For Some Spartans, the Future Might be Now

Will Keshawn Martin or Fred Smith be this year's Greg Jones? Maybe it'll be Steve Gardiner or David Rolf. GSN takes a closer look at which Spartan freshmen might be counted on to contribute right away.

EAST LANSING — The Spartans are not afraid to turn to youth, that's for sure. Last season, six Michigan State frosh were tested by fire and the results were surprising.

Linebacker Greg Jones took his first steps toward greatness by leading the team with 78 tackles. Tackle Oren Wilson locked down a starting position for this season after helping anchor an improved defensive line. Wide receiver Mark Dell and punter Aaron Bates started as freshman and Antonio Jeremiah and Chris L. Rucker provided important depth on the D-line and in the secondary, respectively.

Head coach Mark Dantonio says everyone has a shot to compete for playing time, but it won't come without learning assignments.

"The thing you have to do with the young players is to make sure they know what to do," he said, "because they can flash and then make a mistake then you' feel like you're back to square one."

When asked early in camp about neophytes making an impact this season, Dantonio had a couple of names readily available: "I see Keshawn Martin making some plays out there, Steve Gardiner as well."

Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell has also chimed in on a player who has opened coaches' eyes. "He (Martin) is explosive and he catches the ball tremendously well; he has very soft hands." Martin and the rest of the youngins got a chance to make a statement at the team's second preseason scrimmage last Saturday.

"We tried to play as many young players as we could to see where they are they are at," Dantonio said Saturday afternoon. "Are they going to travel, are they going to be redshirts. So this was a big day for a lot of the young players to get reps and see where they're at as far as how functional they are in this system."

It was a freshman wide receiver not named Martin, though, who produced in the scrimmage. Fred Smith had four receptions, including a nifty endzone fade, for 48 yards.

"I thought that Fred made a nice catch, made a couple of nice catches out there," Dantonio said. On the day, Chris McDonald saw time with the second unit at center and David Rolf roamed the middle of the linebacking corps for the second team defense.

"When you have an opportunity to play in a scrimmage and make it as realistic and as live as you can, there's only one way to go, even if you make a mistake, you're going to be better as a football player," Dantonio said.

All healthy freshman got a chance to show their progress on the field at the scrimmage, including running backs Caulton Ray, who had a dodgy run up the middle for about 10 yards, and Glenn Winston.

"You see Glenn Winston playing a little bit," Dantonio said. "He can be physical." Jerel Worthy also looked strong and active at D-tackle in the scrimmage, and Brynden Trawick wasn't afraid to play physical either.

"Brynden in particular is doing real well," secondary coach Harlon Barnett said earlier in camp. "That's a big boy; he's going to be a big man. He's athletic, he can run and he's tough. Safeties swim a little bit when they are learning a new system, they are really doing a lot of things that they never did in high school, so the mental part of the game has been tough," but he's coming along, Barnett noted.

Positional play might not be the first step for many of the freshmen.

"Where they are going to show up first is on special teams and we repped a lot of them on special teams (during the scrimmage) … so that was as big an emphasis as anything," Dantonio said. "They are working hard."

Martin, with his soft hands and bursts of speed, is one player who seems destined to find time in the return games on special teams: In camp, he is only behind Dell for playing time as a punt returner. Winston is in the mix returning kickoffs and Johnny Adams, who has been on campus since the start of the year, had an illustrious high school career returning punts for touchdowns.

And players such as Rolf, Gardiner, Drew Stevens and Tyler Hoover could find important experience blocking, rushing or tackling in the kicking games.

"They are going to make some mistakes," Dantonio said, "but it's good for the future of this program that we have some young players that are having opportunities to play on the field."

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