Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Big Ten [Print without images]

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Opening spring ball: Michigan State

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans hit the practice field later Tuesday for the first of 15 spring workouts.

Let's take a quick look at the defending Big Ten co-champs this spring:

The big story: Taking the next step. Michigan State broke through by winning the Big Ten title for the first time in two decades. But with a chance to, as Dantonio put it, "measure up" in the Capital One Bowl, the Spartans got crushed by Alabama. The Big Ten should be wide open this fall, and if the Spartans repeat as champs, they'll cement themselves as an upper-tier program. The first step: upgrade play along both lines. Sure, Michigan State must replace two standout linebackers (Greg Jones and Eric Gordon), a gifted cornerback (Chris L. Rucker) and some valuable pass-catchers (Mark Dell and Charlie Gantt), but if the Spartans don't get to a Wisconsin/Iowa/Ohio State level with their lines, they'll hit a ceiling as a program.

Position in the spotlight: Offensive and defensive line. No surprises here as Michigan State tries to firm up both units. The offensive front loses both starting tackles (D.J. Young and J'Michael Deane) and its starting center (John Stipek), creating plenty of competition this spring to fill the gaps. Most of Michigan State's top defensive linemen return, including tackle Jerel Worthy, but the coaches will be looking for more pass rushers to emerge.

Coaching changes: Only one but it was significant. Offensive coordinator/receivers coach Don Treadwell departed to become head coach at Miami (Ohio). Dantonio promoted offensive line coach Dan Roushar to coordinator and hired Terrence Samuel from Central Michigan to work with the receivers. Mark Staten now will coach the line. Roushar will run a similar system as Dantonio wants to maintain continuity.

Keep an eye on: Le'Veon Bell. After a brilliant start to his college career, Bell seemed to hit the freshman wall in mid-October and had only 56 rushing yards in his final seven games. The Spartans want to emphasize the run more and will look to complement Edwin Baker with another dangerous back. Bell enters his second spring hoping to make big strides.

Spring game: April 30