Michigan State’s 2022 spring “game” played out much like head coach Mel Tucker’s press conferences: briefly, concisely and somewhat ambiguously.
Of course, select things were addressed and others made clearer, while others were largely left up to interpretation during Tucker’s postgame media availability on Saturday afternoon.
Tucker described the offensive line as “banged up,” and it was. The Spartans only dressed eight offensive linemen for the spring game, and two of them are converted defensive linemen (Evan Brunning and Jacob Lafave). Other key players were missing, too. Fifth-year senior tackle Jarrett Horst headlined notable absences along with senior linebacker Quavarius Crouch, redshirt sophomore tight end Maliq Carr, fifth-year senior cornerback Ronald Williams and others.
But from the sequences of an abbreviated scrimmage, this much became clear: sophomore quarterback Noah Kim looks the clear No. 2 quarterback behind redshirt junior Payton Thorne, junior “football player” Darius Snow is everywhere at once, and the running back committee commissioned to fill Kenneth Walker III’s void is deep.
"Noah Kim has a lot of arm talent and has grown a lot since he has been here," Tucker said. But, Tucker made sure to also mention Fay and Houser. "It's a competitive position."— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) April 16, 2022
“Noah (Kim)... has a lot of talent,” Tucker said of the quarterback after initially shutting down any indication of redshirt junior Payton Thorne’s backup. “He’s grown tremendously since he’s been here. It’s a competitive situation. Out there you see Katin (Houser), and Hamp (Fay), and Noah (Kim). They’re all very talented guys. (Kim’s) willing to compete. He can throw it and he knows the system.”
That’s as close to a nod about a backup as you’ll get from Tucker. Paired with what Kim put on display Saturday, particularly on a precise deep ball “touchdown” to redshirt senior wide receiver Jayden Reed, one can make their inferences about MSU’s quarterback room.
As far as the tertiary guys, Tucker had much to say about redshirt freshman Hamp Fay’s development.
“As a (true) freshman, (he was) kind of bright-eyed, wide-eyed and things were going kind of fast, but things are starting to settle down for him,” Tucker noted about Fay. “And (offensive coordinator) Jay (Johnson’s) doing a really good job with him.”
The Texas native, standing at 6-feet-5 inches tall, clearly possesses the intangibles a coach seeks in a quarterback. Tucker also acknowledged as much.
“He’s an athletic guy, Tucker said about Fay. “He’s got good height. He’s got good arm strength and he can run. You can tell that he’s getting command of our offense. His confidence is high. I love to see young players develop like that.”
As far as big picture takeaways, Tucker of course touched on culture and the bolstering thereof he sees unfolding, as it pertains to fan interaction and recruiting.
Coach Tucker is once again thanking the 15,000 - 20,000 fans that came out today and joked "what was it, like 70 degrees out there with a nice breeze off the lake?" He said that it was good football weather.— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) April 16, 2022
“I think people are excited about our program,” Tucker said. “Football is very important here at Michigan State and people like what they see from us: the way we go about our business, and how we handle ourselves...It resonates with people…I really appreciate our fans that came out today. I mean, I knew that they would. It was good football weather today.”
The Spartan Stadium public relations team should be proud after those comments, but it was a good showing from Michigan State fans on Saturday.
An aspect of Tucker’s desired culture stresses a newfound emphasis on player leadership. Fifth-year senior Xavier Henderson is a guy many would point to as a player coach of sorts, both through his play and his demeanor when speaking to the media. But Tucker has seen this concept increase throughout the locker room.
"We have been working hard to become more of a player-coached team," says Coach Tucker about one thing that has impressed him the most this spring. "Guys are really stepping up and taking ownership of this team."— The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) April 16, 2022
“That’s been a huge point of emphasis for us, for our guys to hold each other accountable, confront each other and demand that they do things right,” Tucker said. “We’ve made some tremendous strides in that area. That’s not something that you can necessarily see like in a practice like that, but we see it every day in our meetings, in our walkthroughs, in the weight room and in our practices, how guys are really stepping up and taking ownership of this football team.
“It’s not just myself or coaches pulling guys and dragging guys through the process. Guys are embracing the process and pushing each other.”
In all, the brief sideline appearance by Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley and abbreviated scrimmage may not have been quite the experience the 40-plus high-profile recruits in attendance on Saturday would expect in a more traditional spring game format, but it seems evident that Michigan State’s style and the constructing of a tangible culture sure resonates with them.
“They (recruits) really like our staff; they really like our culture, our family atmosphere,” Tucker said. “When they talk to our players…the players tell them, ‘It’s really like this.’ It’s not just a recruiting pitch — when you get here, what they say they’re gonna do is what they’re doing.”