The tone in Chicago could not have been more different from Mark Dantonio this year compared to last. Instead of boasting about returning stars and the opportunity to stay atop the division, Dantonio tried to sell gathered reporters on Michigan State’s ability to climb out of the ditch.
There was plenty of real information to take from Big Ten Media Days for MSU fans. Dantonio’s answers, combined with comments from the three senior representatives Jack Allen, Gerald Holmes and Chris Frey, make it clear the direction the Spartans are headed.
Brian Lewerke is bigger, stronger and leading the charge
Quarterback Brian Lewerke was the assumed starter heading into the start of the season. While Dantonio fell short of confirming that, anyone listening knows Lewerke has Dantonio’s full support.
Dantonio compared Lewerke to current NFL quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook, and took every opportunity he could to mention Lewerke’s increased weight.
"He's got game experience. He's almost up to 220 pounds, he's got a great arm, he's very cool under pressure. I think he understands our players. I think he's a very quick learner."
"We've got four good quarterbacks. Four guys that are big, four guys that have Big Ten abilities. I've been impressed with all of them at one point in time. But right now I think Brian Lewerke, I think is a little bit of a cut above and we're looking forward to his progress."
Holmes, Allen and Frey all echoed similar comments about Lewerke, specifically mentioning his ability to lead the team as a redshirt sophomore.
LJ Scott isn’t alone in the MSU backfield
While there is no question who the featured back will be for the Spartans, junior star LJ Scott won’t be the only one taking handoffs. Dantonio specifically mentioned Madre London. As Chris Vannini pointed out, there is a good chance that London will be the lead back at the start of next season, getting him more experience could be important for the Spartans going forward.
There are problems bigger than football
The biggest story from the MSU offseason was the players dismissed following multiple sexual assault allegations. The Spartans head coach didn’t shy away from answering questions on the topic. Both Dantonio and Frey spoke about the educational programs the team went through following the sexual assault cases.
However, actions speak louder than words. If MSU players continue to get in legal trouble, Dantonio’s cultural base may erode quickly and become a bigger force in any administration decision making than anything on the field.
The Spartans are young, but not without leaders
Time after time the MSU representatives at the Big Ten Media Days were reminded that there are only nine scholarship seniors on the team. But the Spartans believe they have leaders in place. In addition to Lewerke, Allen is expected to be the director of the offensive line and Holmes has already taken a leadership role.
“Coach D calls on leaders, and I was one guy who stepped up, and I’m comfortable with doing those kind of things,” Holmes said to the assembled media. The running back said he has started assembling player-only meetings where anyone from freshman to seniors can have a chance to speak their mind comfortably.
Part of the 2016 problem, according to Holmes, was a lack of player leadership. If that is to change, Holmes may need young, inexperienced players to step into leadership roles quickly.