EAST LANSING - Twenty-two things to look for during today's Green-White Game.
When Green Has The Ball
Connor Cook at quarterback, obviously. He will be playing QB for both teams. He'll be the center of attention for most fans, for most of the day.
Cook has taken all of the first-string reps since Andrew Maxwell went down with a knee injury midway through the spring, and Cook has doubled up with some of the second-string reps. He's been busy, and taking advantage of it.
"The bumps and bruises have come. It's disappointing," said Michigan State offensive coordinator Dan Roushar. "But we'll benefit in other ways. Having Connor take every rep, he's getting better. It's unfortunate for Andrew and unfortunate for our offense but at the same time, Connor's got to be ready."
Cook was 15-of-34 for 144 yards with 1 TD during last week's scrimmage.
"Connor had a whole bunch of passes that he got to throw, and he is getting comfortable in the pocket, which is good to see," said offensive line coach Mark Staten. "He has guys buzzing by him and he is standing there strong and zipping it out there. That's what we need right now. We need our receivers catching as many balls under the lights, so to speak, as we can."
The Big Ten Network lights will be on today. Cook says he is looking forward to it. He has played on television before, in the Big 33 Classic and the Ohio North-South All-Star Games. Those games were fun. This one could be too, but the stakes, steaks (and franks) will be higher.
2. Jeremy Langford at wide receiver. Langford (No. 33 in Green) has been a stock-on-the-rise talent in the second half of the spring. He was unspectacular in bouncing around from tailback (last spring) to cornerback (last fall), back to tailback (at the beginning of this spring). Then he landed at wide receiver in early April and has been improving rapidly. Dantonio wanted to try him at WR because he said Langford has too much "plus" athletic ability when carrying the ball in space. What we didn't know is that Langford could track the deep ball and make the intermediate grab. That has been a pleasant surprise to the coaches.
Teammates backed up the positive claims of the coaching staff when they made him the No. 2 WR selected (behind Andre Sims) in the spring draft.
3. Mylan Hicks will be a starting CB for the White (No. 6). He'll match up against the likes of Langford and Mumphery. Hicks redshirted in 2010 and then missed most of 2011 with an injury while playing scout team safety. He got on the field for the first time as a Spartan in the Outback Bowl, making a tackle on kickoff coverage, and feeling mighty good about it.
He moved back to CB this spring. An injury to Darqueze Dennard has given him some time in the two-deep for most of this spring. He could use a loud performance today to make a statement toward trying to earn a spot in the two-deep for the fall. This will be Hicks' first work in front of a live crowd at Spartan Stadium. This is important to him.
4. Darien Harris at 'star' linebacker, wearing No. 45 for the White. He is the most pleasant surprise of the spring. He is the only player to move from second string to first string during the spring, unseating Taiwan Jones for the interim No. 1 spot at 'star' linebacker while Chris Norman recovers from off-season surgery.
Harris is fast, physical and somehow he moved ahead of Jones in the knowledge department too.
5. Keith Mumphery will be Langford's tag team partner at WR, wearing No. 25 for the Green. He has had a sore knee of late. He was the best WR in the first week or so of the spring and he'll try to recapture some of that vibe in this game.
6. The interior o-line trio of Travis Jackson, Blake Treadwell and Chris McDonald at center and the guard positions for the White. The o-line has taken it up a major step this spring. They have been lauded for improved double-team blocking. Watch for these three to work with quick, physical precision in trying to get some creases for Bell, and perhaps Langford at RB.
7. The interior d-line of Tyler Hoover and Brandon Clemons will be in the trenches against that o-line trio. Hoover is still trying to make the transition from d-end to d-tackle. He'll have a lot in his lap today. (Micajah Reynolds will be a second-string DT for the White. He has had a sluggish spring and could use a spark today.)
8. Denzel Drone will be the second-string TE for the Green team and is generally regarded as the No. 3 tight end on the roster. Drone has been a spot starter at defensive end in his first two seasons at MSU, but the Spartans needed to manufacture some depth at tight end and Drone received a look this spring. He's done pretty well, and all indications are that he will stick at TE for the fall.
Can he block up to MSU's standards? Is he fluid with the catch? Apparently he can. They'll need it from him, or someone, in addition to starter Dion Sims in the fall.
Drone wears No. 42 now, by the way.
9. Skyler Burkland at left tackle for the Green. This will be the first time we've seen him since he was lost for the remainder of the 2011 season with a knee injury at Notre Dame. Like Gleichert, he'll be battling against Rush and Heath.
10. Le'Veon Bell at tailback. He's one of the best in the country. Dantonio says Bell won't be getting 30 carries on this day. MSU used to hold Javon Ringer out of the Green-White Game entirely. It will be interesting to see how much work (or how little) Bell gets. If you're at the game, get there early. You might not see him much after the opening minutes.
11. The White safeties: Isaiah Lewis and R.J. Williamson. The safeties drew some criticism from Dantonio last week. He didn't like some of the missed tackles in space. Saturday, they'll get at least a few doses of Mr. Le'Veon Bell. Meanwhile, Mr. Langford is no box of chocolates in the open field after the catch, either.
