EAST LANSING - Michigan State junior tight end Dion Sims is not expected to play Saturday against Iowa, head coach Mark Dantonio said during his weekly press conference, Tuesday. Sims went down with an ankle injury during Saturday's victory at Indiana.
"He won't play this week," Dantonio said. "It's a sprain. You just don't know how that's going to respond in the next couple of weeks."
Sims is Michigan State's leading receiver with 24 catches.
With Sims out, redshirt freshman Paul Lang and junior Derek Hoebing received the majority of Michigan State's tight end reps at Indiana. Sophomore Andrew Gleichert also saw action. Gleichert played a major role in Michigan State's opening-night victory over Boise State as a blocker, and as a receiver on MSU's game-winning drive.
Hoebing, Lang and Gleichert are new to the playing group this season.
"We have limited experience, but they have grown," Dantonio said of Sims' back-ups. "They gotta play. It's a big-boy league. They've got to play and grow up fast.
"They know the offense. They know things conceptually. We have guys who can catch the ball, we just have to do what we do a little bit."
Gleichert and Lang each have one catch on the season. Hoebing has yet to make a catch in his Michigan State career.
Lang and Hoebing were each utilized as play-side blockers for crucial running plays at Indiana.
Michigan State looked to go deep to Lang as a primary read on a wheel route in the second half, but the play was covered and he wasn't targeted with a pass.
"(He) Lang is getting better," Dantonio said.
Lang missed last fall with a back injury, and there were concerns that he would have to retire from football in the spring.
"He's a guy that last spring actually had to move home for four or five months and take his classes on-line because of the therapy he was going through for his back. We thought he probably wouldn't make it. We thought he would probably be ruled out."
The Spartans entered fall camp not expecting Lang to be a contributor, but hoping for the best.
"We went very, very slow with Paul Lang," Dantonio said. "He's back where he can play. He's healthy. He is like a true freshman right now. He's getting stronger, getting bigger."
The 6-foot-5 Lang is listed at 255, but Dantonio says he is up to 260.
"He is quick-bodied," Dantonio said. "He can jump, he can run.
"It's been a tremendous story for him to even be on the field in fall camp. The things he has had to go through and endure to even play football this year is a positive story. It's a positive thing. All the good things for Paul Lang are in front of him."
Quarterback Andrew Maxwell is also excited about Lang's progress.
"Just looking at his physical size, he (Lang) is a big kid, a physical kid and he has been getting more physical as the season has gone on," Maxwell said. "He catches the ball well, runs routes well.
"Paul is a worker. Paul is a guy that is going to do whatever this team needs him to do.
"With extra load being put on his shoulders and Derek Hoebing's and Andrew Gleichert's, the three of those guys are going to be able to rise to the challenge."
Dantonio indicated that redshirt freshman Lawrence Thomas, who has emerged as an impact player as a starting fullback, will likely see his role expanded to include work at tight end.
"I think he (Thomas) figures in," Dantonio said. "He does because he is very much like a tight end. He's a guy that is very similar to Dion in a lot of respects. He's been figuring in and I just think he's a guy that can make plays for us."
Andre Sims To Return Punts
Redshirt freshman Andre Sims is listed as Michigan State's first-string punt returner for this weekend's game. He moves ahead of sophomore Nick Hill, who has mishandled three punts this season and nearly lost a fumble to Indiana in the late minutes of the game.
"We want to take the stress off of Nick a little bit," Dantonio said. "I do still have faith that he can go back there and catch a punt. But I think it's decision-making at times.
"A.J. (Sims) has been very consistent back there but he is a redshirt-freshman so we try not to put him in that situation. He has caught punts already in games. He's been good. He's a gamer. He has a great deal of confidence."