After the meteoric rise and early departure of wide receiver Devin Thomas to the NFL, the Spartans will be looking to replicate his astounding success that seemingly came out of nowhere last season.
"Last year was much the same as it is right now," coach Mark Dantonio said before practice this week.
The Young and the Fearless
Like a year ago, MSU is looking for a receiver (or two) to boldly rise to the top of the heap and provide vital balance to their pro-style offense.
The immediate candidates for the spotlight appear to be a couple of youngsters.
"Probably the top two receivers are Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham," Dantonio said. The soon-to-be true sophomore and redshirt freshman have the inside edge as senior Deon Curry has been hobbled by a bad back and will remain sidelined for the remainder of the spring.
The injury bug hit Cunningham as well, and although the slight setback may have put a hiccup in his development, Dantonio's not worried. "He'll be fine," he said.
The more important issue, Dantonio noted, revolves around the athletic ball-catcher's experience in live action.
"B.J. has been like any other normal freshman that's been red-shirted … they have to read the coverage, they have to do things they're depended on doing, so there's a little bit of a learning curve there," he said.
But, again, the head coach frets little over the Ohio native's ability to catch-on fast. "He's going to be fine," Dantonio said. "He has great ability."
As for Dell, a year of experience provided him with some first-hand knowledge of what the offense expects out of a stud receiver, and although it's still early, he has yet to replicate the blazing path of Thomas.
He "played a lot, had some success last year for us," Dantonio said, "but someone's got to distinguish themselves. So we're looking forward to who's going to be that guy … Mark Dell certainly has the ability and I would say he has the game experience right now."
The Unusual Suspects
Junior Blair White has been a surprising performer throughout the end of last season and into the spring. Dantonio describes the 6-foot-2 athlete as having had a "good spring" and points to his prior contributions as important to the team.
"He's been a dependable guy," he said, noting his "great offseason" and his "great jumping ability."
Such steady performance will undoubtedly solidify the squad's depth, along with contributions from the other side of the ball.
Cornerback Chris L. Rucker has jumped into the WR mix (with support from Dell and others) and looks to play a similar role to what T.J. Williams (no longer with the team) provided last year going both ways.
"Chris L. Rucker has shown the ability to catch the ball," Dantonio said.
Rucker's namesake, Chris D. Rucker, is an intriguing young player as well. The Detroit native, who redshirted last season, was a high school All-Stater and hopes to contribute in any way he can, as a receiver or on special teams.
Senior Carl Grimes provides game experience and maturity to a group that will likely see an influx of competition in the fall with the addition of heralded players such as incoming freshmen Fred Smith and Keshawn Martin.
In the meantime, Dantonio is looking for a spark anywhere he can get it and notes the competition for valuable playing time amongst the rest of the contenders.
"Everyone else is trying to fight to get in the mix," he said.
Spring Game Assignments
Green Team: Dell, Grimes, and White.
White Team: Cunningham, Chris D. Rucker, Chris L. Rucker, Cam Martin, and Ryan Allison.