Lewis missed most of last week's scrimmage due to an exam in his anthropology class. Williamson (No. 26 in White) is a second-string free safety who has been trailing Kurtis Drummond by a small margin all spring. Lewis usually works with Drummond. Today, we'll get a chance to see Williamson with Lewis. Lewis used to rely on Trenton Robinson's knowledge last year. Today, Lewis needs to take his vocal leadership up a notch and work in concert with Williamson.
Safety is an area in which MSU needs and expects to reload. Dantonio hasn't quite been satisfied with things up to this point. Today is the final exam of spring semester for Williamson and we hear he may be a gamer.
When White Has The Ball
12. William Gholston is always worth the drive to the stadium. He'll be working against bona fide Big Ten starters in Dan France and Fou Fonoti. France and Fonoti are much improved over last year, but it might not look that way against Gholston.
13. DeAnthony Arnett (No. 5 in Green), the transfer WR from Tennessee. He's still getting a handle on his new team's terminology, spacing and so forth. He has had a good, not great, spring. But he's talented, and he's a showman. He'll want to have a great, not good, spring game.
14. Anthony Rashad White was terrific in the Capital One Bowl. Is he ready to make a habit of it? He'll likely be playing the three technique today and needs to get some movement on reserve guards Connor Kruse and Arthur Ray Jr.
15. James Kittredge is competing with Hoover for a No. 1 job at defensive tackle, as Anthony Rashad White's tag team partner. Kittredge, a sophomore transfer from Vanderbilt and former four-star recruit, impressed coaches and teammates as part of the scout team last fall. He followed up with a quality spring.
Kittredge and Rashad White will be playing side-by-side today. That gives the Green the best defensive interior of the two teams, plus Gholston. They will be a handful for the second-string trio of Kruse, Allen and Ray inside. Don't be surprised if White and Kittredge make a lot of noise.
Can MSU get as much ball out of Kittredge (No. 91 in Green) as they got out of Kevin Pickelman a year ago? Maybe not yet. But it's not out of the question. And if it happens, this defense will take a major step toward repeating as a national Top 10 defense. Kittredge makes his Spartan Stadium debut today. Enjoy.
16. Niko Palazeti is the new full-time guy at fullback. Palazeti (No. 38 in White) succeeds the graduated Todd Anderson. Palazeti is settling in nicely as a tough, mobile, hammer at about 250 pounds. I expect him to become a "plus" fullback, like Anderson was, and become the first three-year starter at fullback at MSU in years. Not bad for a former two-star. MSU didn't sign him as a means of moving the needle in the recruiting rankings. They signed him to move some d-ends and linebackers. We'll get our first extended look at the new-and-improved Niko today.
17. Andrew Gleichert will start at TE for the White, wearing No. 92. Gleichert is MSU's No. 2 tight end on the depth chart. Michigan State is trying to manufacture some depth at the position. It's one of the few areas of thinness on the roster.
Gleichert, a walk-on from Ann Arbor Huron, caught a nice 25-yarder last week. He says he missed a reach block or two last week as well. He wants to improve his blocking. Today's game gives him a chance to feel good heading into the summer and establish a little more trust with the coaches.
18. Shilique Calhoun created a lot of buzz last year on the scout team, and during the first two weeks of the spring. Calhoun (No. 89 in Green) has been dinged up a little bit in the last 10 days. He may not have all the RPMs today. But if he does, the coaches say he has rare burst at the position.
19. Jack Allen is a star in the making as a guard or a center. He is MSU's second-string left guard, closely battling Treadwell for the No. 1 job. In this game, Allen (No. 66 in White) will be playing center. He's a tough, low-to-the-ground brawler. Enjoy his Spartan Stadium debut today. You'll be seeing a lot from him in the next four years.
20. Larry Caper had 105 yards rushing last week in one of the better feel-good days for Caper in a few years. Can he serve as Bell's running mate in the fall? He has size, strength and straight-line speed. This spring he has tried to make the transition from being a make-you-miss back to a guy who can put his head down and get the tough yard. We'll get a look at the transformation today.
21. Andre Sims Jr. The tough little freshman had fewer drops than any WR on the team throughout the spring. Last week he made the catch, and tough yardage after the catch, to set up the game-winning field goal. He's a little guy at 5-9 and about 190. He's compact. He looks like a TB in build, and we hear he kind of looks like one when skittering around with the ball, too.
22. TyQuan Hammock had a big Green-White Game last year. His chances of ever becoming a starter have waned since then (due to the emergence of Max Bullough as a star), but Hammock is closer to nailing down a regular role. This spring, he looked like he was good enough to start for at least half of the teams in the Big Ten. MSU can use that in the fall, to reduce the wear on Bullough, and also as a means of getting mid-series adjustments done on the fly. Don't be surprised if Hammock puts up big numbers today.
23. Trae Waynes at cornerback. We've been hearing that he is one of the fastest guys on the team. At 6-foot-1, 175 and still filling out, they say he has some punch to him too. That's why Dantonio has mentioned him as a possible candidate at safety. We'll see Waynes today (he will be No. 15 in dreads) against Sims and Arnett.
24. Jeremy Gainer (No. 47 in Green) was a surprise as the No. 2 defensive end taken in the spring draft, ahead of Heath and Shilique Calhoun. Gainer moved to d-end during the winter after three seasons on the scout team as a pudgy linebacker. Is Gainer for real? We may get some indicators today.