April 9, 2014

SPRING FOOTBALL: Arnett, catching up, catching on

EAST LANSING - If timing is everything for a wide receiver, then junior wideout DeAnthony Arnett seems to finally be getting his down in the Spartans' offense.

The junior and former Tennessee transfer, who has pretty much sat on the sidelines for the past two seasons while other MSU receivers have moved past him and pushed him off the depth chart is showing signs that he can do all of the things required of him in Michigan State's offense.

He had a nice outing in the Spartans' first jersey scrimmage with five catches for 67 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown.

His work and work ethic in practice has drawn praise from both head coach Mark Dantonio and position coach Terrence Samuel, who both commented on his toughness and willingness to do all of things required for him to be in a wide receiver rotation that will feature the likes of experienced returnees Tony Lippett, Keith Mumphery, Macgarrett Kings Jr., Aaron Burbridge, R.J. Shelton and Andre Sims Jr.

Dantonio even went as far as to say that Arnett was moving up the depth chart, where he began spring practice No. 3 at the X-wide receiver.

"It's just been about coming in, working and making plays,'' said Arnett, who has just four receptions for 76 yards in eight games over the past two seasons. "Coming in everyday, working on my technique and trying to do all of the little things Coach Samuel wants me to do, and continuing to get better.

"As far as blocking, knowing where to go on the field, my correct depth and just being where I need to be and where the quarterback needs me to be. Attacking the ball, not going out of bounds, running guys over if you've got to and just being aggressive at everything you do, like snatching the ball away from defenders.''

Arnett's rise has also been about being aggressive with recent opportunities.

Minor injuries have sidelined some of MSU's veteran receivers, affording Arnett more chances to prove himself. And to his credit, he has recognized those opportunities and is jumping at them. That has given him more confidence about what he can bring to an already strong and deep receiving corps.

"I just think I bring versatility,'' Arnett added. "I'm pretty much a guy that can do anything.''

And 'anything' may be what not only gets him on the field but keeps him there when the season begins in August.

Especially when you consider that MSU will not only be looking to replace the 36 catches and team-leading 622 yards and 6 TDs among wide receivers of departed Bennie Fowler but will also be looking for a pass catcher who can stretch the defense on deep ball routes.

"His quickness, I think, is what sets him apart from other guys,'' junior quarterback Connor Cook said. "He's able to come out of breaks really fast, and on one-on-one routes, he can make guys miss. You get the ball to him in the open field and he can make guys miss. That's what he brings that's different from the other guys.''

Arnett, who has made himself a more physical target by taking his previously 175-pound frame up to nearly 190 pounds, said much if not most of his improvement can be attributed to just maturing after getting adjusted to a new system, a new culture and a new way of doing things.

Cook agrees.

"I feel like he's not thinking. Last year, he would think all of the time and he didn't know where to line up, and this and that, but now you can tell he's been in the playbook (and spent) the entire offseason watching film on past guys and watching film on himself, and things he needs to work on,'' Cook said. "You just see a hungry guy, a guy who wants the ball and you want to get him the ball. DeAnthony is just playing football. He's been playing mistake-free football and he's just going out there and making plays.''

That transformation has also included being able to handle the emotions that accompany a student-athlete worried about an ailing father in his hometown of Saginaw - Arnett's main reason for transferring to MSU was to be closer to his father.

"He understands the offense (and) I think he is in a nice rhythm with his surroundings now with his family situation,'' Samuel said. "He is just in a good place right now. You can see he is playing fast, he is catching the ball, he is doing the things that we expected (him) to do last year."

While the adjustments have been tough, on many levels, Arnett said he never lost sight of what it meant to be a good teammate, even before he announced last season that one his main goals was to make sure he wasn't being selfish.

"I've always been a team guy. I mean when you're sitting there and you're watching other guys, you have no choice but to help because they're trying to win. And that's the goal. The goal is to win. That was and is my whole thing is to win and help the other guys.''

For Samuel, it's even more than that. Arnett's improvements in attitude are now showing in all areas of his play.

"We expect our guys to block. Not to say that being other places that expectation isn't quite there. But our expectations are that you get out there and you be physical and prevent your guy from being on the play,'' Samuel said. "I rode him on those things. Those are things that we hold dear, and you've got to be able to do that. Once he started to buy in and understand what a Spartan wide receiver is, like I said he has been going good now."

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