MSU has struggled with the position when backups (Damon Dowdell, Stephen Reaves) who were pressed into service , due to injury to unquestioned starter Drew Stanton, responded with mediocre performances at best.
MSU is making the position a priority and much emphasis is being put there in making sure there are not just two mediocre players, but a clear cut #2.
"Those guys have to compete and somebody better emerge. Last year at this time, there was not a clear emergence of one or the other and they fought it out pretty darn good. This year we expect for somebody to start to surface."
6-foot-2, 210 pound sophomore Brian Hoyer will get the first shot at being the #2 guy, but he'll have to be more productive than he was a season ago in limited playing time.
Smith is hoping that in the early portion of the non conference schedule against Idaho and Eastern Michigan, that he can get the #2 quarterback some extended playing time and reduce Stanton's exposure to injury.
Getting live repetitions in a game that counts is the best way to groom a quarterback to be ready for extended playing time in the event of injury and for his eventual role as the starter in 2007.
That's why its a point of emphasis for Michigan State that the #2 guy step up and define himself as the heir apparent. Smith says its by no means a 'slam dunk' that it will be Hoyer.
"Even though Hoyer would be listed at that spot right now, Dom's got a great chance," explained Smith of the competition.
Smith said that last year, his hands were tied because he had to worry about burning Natale's redshirt, but now those worries are gone.
Smith explained that with both players no longer worried about their eligibility 'clocks ticking' he can have a true competition at the position.
Hoyer won't give up his position with out a fight. A highly regarded recruit coming out of Cleveland's St. Ignatius HS, Hoyer completed 29-of-46 passes (.630) for 313 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in three spring scrimmages a season ago.
Hoyer got into parts of five games last year and completed 15-of-23 for 167 yards, two touchdowns and sported a lofty 154.9 passer rating.
The sophomore freely admits that running isn't his strong suit. "I like to sit back there and throw," Hoyer told the Lansing State Journal.
"I'm real confident in my arm. But I'm not slow. It's not like I don't like to run. If I get out there rolling out and I don't see any receivers, I'll definitely take it down and get the yards.
"Any time you have competition, it's always going to bring out the best in you," said Hoyer. "If [Natale] does something good, you'll want to pat him on the (butt), but you're gonna want to go out there and do something better."
Because he is a freshman, Natale won't be allowed to speak to the media this year, but because he has a little bit more mobility, he brings a dimension that Hoyer does not possess and that excites Smith.
"Dom brings some athleticism to the field. [If] Dom develops the way you'd like from a mental standpoint, it would be a good competition."
Behind these two are redshirt freshman Clay Charles, a virtual unknown who came the program from McCall-Donnelly HS in McCall, Idaho and junior John Van Dam.
For Hoyer, this is the make or break time. If he can separate himself from Natale, he knows he will be the starting quarterback in 2007, if he allows Natale to close the gap and perhaps surpass him, it could mark the begining a long two years and the dubious distinction of being a career backup.
Let the competition begin.