Big Ten: Juwan Caesar

Michigan State's search for difference makers at wide receiver won't include Juwan Caesar. He has asked for, and received, his release and intends to transfer, the team announced Thursday.

Caesar, a 6-foot-4, 212-pound sophomore, didn't play a down for Michigan State. He redshirted in 2011 after sustaining a foot injury and didn't play last season, moving from wideout to tight end in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl practices.

There's no word on where Caesar could transfer, although he's from Miami and could seek a destination closer to home.

RecruitingNation gave Caesar a four-star rating and listed him as the nation's No. 37 receiver in 2011. He was one of the highest-rated recruits in Michigan State's 2011 class.
Mark Dantonio acknowledges Michigan State has some momentum right now. The Spartans have won 11 games in each of the past two seasons. They come off of a Legends division title and could enter the season as the Big Ten favorite. But they also lose a lot of star power from the 2011 team, namely quarterback Kirk Cousins, a three-year starter and three-time captain, and All-American defensive tackle Jerel Worthy.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Mike Carter/US PresswireMichigan State coach Mark Dantonio's Spartans have won 11 games in each of the last two seasons, but what about 2012?
Can Michigan State be a better team in 2012, or will the Spartans backslide in their effort to reload?

"There were questions as we left 2010," Dantonio said. "Can we replace Greg Jones and Eric Gordon? Could we replace our punter, Aaron Bates, or [wide receiver] Mark Dell? We were able to do that and progress, so there are great possibilities. Our football team is poised for that, but at the same time we need to guard against being complacent and understand we’re going to be judged game-to-game.

"It's important we bring our energy with us in everything we do, but there's no question we have confidence. There's no question we have continuity. We've built a great foundation to springboard us forward."

The next phase begins Tuesday, as Michigan State kicks off spring practice in East Lansing.

Dantonio discussed the spring and the future with earlier this week.

Some notes:
  • Dantonio is "very optimistic" the NCAA will approve wide receiver transfer DeAnthony Arnett to play this coming season. Arnett transferred from Tennessee to Michigan State to be closer to his ailing father in Flint, Mich. He appeared in 12 games for the Vols in 2011 and had 24 receptions for 242 yards and two touchdowns. "It was a hardship because his father is ill," Dantonio said. "DeAnthony had success at Tennessee. He was happy at Tennessee. He felt like he needed to come home to be near his family. Every Friday afternoon he goes home. He's a great young man, and he cares deeply about his family and wants to be close to them and wants them to have the opportunity to see him play as well." The NCAA recently granted a waiver for Amir Carlisle, a USC transfer, to play immediately at Notre Dame. Carlisle transferred to be closer to his father, who took a position in Purdue's athletic department. Arnett is eligible to practice this spring for the Spartans.
  • If Arnett receives his waiver, he'll provide a big boost to a position that Dantonio calls the "most critical" to replenish. Michigan State loses its top three receivers -- B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol -- from 2011. The Spartans need to get Bennie Fowler and Juwan Ceasar healthy and have some immediate contributions from their incoming freshmen.
  • Michigan State has good depth at defensive end, so Denzel Drone will move to tight end, at least for the start of spring ball. Drone has made six starts at defensive end in his first two seasons and has recorded 28 tackles, five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He played a bit of tight end as a high school senior. "We can at least look at that position move in the first two weeks," Dantonio said. "He's played enough defensive end that he can go back over there and be a co-starter for us, but I think we need to put our best football players on the field, and if he can be one of those top 11 players, 12 players, 13, 14 players on offense, then we'll leave him there. If not, he'll be one of those top 14 players on defense." In another move, defensive back Dana Dixon will practice at wide receiver this spring but could return to the secondary "in a heartbeat," Dantonio said.
  • Defensive tackle will be a fascinating position to watch this spring as Michigan State looks to replace Worthy. Tyler Hoover, a starting defensive end in 2010 who missed all of last season with injury, will move inside this spring. Hoover is up to 297 pounds, Dantonio said. The Spartans also will audition a host of redshirt freshman defensive tackles and sophomore James Kittredge, a transfer from Vanderbilt.
  • Michigan State redshirted 19 players last season, a few more than normal, and the spring will provide a proving ground for several of them. Dantonio listed defensive end Shilique Calhoun, linebacker Lawrence Thomas, safety RJ Williamson and cornerback Trae Waynes as freshmen who could have played in the latter part of last season.
  • The Spartans are one of only four Big Ten teams to return their entire coaching staff from the previous season. It wasn't easy, as other teams made runs at both Michigan State coordinators, Pat Narduzzi and Dan Roushar, but both men stayed, in part because the school made a stronger financial commitment. "It was natural to me to be very concerned we would lose a coach or two," Dantonio said. "But it gives you a feeling that you’re doing things right here and there's a good working environment. Obviously, all of our guys, we’re going to do everything we can do to hold onto them, and some of that is financially-based."
  • Dantonio on quarterback Andrew Maxwell: "Very patient young man, as evidenced by him sitting here and waiting for his opportunity. Very poised, extremely strong arm, very athletic, he was a 6-7 high jumper in high school. He's got size. He’s got great intelligence. He's got a great demeanor among his teammates. The one thing he's missing right now is that experience of going out and doing it on game day on a consistent basis. Kirk always stayed the course and was never knocked out of a football game, so Andrew never had to take the reins of our football team in a critical situation. That's coming for him."
  • In terms of leadership, Dantonio said Maxwell's teammates already have accepted him in his new role. Dantonio also listed linebacker Max Bullough, cornerback Darqueze Dennard, offensive lineman Chris McDonald and running back Larry Caper as potential team leaders in 2012.

