On display at the annual Michigan State spring game was reloadable talent (notably at the wide receiver and running back positions) that coach Mark Dantonio has assembled and developed in an attempt to propel MSU into the stratosphere of the major national programs.
Enter redshirt freshmen WRs B.J. Cunningham and Chris D. Rucker, along with pre-Dantonio era recruits Andre Anderson and A.J. Jimmerson at RB – four young, developing players expected to help fill the void left by departing Spartans.
Learning from the Best
With starter and preseason All-Big Ten candidate Javon Ringer sidelined for the spring game, Anderson and Jimmerson were given a glorious opportunity to jockey for position on the depth chart. Despite not being in the game, Ringer still served as a mentor to the young running backs from the sideline.
"Oh yeah, definitely (Ringer has served as a mentor)," Anderson said after the game.
"If you saw when I came to the sideline he was always asking me 'what did you see at the front? Did you see this? What were supposed to do on this play?' and that play things like that so he's definitely helped me out as a coach. ... He played a big role out there."
Anderson, with 61 all-purpose yards (28 rushing, 33 receiving) and a touchdown, outshined Jimmerson, who was splitting carries with Ashton Leggett.
Anderson's most remarkable play was on the second of his four catches where he caught the ball just in front of the line of scrimmage, sprinted past several defenders and ended up 35 yards downfield at the White 18 yard line.
Jimmerson rushed the ball only four times, netting seven yards to go along with a catch for 10 yards.
Redshirt freshmen wide receivers Rucker and Cunningham wouldn't let the running backs steal the show, though.
Rucker kicked things off less than a minute into the game, scoring from 55 yards out on the same kind of bubble screen pass that made Thomas such a threat last season.
"Coaches don't pressure us about it, but we know with what Devin did last year we have to step it up this year," Rucker said.
"Watching (Thomas's) film from last year to see where he came from, he changed over a whole year and I feel that all of our receivers right now can do that. It's a big motivation."
Rucker's game closely resembled some of Thomas's big-play performances from last year, finishing with three catches for 90 yards and two TDs, one of which was a spectacular jump ball grab in the endzone.
But Rucker knows that to develop into the player that Thomas was for the Spartans will take a lot of work, and he is setting his expectations high.
"I want to continue to step it up, keep doing what I did today and hopefully that won't change," he said. "I built up my confidence today, so I'm excited to come out for fall ball, do the same thing and hopefully earn a spot on the field for the first game."
Cunningham, who finished the game with six catches for 97 yards and a TD, made the offensive play of the game with a spectacular diving catch in the end zone on a 43-yard pass from QB Brian Hoyer.
"(Hoyer) called it in the huddle. He said 'B.J., this is for you — go get it'." Cunningham said. "He threw it up so I could go get it on the two yard line. I had to dive into the end-zone to get it but I did my thing."
The (Sophomore) Veteran
As a group, the wide receivers performed admirably for both sides, with Cunningham and Rucker of the White team grabbing most of the headlines.
But the biggest numbers were put up the Green squad's sophomore standout Mark Dell, who grabbed six balls for 120 yards and reminded everyone the receiving corps was a group to be reckoned with.
"I was impressed by all our receivers. Our receivers came out here to make a statement and our whole team did," Dell said. "We showed that we weren't one-dimensional and just kind of naked out here without Devin.
"Devin was a good player, but at the same time we showed what we are capable of doing. We showed that we had a good running game and a good passing game."
The spring game provided an opportunity for the world to see the foundation Mark Dantonio is laying for a very promising future here in East Lansing – and the Spartans hope to prove it first against California this fall, if not sooner.
"Oh yeah," Dell said, "I'd suit up right now it they came out here."