With a full year as the starting quarterback under his belt, Michigan State junior quarterback Brian Lewerkeenters the 2018 season looking to build off a strong 2017 campaign as he’s set to lead an offensive unit with high expectations as it returns 10 of 11 starters from last year.
Both Lewerke and Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio was on hand at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago and both spoke about the improvements Lewerke made during the offseason and where the offense stands heading into the fall.
During his time in charge in East Lansing, Dantonio has coached several high-level, productive quarterbacks, including Kirk Cousins, Connor Cook, and Brian Hoyer, who were given different levels of autonomy to run the offense at Michigan State. After a breakout season a year ago, Dantonio said Lewerke will have that same opportunity this fall.
“He’s got that same freedom,” he said. “He’s in control of the offense, he’s a big communicator, he’s got a decision to make with where to go with the ball, RPO’s he’s got a decision to make what to do with the ball, keep it, throw it or hand it off. So he has a lot of decision making ability, he’s going into his fourth year and I just think Brian’s going to try and do his best, he always will. He’s a very calm and collected individual, he’s cool under pressure, does not get rattled and he’s got a big arm. I think his persona as a leader - he’s very much a leader for our football team - gives him credibility, he’s got street cred on our football team when you talk about it.”
As a sophomore a year ago, Lewerke threw for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns while also rushing for 559 yards and five touchdowns as well.
With lofty expectations for the 2018 season, Lewerke said that he’s spent plenty of time in the offseason working to improve his game, which includes working with a personal quarterback coach and watching film.
“I’ve done both, I have my quarterback coach in Arizona I go to every time I go home, obviously I’ve been watching film, I’ve watched all of my plays from last year, the spring game from this year even though I didn’t get a ton of plays,” he said. “But I think as you get older you can gain experience and you kind of grow into your body and just be more focused.”
Another aspect that will play a pivotal role in Lewerke’s success this fall is the fact that the Spartans return a deep receiving corp, which is now one of the most experienced groups in the Big Ten after being one of the most inexperienced position groups in college football just a year ago.
“Last year we had a limited amount of offensive production coming back - last year at this time - we had 12 catches on our team coming back, this year we have 150-160 with three players,” he said. “We have a proven quarterback, we have an offensive line that has much more experience, we started a redshirt freshman and a true freshman and another true freshman played a lot on our offensive line and they’re good players, we started sophomores on the left side. We’re a more experienced team on offense, that needs to lend to more production and points. Can’t turn the ball over and have to score in the red zone but I think that we have playmakers on offense, established playmakers and then we have some young players who are coming. It’ll be interesting to watch.”
Another position group that the Spartans and Lewerke are excited to see in the upcoming season is the offensive line, which returns four starters and Lewerke expects the unit to have a big season once again next season.
“They’re young still, they’re young but they have experience, which is good,” he said. “Most of them have played in games and big games and I think that will translate very well for this season.”
Although the starting job is set with Lewerke for the foreseeable future, the Spartans also have plenty to look forward to down the road with redshirt freshman quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who will serve as the backup this fall, and true freshman Theo Day.
Dantonio said that while Lewerke is the starter, he could see Lombardi receiving key playing time next fall and also didn’t rule out the possibility for Day to see the field as well.
“I think that when given opportunities, we’re going to play our other guys,” he said. “Now, do you want to put them into crunch (time) situations and put the pressure on them at a very high level? We may do that. But it will all depend on what kind of August both he and Theo Day have. But I do think they are poised, those are two good quarterbacks - Rocky Lombardi’s an excellent football player and Theo Day has shown great promise as well. So if we can give them an opportunity to play, that’s a positive to me, but they have to have great August camps.”
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