Big shoes to fill: Michigan State

February, 27, 2012
With spring practice around the corner, Big Ten teams will start the process of replacing stars from the previous year. Some shoes are bigger to fill than others. We're taking a look at two key departed players from each team and who might take on their roles this season.

Today, we take a look at Michigan State. Though Kirk Cousins obviously left big shoes to fill, we know that Andrew Maxwell is his successor. So we'll focus on a couple of different spots on the Spartans.

[+] EnlargeJerel Worthy
Andrew Weber/US PresswireMichigan State's Jerel Worthy (99) was a force on the defensive line for the Spartans.

Why: Worthy was an All-American who had such a good junior season that he decided to jump to the NFL. He registered 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, though that only tells part of the story about how disruptive he was in the middle of the defensive line. Worthy was also an emotional leader who provided the Spartans defense with some of its swagger. While Michigan State brings back most of its outstanding defense from last year, Worthy will be a difficult player to replace.

Replacement candidates: Anthony Rashad White (6-2, 316, Sr.), Micajah Reynolds (6-5, 320, Jr.), James Kittredge (6-4, 270, Soph.), Damon Knox (6-4, 275, RFr.), Brandon Clemons (6-3, 262, RFr.), Mark Scarpinato (6-3, 270 RFr.), Joel Heath (6-5, 270, RFr.), David Fennell (6-3, 275 incoming freshman).

The skinny: Michigan State lost not only Worthy but fellow starting defensive lineman Kevin Pickelman and top backup Johnathan Strayhorn to graduation. But Mark Dantonio was prepared for this development and has a lot of players in the pipeline ready to prove themselves. Though White played the other tackle spot last year next to Worthy, he has the size, talent and experience to replicate Worthy's production. This is a key spring for Reynolds, who has also spent time on the offensive line. Kittredge sat out last season after transferring from Vanderbilt, and Michigan State was able to redshirt five other potential tackles in 2011. Fennell will likely take that route this year. This group is largely unproven, but at least there are plenty of candidates.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: B.J. Cunningham, WR

Why: Cunningham completed his career as the school's all-time leader in receptions and yards, which is saying something given the program's history at receiver. He emerged as a true star receiver in 2011 with career bests of 79 catches, 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns. Whenever Cousins needed a big play, he usually looked Cunningham's way. Fellow seniors Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol also are gone, leaving a big void at the wideout position for the Spartans.

Replacement candidates: Bennie Fowler (6-1, 215, Jr.), Tony Lippett (6-2, 189, Soph.), DeAnthony Arnett (6-1, 175, Soph.), Keith Mumphrey (6-0, 202 Soph.), Andre Sims Jr. (5-8, 180, RFr.) Juwan Caesar (6-3, 197, RFr.), Monty Madaris (6-2, 190, incoming freshman), Aaron Burbridge (6-0, 180 incoming freshman), MacGarrett Kings (5-10, 175, incoming freshman), Kyle Kerrick (6-3, 190, incoming freshman).

The skinny: This is a situation much like the defensive tackle spot, in which Michigan State hopes a crowd of candidates means that one or two standouts will emerge. The difference here is that some true freshmen will likely get thrown into the mix right away. Fowler is the veteran who hobbled through an injury-plagued 2011, while Lippett moves back to offense after seeing time at defensive back last year. A lot could depend on whether Arnett, a Tennessee transfer, wins his case with the NCAA to become immediately eligible. If not, the Spartans may have to rely on at least one of the receivers they signed in this year's class or hope that a redshirt freshman takes a big step forward.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

January, 13, 2012
Hope everyone has a great weekend.

Nate from Moline, Ill., writes: Hey Adam,I read your article about Illinois hiring Gonzales and the positives and negatives associated with it. I agree that it's great that's he's been around a TON of winning, has produced a great amount of NFL talent, and is an excellent recruiter. However, I don't agree with some of the negatives. LSU's offense has been pretty efficient. They just haven't ranked higher because they have struggled with QB play.

