East Lansing, MI
Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans head into the coach’s tenth spring looking for a new QB. There are four potential young men vying for the spot, all talented, all gifted and all terrific young people.
Dantonio addressed the coming competition that began in earnest this week with the opening of spring football by saying, “Well, I think we have four quarterbacks. Obviously we have two guys with more experience, Tyler O'Connor. O'Connor will go in as the leader at that situation. But that's going to bear out over August camp and really over the first couple games. We'll see how everybody performs. But we're going to give everybody opportunities. Messiah deWeaver is one of those rookies. Brian Lewerke is one of those guys who redshirted. I think you'll see a much more experienced quarterback. Damion Terry is going into his fourth year, and then obviously Tyler O'Connor is going into his fifth year.”
Dantonio went on to add that, “We've got a lot of different levels of experience there, but with that, I think it'll be exciting quarterback race, and we expect great performance there. You've got to play, though, in the games and be consistent, be a playmaker.”
Dantonio went on to elaborated about the most important position on the field, “Really what do you learn? You look at 2013, we had no quarterback. The situation really in place after '12, we had some guys experienced, but we had competition I guess is what I would say. We go to the Rose Bowl. You look at this last year, we lose three players in summer camp that some may think are three of our better players in R.J. Williamson, Vayante Copeland and Ed Davis and yet we win a championship. We had numerous injuries this year, overcame those. So I'd say it's a crapshoot. I'd say that. I'd say it's pretty much a crapshoot.” In the past Dantonio has gone live with his quarterbacks. Allowing quarterbacks to take real hits from defenders in practice to simulate game situations is what going live means. Most people are not aware that at most college and pro practices the QB wears a red shirt to signify he can’t be touched. In the past when looking for a QB or when wanting to see a QB’s progression Dantonio has gone live with a QB, essentially no red shirt.
Does he plan on going live with the QB’s this spring? What are the benefits? “Depends how good they play. I think the pluses are you get to see them with true results at the end of a play. I think the negative is obviously you get a guy hurt. But I do think that you have to see them play in a competitive situation to find out can they make plays under duress. At some point in time you try and create that without getting them hurt. If that can't be created, then we'll turn them loose. That's what we've done in the past.”
Here is a look at the four Michigan State Quarterbacks
1) Tyler O’Connor 6’3” 225# RS Senior O’Connor reminds a lot of people of former Spartan star and current QB with the NFL Cardinals Drew Stanton. I have said numerous times on radio, TV, print and internet that coming out of high school he was the best high school QB I had ever seen. He is loved in the locker room, for his ability to lead and you saw him take the Spartans to an improbable win at Ohio State in 2015. It will be a shocking upset if he isn’t the starter when MSU kicks off September 2 vs Furman. He runs the ball well and is a controlled passer. You didn’t see his passing much vs. Ohio State in a monsoon, but like Stanton he isn’t the most accurate, BUT he is the most electric.
2) Damion Terry 6’3” 238# RS Junior Just like O’Connor a magnificent young man off the field. Terry is without a doubt the most athletic QB on the Spartan roster. He has not yet played at MSU with the confidence that he played with in high school, but clearly that comes with reps. Terry must be able to stay healthy so that he can show his athleticism. Don’t bet against the pride of Erie, PA but he needs to shine this spring. There is no more time to be the Spartan QB of the future. His time is now.
3) Brian Lewerke 6’3” 200# RS freshman I really like Lewerke, as a player and a person. Multiple Spartan players privately told me that going against him every day in practice he was impressive. More than one told me, “He is the best passer on our team,” and that was a team that had Connor Cook on it. He is accurate, gifted with a quick release and as one player said, “He can spin it.” Two different players told me last year that, “He reminds me a lot of Drew Brees.” He is being overlooked this spring and shouldn’t be. One other note, those same players that praised him all mentioned that it was an adjustment for him to size of big time college football. Throwing over monster offensive lineman and defensive lineman was difficult for him early, but he adjusted. I call Lewerke the Spartans “forgotten” QB, but no one with wisdom would do that. He is young, but this kid can play football.
4) Messiah DeWeaver 6’4” 212# Freshman Getting on the field for Messiah will be a difficult task. I fully expect a red shirt for the Spartan signal caller. He is in great shape and has a tremendous ability to lead. Arriving this spring is the only thing that even gives him a chance to play in the fall. I was asked recently on a national radio show ‘How big of a chance does DeWeaver have of playing in 2016’ and I said he has one foot on the sideline and the other on a banana peel. Not because he lacks talent, he lacks experience and the two most difficult places to earn Dantonio’s trust to play as a true freshman is QB and OL.
The QB battle will go into the fall. That is how Dantonio will handle it based on his words above, but there is no lack of talent at QB for the Spartans. That is a good sign. For now the job is O’Connor’s to lose, but Dantonio will do everything he can to keep it close. He likes the battle to strengthen a player. Even if one emerges early I do not expect that to become public.