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Spartans face questions in spring game

A month ago, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio previewed spring practice with at least a hint of urgency.

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That made sense, with the Spartans coming off a 7-6 season and needing to replace some standouts.

``Every spring is extremely important. It's very crucial,'' Dantonio said. ``We've got some redshirt freshmen who haven't played as much, we've got some guys who are inexperienced coming up, some other guys who were experienced and they need to take the next step and build on that experience.''

On Saturday, Michigan State fans will have a chance to evaluate the team's progress when the Spartans take the field for their spring game. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell enters his senior season with more experience under his belt, but he actually split time with Connor Cook in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl last year.

That competition is one to watch, and Michigan State also has questions to answer at running back after workhorse Le'Veon Bell left the Spartans early to go to the NFL draft.

Michigan State sets up its spring game with a player draft, which took place Wednesday. Seniors on both the Green and White teams drafted underclassmen position by position.

Maxwell's White team took center Travis Jackson first. Riley Bullough was the first pick at running back, by the Green team. He redshirted last season and is making the transition from linebacker to tailback.

``We wanted to make sure that he knew what he was doing. I sort of lost track and just threw the whole offense at him, and he did good,'' running backs coach Dave Warner said after a scrimmage last weekend. ``He's a smart kid, so he learns quickly. The quarterbacks in there helped him out a little bit too. So the bottom line is that he was running plays in there that we haven't worked on before.''

Warner was promoted to co_offensive coordinator in March, a position he'll share with newly hired tight ends coach Jim Bollman. Dan Roushar, last season's offensive coordinator, left to take a job with the New Orleans Saints.

Trae Waynes was the first cornerback selected in the spring game draft. He'll play for the Green team. Waynes appeared in nine games as a redshirt freshman last season, and he could be in line for a starting job after Johnny Adams' departure.

``We were close to the same size but he had a lot of experience on me,'' Waynes said about Adams. ``He knew the game a lot better than I did. I'm just trying to catch up.''

Adams was a senior, so his departure was expected, but Michigan State must regroup after also losing three talented underclassmen to the draft. Bell, tight end Dion Sims and defensive end William Gholston all left early.

The Spartans played nine games decided by four points or fewer last season, winning four of them. They can claim they were only a few plays away from a second straight appearance in the Big Ten title game, but there's plenty of room for improvement. Without Bell, Michigan State may need to lean more on the passing game.

``The toughness of Andrew Maxwell has never been a question,'' Warner said. ``You look at last year and he went through a whole season and got beat around pretty good. He played the last regular-season game (at Minnesota) with a very badly bruised elbow. Sometimes, we take his toughness for granted.''

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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