Adam Rittenberg: Nate, that's a good point. I was only noting that hiring LSU's pass game coordinator a few days after the BCS title game debacle might sway fan perception a bit. Billy Gonzales is a very good recruiter and developed plenty of NFL wide receivers at Florida. It'll be interesting to see how he fares as the primary playcaller at Illinois. LSU has struggled at the quarterback position, while Illinois has had mixed results with Nathan Scheelhaase. It'll be important for Gonzales to help Scheelhaase recapture the form he showed early this season and in the 2010 Texas Bowl. It's interesting that Illinois' last two offensive coordinators -- Gonzales and Paul Petrino -- both have worked with wide receivers more than quarterbacks.

Michael from St. Louis writes: In the final third of the season, it felt like Nebraska was held back most by its lack of a down-field passing threat, particularly on third-and-long. Would Taylor Martinez overhauling his throwing mechanics help matters in 2012, or would it do more harm than good?

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, you mean you don't like the T-Magic shot put? His mechanics are what they are, and I don't know how much tweaking you can expect. He did throw the ball well at times, like in the games against Ohio State and Northwestern. But I also think Nebraska's wide receiving corps will be much better in 2012 as players like Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner get another year of experience under their belts. Most offenses aren't built to succeed in third-and-long, and Nebraska's is no exception, but I do see the Huskers getting more production in the passing game and particularly more YAC (yards after catch) from Bell and the others.

Josh from East Lansing, Mich., writes: What do you expect out of Michigan States receivers for next year? Gaining Arnett was a big addition, but outside of him nobody is proven. Do you think Aaron Burbridge and Juwan Caesar can be a big enough impact as freshmen to make MSU a top team for next year?

Adam Rittenberg: Josh, young players certainly will have opportunities to see the field in 2012 for Michigan State. DeAnthony Arnett should be in the mix if he gets his NCAA waiver. Bennie Fowler didn't play much this season but showed some promise in 2010 and likely will be a part of the plan. After that point, you're looking at young guys like Burbridge and Ceasar. I also think Michigan State will return to more of a run-based offense in 2012 with a more experienced offensive line and Le'Veon Bell back in the fold.

Eric from Chicago writes: Adam,There's one issue related to the Penn State situation that never gets addressed. Being that Paterno, Curly, McQuerry, et al interviewed in front of a grand jury why was every thing such a shock to Penn State when this news became public? Penn State knew about this months before it became public so how did they not have a plan in place for handleing it from a public relations standpoint?

Adam Rittenberg: Eric, I'd disagree that this issue hasn't been discussed. It's very much in the minds of Penn State fans and alumni who want answers from the school's administration. The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News reported Jerry Sandusky being the subject of a grand jury investigation back in March. People at Penn State clearly knew about the report, but it certainly seemed like the school was unprepared for the storm in November. Penn State has been playing catchup from a public relations standpoint from the beginning.

Paul from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, what are the odds that Cardale Jones could make a push against Braxton Miller? I love Braxton, but Cardale looks like a Vince Young re-incardalded(haha). Braxton might be a better runner, but Cardale sure looks like a solid runner with a rocket for an arm. Am I crazy? Also what about the running backs? What is the order looking like?

Adam Rittenberg: Paul, I'd say you're a bit nuts on the Miller-Jones thing, but who knows? Maybe I'll be the crazy one a year from now. I do think Miller will thrive in Urban Meyer's offense, which will give him much more freedom to create and make plays, which is what he does best. Although Ohio State should keep other quarterbacks in the mix, the coaches seem very excited about Miller and for good reason. The running back rotation will be very interesting, to say the least. Jordan Hall has experience and versatility as a guy who can catch passes out of the backfield. Smaller backs typically thrive in the spread, and both Hall and Jaamal Berry seem to fit the profile. Berry has to get his off-field issues straightened out, but he's clearly a talented player. I'm interested to see what happens to a guy like Carlos Hyde, who looked good at times during the 2011 campaign but might not be the best fit for this system.

Dam from Miami writes: Read your column about football players running track in the spring. Was curious if any B1G football players play any other sports like basketball? I know in the late 90's early 2000's there were many football athletes who doubled to play basketball as well like Julius Peppers, Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzales, etc...

Adam Rittenberg: Dam, it's becoming less and less common as football is a year-round activity and specialization is encouraged more these days. You see football players run track in other leagues more than you do in the Big Ten. As a guy who grew up cheering for Cal's Tony Gonzalez at both Memorial Stadium and Harmon Gym, I wish we'd see it more. The Big Ten has had some football players also play basketball, like Michigan State wide receiver/forward Matt Trannon. Purdue tight end Patrick Bade played two years of basketball for the Boilers before joining the gridiron squad, but he no longer does both.

