EAST LANSING — While the well-publicized battle for the starting quarterback job didn’t get any easier for the Michigan State football coaches in the Spartans second preseason scrimmage , the MSU receiving corps continued to show that their battle shouldn’t go unnoticed.
After a season of inconsistencies and disappointment, the Spartan wide receivers are one of the many question marks for head coach Mark Dantonio’s offense coming into the 2013-2014 campaign. Despite the lack of an eye-witness from the media, and based solely off press releases and Dantonio’s word, the receiving group was impressive during the closed-scrimmage on Saturday
Sophomore receiver Andre Sims Jr. — who had five catches for 60 yards in the first scrimmage — led the Spartan receivers with seven catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. Junior DeAnthony Arnett has continued his impressive play this preseason as he had five catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Bennie Fowler, the lone senior in the group, caught three balls for 44 yards and two touchdowns, and sophomore Aaron Burbridge added three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown.
Dantonio noted that he was impressed with his receivers ability to make plays down field, something that will be huge for a MSU offense that is lacking an experienced big-play player at any other position.
“DeAnthony Arnett and Bennie Fowler played the ball well down the field,” Dantonio said. “Tony Lippett came up with a big catch (41-yard reception to set up the last touchdown). Especially in the second half when we started clicking a little bit, the offense made plays and that was great to see.”
The battle for playing time has gotten very interesting with the noticeable improvements of players such as Sims Jr. and Arnett, who both didn’t get many opportunities last season. Sims Jr. played in 13 games for the Spartans but only grabbed three passes for 23 yards, and Arnett mimicked Sims in receptions but had 69 yards in seven games.
With the experience of returning upperclassmen like Keith Mumphrey (led the team with 42 catches last year), Fowler, and Lippett, mixed with the development of guys such as Burbridge, Sims Jr., and Arnett, this year’s receiving group seems to be leaps and bounds ahead of where they were at this time last year.
There is no better “problem” in sports than players making coaching decisions as difficult as possible through positive play and competition, and for Dantonio, the ability to create has been emphasized immensely throughout camp.
“We have to keep competing,” Dantonio said. “There are positions still up for grabs. Whether you’re a two or a three, how did you play? The ones are pretty well set on defense. Offensively, we have some guys we need to continue to look at and evaluate, but it’s a good problem to have as long as they’re making plays.”