturday.

  • Zach Hueter (6-6, 324, Jr., OT, North Branch), Green.

    He still may be the quickest, most athletic o-lineman in the program. Prior to this spring, however, he had never been healthy for seven consecutive practices. This spring, he has answered the bell 14 straight time, for the first time in his college career. He ascended to No. 1 at RT on the depth chart, with Skyler Schofner out due to an upper body ding.

    We've been hearing about Hueter's wheels for three or four years. Saturday, he'll go against Drone, Rush, Calero.

  • Andrew Maxwell (6-3, 208, Soph., QB, Midland), White.

    He out-performed Cousins in the first two scrimmages, albeit against the No. 2 defense. But he has made the type of steady improvement throughout the spring that the coaching staff was hoping for.

    "I thought Andrew really threw the ball well in the last scrimmage," Roushar said. "He is more decisive. He has a lot of confidence and he is throwing the ball on time and very accurate and making good decisions."

    Said Maxwell: "The first two scrimmages did go well. I feel like I built from scrimmage to scrimmage. And now, my goal is to continue building.

    "Going into the spring game I feel like if I come out of spring and I'm not still improving and going up and if I end it on a flat note or plateauing, that is going to leave a sour taste in my mouth going into the off-season. I would definitely like to end it on a high note. That just comes from making good decisions, not trying to get too much, just trusting the people around me and playing team football."

  • Dion Sims (6-5, 277, Soph., TE, Orchard Lake St. Mary's), Green.

    Cousins made him the Green's first offensive draft pick.

    "Dion has tremendous hands, probably the best hands on the team," Cousins said. "He is 275 pounds, and doesn't run like it. There were times last year when I would throw the ball out of bounds or guys were covered and the thought went through my head: If Dion was in there, we would probably complete that pass. He is just a unique athlete and he creates problems for teams."

  • TyQuan Hammock (6-0, 227, Soph., MLB, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers), Green.

    MSU fans loved him on kickoff coverage last year at 240-plus pounds. Now he's down to a "ready" 227, and his slobber-knocker instincts will be turned loose against Bell, Hill and Maxwell's team.

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