Michigan State tight end Jamal Lyles made a deal with his coaches heading into his final spring game as a Spartan. They promised that for every catch he made on offense, he’d get a chance to play one snap on defense.
On the fourth play of the game, Lyles pulled in a 23-yard corner route from quarterback Tyler O'Connor, and defensive coordinator Mike Tressel made good on his end of the bargain. Lyles lined up at defensive end the next series and prompted to track down starting running back L.J. Scott with a big stick nine yards deep in the backfield.
“It was the very first snap that he got that (tackle for loss),” Tressel said. “So then as a coach you’ve got to make a decision, maybe he should play a little bit more over there. ... Probably after this game there’s a little more thought about that.”
The Spartans have a track record of players jumping from one side of the ball to the other. Big Ten receiver of the year Tony Lippett started a couple games at cornerback two years ago. Fellow receivers R.J. Shelton and Monty Madaris have also worked on defense. The staff might have found their next two-way weapon in an otherwise run-of-the-mill spring game Saturday.
Lyles led all receivers Saturday with three catches for 56 yards on Saturday. He had eight total catches in 2015. Spring games have produced plenty of false hope for others in the past. Lyles isn’t immune to the same fate, but teammates said he has been a more consistent part of the passing attack throughout all of spring practice. The senior attributed his added production to developing a different chemistry with the new quarterbacks vying to replace Connor Cook.
“I expect to get the ball more this year,” Lyles said after the game. “We’ve got new quarterbacks coming in and they see things differently than other quarterbacks see the field.”
Lyles also motioned into the backfield to play some fullback along with his brief stint on defense. He said he likes “to stand by coaches’ ears” and wasn’t shy about campaigning for an opportunity to flex his versatility in the spring game. He doesn’t plan on quieting down at all after making his presence known on the field.
“I feel like I can do a lot,” Lyles said. “Big, athletic guy. There aren’t too many guys like that. I feel like I can make plays in all types of ways on the field. I’ll probably talk to [head coach Mark Dantonio] after his to make my case.”
Dantonio mentioned Lyles, who did spend time working at defensive end earlier in his college career, as one of the players who made a positive jump during the spring season. He and fellow senior Josiah Price give the Spartans a couple of strong pass-catching options at tight end, which is always a welcome layer of security for a new starting quarterback.
Opportunity also exists on the defensive line. Michigan State needs to replace three starters in the trenches this season and recently lost two players who were potential contributors. There are capable bodies on defense, and more coming when the freshmen class arrives this summer, but if some don’t pan out Lyles might be a viable option there for Dantonio.
“Who knows?” he said.
Lyles got back on the field on defense and says he would’ve added a sack to his stat line later in the day if not for the no-contact edict with quarterbacks. He said he’ll be sure to point that out during film review. Lyles isn’t shy about making his case, and he might have talked himself into an expanded role with a strong performance in his final spring game.