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Notes & Quotes: Michigan State football continues upward trajectory through spring ball

Several Michigan State players and coaches spoke about the progression of the program thus far.

Michigan State cornerback Ameer Speed
Courtesy of Michigan State Athletics

The Michigan State football program has now completed five spring practices, including two practices in full pads, as the Spartans work toward the team’s spring game on April 16.

Following the team’s practice on Thursday, several Michigan State players and coaches spoke to the media about how things are going for the Spartans.

Michigan State offensive coordinator Jay Johnson thought the team took a big step forward last season, but feels like the team has to do “everything a little bit better” during the 2022 season. He says the offense needs to “mesh things together a little bit better.”

Johnson liked what he saw from quarterback Payton Thorne last year, but he knows Thorne still has a lot of growing to do and a lot of potential he hasn’t reached yet entering his redshirt junior year. Johnson says Thorne’s development is of the utmost importance for the Spartans this coming season.

“One of the big emphasis for me is to get Payton Thorne to even play at a higher level,” Johnson said. “He was really really good last year. He was very solid. But I still think as he and I have reviewed things and he and I have talked, the growth for him I think is really there. I think for us to take that next step, I need to see that growth from him.

“It’s really just blending everything together. We’re going to still have to run the ball well, you’re going to have throw the ball well. We need to be better in situation ball. We were solid in the red zone, but we need to increase our touchdown production there, and we need to do better on third down — particularly on some of the more shorter distances, (that) needs to get corrected and fixed. So that will be kind of the focus as me move forward.”

While Johnson looks forward to seeing Thorne continue to improve as the staring quarterback, he also noted that he has been impressed with the guys behind him on the depth chart. Johnson says he’s been “pleased” with redshirt sophomore Noah Kim, that redshirt freshman Hamp Fay is “300 percent” than he was last year and that true freshman Katin Houser is “doing some things.”

Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne
Courtesy of Michigan State Athletics

Newly-hired defensive line coach Marco Coleman, who came over from Georgia Tech, also spoke to the media on Thursday. He discussed what he’s seen from the defensive line thus far and why he chose to come to East Lansing.

“It was a good opportunity,” Coleman said about coming to Michigan State. “I think where the program is, Coach (Mel) Tucker, those were probably the motivating factors. And also, a little more responsibility (at MSU). Coming from as a defensive ends coach (at Georgia Tech) to now having responsibility of the whole defensive line is, I guess, another step in my progression in my career, also.”

Coleman also discussed his relationship with newly-hired pass-rush specialist coach Brandon Jordan, and how well the two have been working together.

“Ultimately, defensive line is going to be my responsibility,” Coleman said. “But Brandon (Jordan)’s specialty in the pass rush really bodes well to bring a whole different element and take it to another level and focus. It makes it really good (to have both of us) because you have, normally, a coach who’s got all those guys and is trying to get a lot of stuff down, it creates an opportunity to kind of separate and get a little more attention. And it helps the players out because of the focus and development in the particular area.”

Courtesy of Michigan State Athletics

Additionally, Coleman credited the past play of defensive tackles Jacob Slade and Simeon Barrow, calling them “really good players” and “really good young men,” but wants them to “develop some consistency” and “get better.” Coleman says it is his job to make sure they get better.

Coleman also say his favorite player so far is defensive end Jeff Pietrowski.

As for Pietrowski himself, he has enjoyed working with Coleman in the short time they’ve been together.

“It’s been great so far with (Coach Coleman),” Pietrowski said. “In just the short time we’ve had he’s made a big difference, and I think I speak for the guys, we all like him a lot and it’s been a great transition.”

When asked about Coleman calling him his favorite player, Pietrowski was delighted, but knows there is plenty of work left to do.

“He’s a great football player, good coach, so I’m happy about that, but we’ve got a lot more work to do,” Pietrowski said about Coleman. “Hopefully I stay his favorite player throughout the next couple years.”

He also complimented the coaching of Jordan and talked about how much the defensive ends have already learned from the pass-rush specialist. Pietrowski says Jordan has blown his mind.

“Just (Coach Jordan’s) process is something I’ve never been around,” Pietrowski said. “Clearly, there’s a science to it. You can flip on the tape and look at the NFL guys he’s been with, and it translates. As a pass rusher, you get really excited watching it, and you get excited watching the NFL guys, and you get excited watching yourself because you can see yourself getting a little bit better, watching your teammates get better. His process is awesome.”

Pietrowski appeared in all 13 games, which included three starts in 2021. Pietrowski played 483 defensive snaps last season, which he says was a “huge experience” and led to a “huge amount of development.”

Michigan State defensive end Jeff Pietrowski
Courtesy of Michigan State Athletics

On the offensive side of the ball, Tre Mosley is another guy who got a lot of playing time last season. He played in all 13 games, including 608 offensive snaps, and recorded career-highs in receptions (35), receiving yards (530) and touchdowns (three).

For this year, Mosley — who is expected to be a top-two wide receiver on the team along with Jayden Reed — says his focus is on becoming a better leader for his teammates.

“This year is just really taking a leadership role,” Mosley said. “We have a lot of young guys in the (wide receivers) room, and not that many guys with that much playing experience, so just taking them under my wing and showing them the ropes, and also getting better myself, so that’s definitely my goal this season.”

Cornerback Ameer Speed, who transferred to Michigan State from Georgia this semester, also spoke to the media on Thursday. Speed talked about why he chose MSU and how he is adjusting.

“I think what brought me to Michigan State was really just the culture I’ve seen Coach (Mel) Tucker building,” Speed said. “And I already had a strong relationship with (secondary) Coach (Harlon) Barnett from the past, and me and Coach Tucker already had a good relationship from the past, and me and Coach Tucker had a good relationship while I was there at Georgia.”

As Speed mentioned, he played for Tucker at Georgia while Tucker was the defensive coordinator for the Bulldogs in 2017 and 2018.

Speed says there are a lot of similarities between the Michigan State program and the Georgia program, which just won a national championship for the 2021 season. He thinks he has seen the same consistency in work ethic and attention to detail at MSU that he saw at Georgia, and also thinks the Spartans are “close” to being a true national championship contender.

The full videos with comments from Johnson Coleman, Pietrowski, Mosley and Speed can all be viewed below.