Summer QB checkup: Michigan State

July, 3, 2013
7/03/13
3:00
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We've been taking a look at the truly open quarterback competitions around the Big Ten, where they stand and what direction they might be heading as fall camp creeps upon us. We wrap up the series today with an examination of Michigan State's situation under center.

The candidates: Andrew Maxwell, 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, senior; Connor Cook, 6-4, 215, sophomore; Tyler O'Connor, 6-3, 212, redshirt freshman; Damion Terry, 6-4, 220, incoming freshman.

Statistics: Maxwell started all 13 games for the Spartans last year, completing 52.5 percent of his passes for 2,606 yards and 13 touchdowns, with nine interceptions. Cook appeared in only three contests but led the game-winning drive at the end of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against TCU. He was 4-of-11 for 47 yards and a touchdown in that game, his most significant action of the season.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State's Andrew Maxwell
Andrew Weber/US PresswireAndrew Maxwell threw for 2,606 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
Where things stand: Head coach Mark Dantonio has said many times this offseason that Maxwell remains his No. 1 quarterback for now. But Cook is pushing him hard and had the better spring game of the two. Meanwhile, Terry will offer an intriguing blend of skills that the coaches are anxious to see next month in practice. The Spartans have talked about playing multiple quarterbacks and having specific packages for their more mobile guys (Terry and Cook).

Summer buzz: In the closing minutes of the Spartans' final game of the 2012 season, with Maxwell on the sideline and Cook sparking the offense, it appeared as if a changing of the guard were taking place.

Not so fast. Maxwell, who drew his share of detractors with his uneven play last season, still has a big edge in experience and looks like the guy who will take the first snap of the 2013 season.

"He did a nice job this spring of being more decisive and more accurate," quarterbacks coach Brad Salem told ESPN.com, "and really just growing as a quarterback."

If you polled most Michigan State fans, however, they'd probably rather see Cook under center. The sophomore continues to breathe down Maxwell's neck and has shown more ability to make plays on the move.

"He is a guy who can extend things," Salem said. "You saw it in the bowl game. You see it around the country -- those are qualities people are looking for in the recruiting process. When things break down, can you make something happen? He has those abilities.

"For him, it's just about commanding the offense, being a leader, his decision making. He needs to continue working on his footwork, his mechanics and his fundamentals, and he's been working diligently on it this offseason and this summer."

O'Connor is clearly No. 3 in the race and "showed a little bit at times that he's a freshman" during the spring, Salem said. But he's got a strong arm and will give Michigan State much more depth than it had at the quarterback spot a year ago at this time.

The wild card is Terry, a much different kind of quarterback than Dantonio has had during his time in East Lansing with his combination of running and passing skills. If he has a role in 2013, it will likely come in special situational use. But you never know.

"Whether you’re a senior or a redshirt freshman, you’re going to have equal opportunity, and if you’re the best player, you will play," Dantonio told reporters late last month. "I think that’s a lot to ask for a young player; I’ve never had a freshman quarterback and this will be my 10th year coaching. [But] Terry is extremely talented."

Dantonio has said he will play more than one quarterback at least early in the season if for no other reason than to get someone ready for 2014, after Maxwell graduates. He thinks Maxwell was hurt by not playing more in 2011, the same way Kirk Cousins suffered from a lack of experience in 2009.

Maxwell almost certainly will get the first crack at the starting job. But Salem said all of the quarterbacks have similar work ethics and have shown good leadership this summer. The Spartans feel like they're in much better shape than they were heading into last season.

"At least we've got two guys who have been there and played in games," Salem said. "That comfort level and experience is really immeasurable."

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