The Michigan State Spartans began spring practice on Tuesday, March 23. After finishing with a 2-5 record that earned them a last-place finish in the Big Ten East during a pandemic-altered season, it was apparent that first-year head coach Mel Tucker's program needed some changes.
Those changes will be front and center during the spring session, driving any and all narratives that come out of East Lansing well into the summer.
The 2020 season was a bit of a mulligan for Tucker and his staff, given the lack of a spring season a year ago and his late hire in February. In 2021, the Spartan faithful will demand tangible results. With work to do on both sides of the ball, this year's spring practices are key to Tucker's challenge of returning the program to relevancy.
5 Storylines To Watch During Michigan State's Spring Practice
1. Nine new starters on offense
Michigan State fielded what was statistically the worst offense in the Big Ten in 2020. No single position group was to blame, as everyone struggled. With so many new faces on that side of the ball, it will be crucial for Tucker to get that unit to jell now as opposed to when practices ramp up at the end of the summer. Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson will be under the microscope as Spartan Nation keeps a close eye on that effort.
2. The quarterback battle
Payton Thorne is the man with the most experience as a signal-caller in a Spartan uniform, and he'll have a chance to compete for the starting role again heading into 2021. His primary competition for that role will come in the form of Anthony Russo, who transferred in from Temple. Russo has an NFL body and arm, so many believe he has an inside track on locking down the role. That said, he was average at best during his time at Temple, and he will need to prove that he can play winning football in the Big Ten. That all starts by having success against his own defense this spring.
3. Who will be the workhorse back?
Workhorse running backs have become an integral part of Michigan State's identity and success over the years. Last season, they simply didn't have a player who could carry that load and play the role. Help may be on the way in the form of two Power 5 transfers: Harold Joiner III from Auburn and Kenneth Walker III from Wake Forest. Those two will join a crowded running back room, and they could be the top candidates to be the "next guy" in Michigan State's backfield.
4. Can the offensive line maintain momentum?
The brightest spot for the Spartans in 2020 was the offensive line — at least toward the end of the season. The unit fought through some tough times and continued to improve as the season went on. Now they'll have a spring session to sharpen things up a bit. Michigan State returns four players on the offensive line with significant starting experience — including center Matt Allen and left tackle AJ Arcuri. They'll also add talent and depth in the form of Arkansas State transfer Jarrett Horst — a former All-Sun Belt Conference selection.
5. The emergence of impact defenders
Tucker and his staff are going to get it right schematically on the defensive side of the ball. He and defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton are going to need a couple of players to step up and be game-changers on the field to give the unit its identity. Some of the players who will be looked upon to fill those roles will be defensive end Drew Beesley, linebacker Chase Kline, and cornerback Kalon Gervin./p>
— 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.