The Michigan State football spring game features five things to keep an eye on

The Michigan State football spring game features five things to keep an eye on ...

LANSING FAST On Saturday, football returns to Spartan Stadium.

The annual spring game for Michigan State (2 p.m., BTN) will not be the traditional format splitting the team in two as the schedule for a 15-period practice is set by scrimmaging. That is due to an, leading to a setup.

The Spartans set a new 11-2 record last year for the most single-season turnaround in program history. Mel Tucker, a third-year coach, appears to have the team on the rise and will be looking to close out the 15th and final spring practice with momentum heading into the summer.

In the spring game, here are five things to keep an eye on:

Eyes on the backfield

Michigan State needs to replace All-American Kenneth Walker III, who rushed for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns in his first season in the NFL, before returning to the team in January. The Spartans have re-established five scholarship running backs from last season Elijah Collins, Harold Joiner, Jordon Simmons, Donovan Eaglin, and Davion Primm, according to a letter from Colorado coach Jarek Broussard. He isn't expected to join

The Spartans' first rushing was "took a tremendous leap forward," according to new running backs coach Effrem Reed on Thursday. Collins led the Spartans in rushing in 2019 and Simmons did so in 2020 while Primm, who didn't play as a true freshman.

Michigan State will not be able to replicate what Walker brought to the team last year but has a wide spectrum of options. After the Peach Bowl victory against Pittsburgh, the Spartans already entered life without Walker, and Saturday will be a new look backfield.

QB for backups

Payton Thorne led out of the quarterback contest last fall and turned in a long season that enabled him to leave this year. While the depth chart behind him remains unclear, Thorne is the only quarterback on the roster who has taken a snap in college.

In addition to Noah Kim, redshirt freshman Hamp Fay, and true freshman early enrollee Katin Houser, Michigan State has a trio of other scholarship quarterbacks on the team. Kim, who came third on the depth chart last season, now has two years of experience in the system, and Fay is in his second spring with the team. Houser, a four-star prospect from California, has a shot to push for the backup spot.

Jay Johnson, an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said Thorne will have to play at an even higher level this season for the Spartans to take the next step. He also knows that Thorne was fortunate to take every meaningful snap last season and will need more than one quarterback to do so this fall.

Shuffle of offensive line

Only five offensive linemen have played in college in left tackle Jarrett Horst, center Nick Samac, right guard Matt Carrick, and left tackle Spencer Brown. During practice open to the media late last month, only seven offensive linemen participated including two walk-ons due to injuries and injuries. At the time, Samac and Brown were the only two teams who have taken a snap for the Spartans, and offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic said there was a chance to get one more

The depreciation up front has influenced practices, but has also given others more snaps. Younger players Dallas Fincher, Brandon Baldwin, Kevin Wigenton, and Geno VanDeMark will need to step up this fall to help fill out the two-deep, and those who are well-equipped on Saturday will get to demonstrate what they've got. It should also be a chance to see how the Spartans have played in many positions.

Newcomers on defense

Of the five transfers Michigan State added in January, four are on defense and all have introduced experience in linebackers Aaron Brule (Mississippi State) and Jacoby Windmon (UNLV), defensive end Khris Bogle (Florida) and cornerback Ameer Speed (Georgia).

Bogle might be an important addition on the edge after Michigan State lost both starting defensive ends. It will also be interesting to see how he performs while working with a pair of new Tucker assistants in defense coach Marco Coleman and pass rush specialist Brandon Jordan.

Both starting linebackers from last season in Cal Haladay and Quavaris Crouch, along with depth, but Crouch has been out this spring after missing three of the last four games due to an apparent knee injury. With Brule, a defensive coordinator, and Windmon at Mike, except for.

After winning a national championship with the Bulldogs last season, the Spartans are extending their length by six feet. He's part of a strong competition as the team returns four cornerbacks who started at least one game last season in Ronald Williams, Chester Kimbrough, Marqui Lowery, and Charles Brantley. Williams was wearing a cast on his right arm on Tuesday while recovering from an injury that left him out for the final four games last season.

Michigan State used the portal to build a defense that was last in the country in passing yards allowed last year, and Saturday will also be a look at offseason tweaks. Darius Snow, who started at both nickelback and safety last season, has been working at linebacker in the spring. Starters Xavier Henderson and Angelo Grose have both been working at both safety spots, as well as cornerbacks.

Looking for experienced rookies

The nine Michigan State scholarships early enrollees arrived in January to get a head start on adjusting to college, and Saturday will be their public debut with the program. Houser will have plenty of eyes on him, with Germie Bernard, a four-star receiver and former high school teammate, who has been praised this spring but was wearing a boot on his right foot during practice on March 29. Jack Nickel will be competing for playing time at a position that dropped his greatest player in Connor Heyward.

On the other side of the ball, four-star defensive tackle Alex VanSumeren was the highest-rated member of the class but is now part of what is the team's deepest position group, with three-star Chase Carter increasing length at the defensive end. Dillon Tatum and Jaden Mangham are among the four early enrollees, while three-star cornerbacks Caleb Coley and Ade Willie are among the four players involved in a secondary that will return all five starters but

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