Michigan State: Biggest concerns with offensive coordinator change
Brad Salem is the new offensive coordinator at Michigan State this season, a year after the Spartans struggled to move the ball almost all year. Any time you rank near the very bottom of any national rankings, that’s never a good thing.
It was time for a change, but Mark Dantonio, ever the loyal boss, simply shuffled the deck chairs instead of cleaning house. Salem, an offensive assistant with the Spartans for 10 years now, takes the big chair, but former MSU coordinators Dave Warner and Don Treadwell are also still on the staff.
It begs the question: How much are things really going to change?
It’s easy to write off 2018 to injuries all across the board, but the guys who actually were out on the field all take the blame for underperforming as well. They are all looking forward to 2019, but even among the players and coaches, there is trepidation. That’s why there’s been very little talk from anyone about what changes we’ll see.
Other than the fact that there will be changes, for sure. Still, there are concerns.
“I don’t think anyone is proud of the performance we had,” Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke said of the 2018 debacle.
The new-look Spartans make their debut on Friday night with a home game against Tulsa. (Gametime: 7 p.m ET; TV: FoxSports1) After a month of camp and trying to spit out that bad taste from a year ago, they seem ready to play a game. At least their head coach thinks so.
“The message to our football team is: It’s game day, game time,” said Dantonio, who’s starting his 13th season in East Lansing and has a career record of 107-51 with the Spartans. “I don’t care if you bench 400 pounds, or run a 4.5, or 36 vertical inches. I don’t care if you are a preseason All-American. I don’t care if you had a tough year last year. It’s time to get ready to play. Our mindset has to be ‘let’s go.’
“That’s where we’re at right now. That’s the mindset that we’re in. That’s where we’re going with this. We’ve got good players, got a lot of guys back with experience. We should play fast and know exactly what we’re doing and bring it on Friday night.”
Playing fast has been the only hint we’ve gotten so far, and that’s certainly a different look for a Spartans offense. Speed and tempo should help, especially with a senior quarterback like Brian Lewerke at the helm. He’ll know the playbook well, and should be able to execute better this season, now that his shoulder is 100 percent and his mindset has changed.
He wants to get back to being dangerous back there, throwing well but running when he has to — or wants to. That part of his game disappeared last year.
“I think (I was trying to do) some stuff that NFL guys like to see,” Lewerke said. “A guy that stays in the pocket and goes through his reads and tries to protect his body. I may have focused on that. I took away the creative factor of my game. And I’m going to try to combine the best of both.
“Using my legs was a big part of my game and I kind of want to get back to that.”
That might be one of the biggest changes we see from Salem, because a first-time coordinator on a major stage is prone to rely on his veteran quarterback. Lewerke is up for that, and is ready to have a big year.
The running game is critical, too, because it was awful last year. Dantonio has liked what he’s seen from that group, and guys will share caries. …
“Pretty fluid. I see that running back situation being very fluid,” Dantonio said. “Guys are going to get opportunities especially in the first game of the season. Connor (Heyward) has had a good summer camp, been impressed with really all of our running backs in summer camp. They’ve adapted to some of the new things, been able to retain other things. So we’ll see how they play.”
We’ll see. That’s the popular phrase this time of year. And the spotlight will certainly be shining bright on Brad Salem and the Spartans offense.