Michigan State wraps up drills, hoping to spring forward
By LARRY LAGE
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Michigan State coach Mel Tucker hopes he doesn't have this long of an offseason ever again.
The Spartans fell short of being eligible for a bowl last year - a season after winning 11 games - in a fall marred by a melee in Michigan Stadium's tunnel.
“Sometimes you have to get beat up and get your face kicked in before you can really lay the true foundation - and that's happened,” Tucker said earlier this spring. “I know our guys are going to compete and fight. We have a chip on our shoulder and we know the areas we need to improve.
"We addressed a lot in recruiting. We have a lot to prove. Going through a season like that can build character.”
Tucker will wrap up spring practice Saturday afternoon at Spartan Stadium, where fans will watch a 15-period practice that will include first-string offensive players scrimmaging against the team's top defense.
On Friday, Tucker announced he dismissed linebacker Itayvion Brown from the team last month and said he was suspended in late February from team activities. Brown was arraigned Friday in an East Lansing court on charges of carrying a concealed weapon and possessing a weapon while under the influence on March 17.
“These are just allegations, and let us gather the facts and we’ll let the process play out,” Brown's defense attorney, Wade Fink, told MLive.com.
Brown was one of seven Michigan State players criminally charged for their roles in a skirmish that followed a loss to the rival Wolverines.
Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation after he faced a felony for swinging his helmet at a Michigan player and is still suspended from the team. Tucker recently said he did not have an update on Crump's status; the Big Ten suspended Crump for eight games in 2023.
Previously suspended players such as linebacker Jacoby Windmon, defensive back Angelo Grose and defensive end Zion Young were reinstated to the program and have been practicing.
“They’ve integrated well,” Tucker said. "They’ve been back with us for quite some time now. We're moving forward.”
Entering his fourth year of leading the program, Tucker is trying to move past his 2-5 debut, breakout second season and collapsing third year.
“It’s gong to be about what we do next,” said Tucker, the 2021 Big Ten Coach of the Year. “It’s not going to be about 11-2, 5-7 or whatever our record was in the COVID year.”
Even though quarterback Payton Thorne is back, Tucker has said more than once this season that he and every other returning starter - seven on offense and six on defense - has his job in jeopardy.
“Every position is open,” Tucker said.
Even Thorne's after starting the previous two seasons?
“It’s very clear that the quarterback position is open competition,” Tucker said. “He knows that, and all our quarterbacks know that. Competition is good. We’re expecting a pretty fierce competition.”
Thorne threw 27 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions two years ago with Kenneth Walker in the backfield. With Walker emerging as a rookie standout for the Seattle Seahawks, the Spartans struggled and Thorne was no exception. He threw one more interception and eight fewer touchdowns than in 2021, giving Noah Kim and Katin Houser a shot to start this year.
Kim threw one touchdown in three games last season, in his third year of college, and Houser threw two passes in one game as a highly touted freshman from California.
Tucker plans to let the competition linger, perhaps keeping it open during fall camp as the team prepares for its opener Sept. 2 at home against Central Michigan.
“It’s still an open competition and it’s going to be that way for a while,” he said.
Keon Coleman, who had seven touchdown receptions last season, likely will be the go-target regardless of who is the quarterback.
On defense, the Spartans are hoping to pick off more passes after they had just two interceptions last season.
“It’s a huge point of emphasis for us,” Tucker said. “We added some players defensively that we think are going to help us, but we have a ways to go.”
Tucker mined the portal, looking for experienced help on both sides of the ball with 12 transfers.
Tunmise Adeleye, a five-star defensive end when he signed with Texas A&M, will have a chance to help right away.
Jaren Mangham, who played for Tucker at Colorado before transferring to South Florida, and former Connecticut running back Nathan Carter are transfers talented enough to at least share carries with returning starter Jalen Berger.
Associated Press writer Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.
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Updated April 14, 2023