Despite high hopes heading into the 2018 campaign, the Michigan State Spartans appeared to take a step back last season. The defense was decent, but not quite the dominant unit we've come to expect under Mark Dantonio. The offense — for a number of reasons — was simply not very good.
Heading into the spring, the majority of the focus will be on the offensive side of the ball. Michigan State was fortunate enough to not experience a mass exodus of talent. In order to capitalize on Big Ten East full of teams rebuilding and reloading, the Spartan offense will need to be able to adequately complement what should be an improved and solid defense.
5 Storylines to Watch during Michigan State's Spring Practice
1. How does the offensive coaching staff shuffle change things?
Head coach Mark Dantonio promoted former quarterbacks coach Brad Salem to the offensive coordinator position, while former co-offensive coordinators Jim Bollman and Dave Warner will now handle the offensive line and quarterbacks, respectively. Don Treadwell and Terrance Samuel also are swapping positions. Treadwell will take over wide receivers with Samuel now assistant defensive backs coach. Something needed to change, and the Spartan faithful are hoping that reshuffling the offensive staff will lead to better results on the field. The best-case scenario would be Salem dialing up an offensive attack based more on the strengths of quarterback Brian Lewerke. The relationship and communication between Salem and Lewerke is something to keep an eye on.
2. Fixing Brian Lewerke
Injuries doomed Lewerke's 2018 season, but there were issues even before then. The aforementioned coordinator change should help the veteran quarterback, perhaps boosting his confidence and comfort level while allowing him to play more and think less. Lewerke is a phenomenal athlete, and priority No. 1 when it comes to improving the offense should be utilizing his athleticism more effectively.
3. Offensive line improvement
The unit returns four starters — and that's fine — but the group wasn't very effective last season. The Spartans were ranked 114th in the nation in rushing. That number must improve, and it all starts in the spring. You could see a starter or two from last season lose his job, and maybe that's what needs to happen. Keep an eye on freshman tackle Devante Dobbs. His talent and playing style could set the tone and lift the overall level of play for the unit.
4. Finding a playmaker
Fixing Lewerke and improving the offensive line play should improve the offense, but the emergence of an elite playmaker — preferably at the receiver position — will be necessary if the Spartans plan on being serious contenders in the Big Ten East. Ideally, sophomore Jalen Nailor steps up into that role. He possesses the versatility to contribute beyond traditional receiving duties, giving Salem a unique weapon to utilize and add wrinkles to an otherwise straight-forward offense.
5. Improvement on defense
The unit was good, but not great in 2018. All signs point to the defense improving in 2019, and what we see in the spring will give us an idea of whether or not that will be the case. The biggest loss on the defensive side of the ball was the departure of shutdown corner Justin Layne. A handful of players will be competing to fill his big shoes. Keep an eye on Kalon Gervin and freshman Julian Barnett to emerge as front-runners for the job.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! SBNation and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.