- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Bennie Fowler's big moment in the 2011 season for Michigan State came in the 37-31 home win over Wisconsin. He recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown that provided a huge momentum swing.
But other than that, Fowler doesn't have much on his résumé from last year. Which is definitely not how he thought things would go.
"I thought I could have stepped in last year and started that transition," he told ESPN.com.
And by transition, he means from last season's senior trio of receivers -- B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol -- to the next wave of Spartans wideouts. Instead, Fowler missed the first half of the season because of a stress fracture in his foot, an injury that cost him effectiveness when he did play and curtailed the end of his season early when it resurfaced. The same problem limited him during spring practice this year.
So Fowler wasn't able to build on his strong 2010 redshirt freshman season, and now Michigan State enters this fall without any proven players at the receiver position. But after finally getting his foot healthy and turning in what was, by all accounts, an impressive summer, Fowler hopes to help put those wideout questions to rest.
"I'm very confident in my abilities," he said. "I think I can stretch the field. I think I've got good route-running ability and I can separate from a defender. I think I can make the big catch and the big play."
Fowler showed glimpses of that as a freshman, scoring on a reverse against Northwestern when Martin was hurt and hauling in the Spartans' only touchdown in the Capitol One Bowl blowout loss to Alabama.
"He'll be a guy that, as we look at him, can work underneath and work on coverage in there and be physical and separate," offensive coordinator Dan Roushar told reporters earlier this week. "At the same time, we think he has the vertical explosion and speed to threaten the field deep. He brings that to the table. When you go to Bennie, you have a longer guy, taller, right in that 6-foot-3 range. [He's] physically mature right now."
Michigan State still has a major experience gap in the passing game, with Andrew Maxwell stepping in as a first-time starter at quarterback. But Fowler and Maxwell have built a chemistry over the years as backups.
"This is our fourth summer together," he said. "We've had that relationship like Kirk [Cousins] did with B.J and Keshawn. I know what he's thinking and he knows what I'm thinking. We've gotten our reps together as twos, and we have a good feel for each other and what's going on out there."
Fowler also points to the game experience Tony Lippett got on defense last year, that Keith Mumphery gained on special teams and that transfer DeAnthony Arnett brings after a year at Tennessee. And he says he has been very impressed with the true freshmen receivers who have come in.
"I think we're going to be exciting and make a lot of plays," Fowler said of the Spartans' receivers. "People are questioning us, but at the same time we go against one of the best defenses in the country every day and they're getting us prepared. So it's not like when we go out and play Boise State [in the opener] that we haven't seen a defense before. We've played against some of the best corners in the country in Darqueze Dennard and Johnny Adams."
Will that be enough to get the Michigan State receivers up to speed? We'll see. But Bennie Fowler plans on being a much bigger part of the answer than he was a year ago.
21hBrian Bennett and Austin Ward