Keith from Phoenix writes: Hi Adam love the blog. A lot has been made about how UM's schedule is hard in 2012 similar to how hard MSU's was in 2011. My question is whose schedule is harder? They are similar in the challenging road games but MSU had Wisconsin and UM at home after a bye week while UM travels to Dallas to take on Alabama and has MSU at home. Another key factor is how OSU improves under Urban Meyer compared to Luke Fickell.

Adam Rittenberg: Keith, it's a little tough to assess this without knowing how good certain teams will be in 2012. But it appears as though Michigan will play a tougher schedule than Michigan State did this past season. The Alabama opener increases the degree of difficulty by a lot. Like MSU, Michigan will visit both Notre Dame and Nebraska -- the two places where the Spartans stumbled during the regular season. I also think Michigan will face a much better Ohio State team than the one the Spartans faced this season. But again, it's hard to tell at this point. We should get a very good gauge of the Michigan program after the 2012 season.

Jesse from Superior, Wis., writes: Will Russell Wilson's performance at Wisconsin this season encourage other athletic quarterbacks to consider Wisconsin a place to excel? I think Wilson's numbers prove that a quarterback with skills can have plenty of success, especially under Bielama. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Jesse, Wisconsin's appeal for quarterbacks certainly has increased because of Wilson. The Badgers have a highly touted QB recruit (Bart Houston) arriving next year, and Bielema said he heard from several quarterbacks looking to transfer (Dayne Crist among them). The key for Wisconsin going forward is replacing offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. Wilson thrived under Chryst, and Chryst's system can prepare quarterbacks for the next level. Wisconsin will keep a similar identity on offense with its next coordinator, but the new coach and the new assistants on the offensive side will be integral in luring signal callers who boast Wilson's skill set and potential.

Lance from Greensboro, N.C., writes: Adam,Just read your chat transcript. I'm a little surprised that you'd be against a 16 team playoff, and even have problems with an 8 team. While I'm not a playoff fan myself, if there is one I think you have to give automatic bids to the conference champs. Even if you limit this to the BCS conferences, that means 6 of the slots are taken, which doesn't give much room for deserving at-large teams. And if you don't give bids to the other FBS conference champs, that seems unfair. If you don't give automatic bids, you really hurt deep balanced conferences where it's really hard to run the table and help top heavy conferences (remember when FSU played for a national championship every year because there was no way they'd ever fail to go 8-0 in the ACC?). What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Lance, a 16-team playoff would be a logistical nightmare with different schools having final exams at different times and so forth. I'd be in favor of an eight-team playoff if it was organized the right way. I might be in the minority, but I still believe the bowl experience is a nice reward for the players. I'm also not crazy about having the Big East champ or the ACC champ in a playoff every year, especially over more deserving teams that didn't win their league. I would have liked to have seen Arkansas in a playoff this year. Same for Stanford. I didn't need to see Clemson or West Virginia. I'd rather tweak the BCS formula or have a committee select the eight most deserving teams based on a specific criteria. The champions from leagues like the SEC, Big 12 and most likely Big Ten and Pac-12 would be in the playoff most seasons, but I don't think there should be automatic bids.

Michigan State recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011

The class

Recruits: 21 (20 high school seniors, one junior college transfer, one player enrolled early)

Top prospects: For the second consecutive year, Michigan State's top recruit is a defender from Detroit. ESPNU 150 linebacker Lawrence Thomas headlines the 2011 class, following William Gholston in 2010. The Spartans added to an already deep receiving corps with Juwan Caesar, rated as the nation's No. 37 receiver by ESPN Recruiting. Center Jack Allen leads a promising group of offensive linemen in the class.

Needs met: Michigan State likely will be a consistent Big Ten title contender it if upgrades its line play, and this year's class should help with players like Allen and defensive linemen Brandon Clemons and Damon Knox. The Spartans lose two multiyear starters at linebacker (Greg Jones and Eric Gordon), and they addressed the area with players like Thomas and Darien Harris, rated as the nation's No. 32 outside linebacker by ESPN Recruiting. Joe Boisture's departure creates a need for a quarterback, and Michigan State adds one in Connor Cook.

Analysis: Mark Dantonio and his staff have made Michigan State a consistent upper-tier recruiting presence in the Big Ten. This year's class not only includes strong in-state prospects like Thomas, but nice additions from other regions like Caesar (Florida) and Harris (Maryland). There aren't as many big names this year as there were in 2010, but if the Spartans continue to build on their on-field success, their recruiting profile will continue to grow.

ESPN Recruiting grade: B-