Here is a great insider look from Spartan Nation's Jeff Dullack;
While Mark Dantonio previously stated that Brian Lewerke would enter the 2019 season as Michigan State’s starting quarterback, all signs point to redshirt sophomore signal caller Rocky Lombardi being more than ready for a competition if a battle for the starting job arises.
Lombardi, who appeared in seven games and made three starts in place of an injured or struggling Lewerke, had plenty of ups and downs in 2018 but showed more than enough flashes to prove he can handle full-time starter responsibilities in the not-so-distant future.
But while he showed those flashes last season, Lombardi hasn’t slowed down during the offseason as he’s been working with highly regarded quarterback guru Dan Manucci out in Arizona, sharpening some areas of his game as he looks to make a strong enough impression this spring and summer to perhaps force Dantonio’s hand to open the quarterback competition.
“I’ve followed Rocky throughout his high school career in Iowa and then going through all of his new plateaus – a state wrestling champion his junior and senior years,” he said. “So I’ve just been watching him, and his Dad would ask, “What do you think Dan?” and I didn’t have a chance to get my hands on him until about four weeks ago when he first came out. The first thing you notice about this young man is his want to – and what I mean by that is his want to get better, his want to learn, his want to get to the next level to get to be a professional quarterback, but in the meantime, not miss all of the hurdles that I’ve got to go over.”
Being friends with the Lombardi family, Manucci, who spent 10 years in professional football, including three years with the Buffalo Bills, following a successful college career at Kansas State, had the opportunity to watch Lombardi’s high school career and now college career from a distance, but after working with him one-on-one, he sees a quarterback who not only has the tools, but the willingness needed to be a successful quarterback.
“He’s a baller; he’s not only a quarterback, but he’s also a football player that knows exactly what it takes to win,” he said. “I feel like after being out here for three days he knows exactly what it takes to make it to the next level and he knows what it takes to be a leader on and off the field.”
Following an embarrassing 2018 season for the Michigan State offense, Dantonio, for some reason, was quick to put his confidence behind Lewerke as the team’s No. 1 quarterback rather than open up a position battle or even look into the transfer portal to possibly improve the depth at quarterback.
Dantonio defended that line of thinking, saying Lewerke’s experience and familiarity with the offense should be enough to give him the starting job heading into 2019.
“Brian Lewerke, I think understands our terminology,” Dantonio said back in January. “He's been successful here in the past. I think he can be successful and I have faith in that. And so I put my faith in the people that I know, and that's the direction we're going to go.”
Even though Lewerke’s struggles last season could be blamed on injuries, the overall struggles of the offense should have been enough for Dantonio to open position battles across the board as the Spartans look to return to form in 2019.
In his seven games under center, Lombardi threw for 738 yards and three touchdowns, but completed just 44.2% of his passes and threw three interceptions.
But now, as Lombardi turns his attention towards next fall, he spent time with Manucci trying to improve in a few areas, specifically with his mechanics
“We worked on several things, and he’s improved,” he said. “He’s a very quick learner, his balance is good, his arm strength is stronger than it was because he’s using more of his entire body instead of just his upper body. Now he’s using his legs, his torso, he’s staying upright, and he’s throwing the ball like a pro now to be very honest. He’s upright in his balance and his base – before he was a little more what I’d call a wild stallion and I needed to kind of tame him for him to kind of gear down, slow down a little bit. You know how those racecars go around the corner, they throttle down, so they stay under control and Rocky seemed to go around the corner out of control, and that’s why he’d kind of wipe out, to explain an analogy. Now Rocky is under control throwing the ball with his base and his balance, and I really feel like he’s at a point right now with his intangibles, he understands what he’s dealing with and another thing I told him was just to handle what you can do, don’t worry about anybody else but you, doing the best you can and being a great teammate and let everything else take care of yourself.”
When asked for his opinion regarding a potential quarterback competition, Manucci said that simply a competition would be a fair and equal way of deciding the position and added that it would settle the argument for the rest of the team as well.
“I love competition – now, if I beat you out in a fair competition, I would expect to be the guy unless I got hurt or unless something happened, so I love the competition part of it, and I know Rocky loves that competition part of it,” he said. “I know some of these coaches will say “He’s our guy,” but whoever is the starter, you still compete every day because you never know when that guy’s going to go down. You can’t feel sorry for yourself that you didn’t get the starting spot; you still have to prepare as if you’re starting and you’re the guy because if that guy in front of you goes down, guess what, tag you’re it and you better be prepared.”
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