by Dave Miller
March 25, 02014
Michigan State begins spring practice on Tuesday as Big Ten coach of the year Mark Dantonio enters his eighth season in East Lansing.
Let's take a look at some of the issues facing the Spartans as they prepare for their spring game on April 26.
Connor Cook threw for 332 yards in Michigan State's Rose Bowl win.
Cook continues to evolve: Connor Cook's development throughout last season was a sometimes overlooked reason why the Spartans were able to win the Big Ten and beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl. The 6-4, 218-pounder eventually won the starting job under center and finished with nearly 2,800 passing yards and 22 touchdown passes against just 6 interceptions en route to being named second-team All-Big Ten quarterback by the league's coaches. This offseason he has trained with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield and is poised to pick off right where he left off, which was throwing for 332 yards against the Cardinal in the team's win in Pasadena on New Year's Day. And his job is made a bit easier when he has a tailback like Jeremy Langford, who seems to get stronger as the game goes on, as well as a group of receivers that rebounded from a disastrous 2012 season.
Ascent of the receivers: While the Spartans expect Cook to continue his development under center, the team also expects rising junior Aaron Burbridge to live up to his immense talent in 2014. He caught 29 passes for 364 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman, and he began last season on the Biletnikoff Award watch list. But he struggled a bit out of the gate before a hamstring injury helped limit him to just 22 catches for 194 yards and no scores. Fellow junior DeAnthony Arnett will also be on the spot as he finally appears comfortable since arriving via transfer from Tennessee. Arnett's quickness has been lauded on the scout team, and he's added weight over the last year while redshirting. A stronger frame could bode well for him as he looks to break out this fall. The receiving corps is deep and improved, led by Tony Lippett, Macgarrett Kings Jr. and rising senior Keith Mumphery, but getting Burbridge and Arnett to play up to their capabilities would make this corps even more dangerous.
Remaining hungry: Dantonio will be adamant about making sure his team remains hungry despite last season's incredibly successful campaign. Handling success is always a challenge for any team, especially one that loses a lot of valuable veteran leadership, particularly on defense in the case of the Spartans (i.e. Max Bullough). The good news for this team is that things get serious very quickly in the new season: a trip to Oregon on September 6 at rabid Autzen Stadium. A nonconference win would put MSU squarely in the College Football Playoff discussion, although we still don't quite know how that will work.
Taiwan Jones is listed atop the spring depth chart at middle linebacker, moving over from the weakside spot, where Darien Harris now resides on top. Ed Davis is listed as the No. 1 strongside 'backer.
Keep an eye on safety Demetrious Cox, a sophomore who could be the next star in the team's defensive backfield if he can further acclimate himself to coordinator Pat Narduzzi's system. Cox is currently listed as Kurtis Drummond's backup. Meanwhile, RJ Williamson is No. 1 at Isaiah Lewis' vacated safety spot, while Darian Hicks will try to fill the void left by Darqueze Dennard at cornerback.
MSU has to replace three senior starters on the offensive line, so position coach Mark Staten will be working hard to determine who fits best where. Blake Treadwell (left guard), Dan France (right guard) and Fou Fonoti (right tackle) are all gone.
Dave Miller, the college football editor and writer for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.