MSU's Maxwell welcomes game-like spring

April, 3, 2013
4/03/13
4:00
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EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Andrew Maxwell knew things would be different when he stepped into the Spartan Stadium spotlight last August for his first start at quarterback.

The packed crowd, the bright lights and the national TV cameras told him so.

But the Michigan State signal-caller needed one final reminder from a Boise State defensive end, who hit him just after he released a pass.

"I almost forgot that was an option," he told ESPN.com. "Because going through spring, going through camp, it's all been tag-off. The D-end put a good move on our tackle and I let it go and got hit in the ribs.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State's Andrew Maxwell
Andrew Weber/US PresswireAndrew Maxwell and the other Spartans quarterbacks are fair game to be hit by defenders during spring practice.
"I got up and went, 'Oh, that's a possibility.'"

As a backup quarterback for two years who played sparingly in games, Maxwell was treated somewhat like a piece of artwork: look but don't touch. Although he had taken some hits -- the 2011 Capital One Bowl against Alabama was a particularly painful day -- his typical week consisted of wearing a red jersey in practice (indicating he's off limits) and holding a clipboard on Saturday.

Everything changed last season during games, and Michigan State has taken the unusual step of making Maxwell and the other quarterbacks "live" -- able to be hit -- during spring practice as the team looks for its answers under center for the 2013 season. Maxwell, Connor Cook, Tyler O'Connor and the other signal-callers have traded in their red jerseys for green ones, just like the other offensive players, as they compete for the starting job. Most FBS teams keep their quarterbacks off limits in all practices, to preserve their safety as much as possible.

Michigan State actually began making the quarterbacks live during practices for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and carried things over to the spring.

"I didn't want to," head coach Mark Dantonio told ESPN.com, "but we've done it because that's what's needed to push the envelope. We didn't do that before, and it hurt us last year because [Maxwell] hadn't been in as many game situations. We've been active, but we've gone, 'OK, go ahead.'

"There's some things we need to do, and the quarterbacks are going to have to take the hit."

Added co-offensive coordinator (play-caller) Dave Warner: "It's the best way to find out if quarterbacks can extend plays and create and do the things we probably didn't do a good job of last year."

Dantonio isn't concerned about the quarterbacks taking too much pounding. He noted that in a recent practice the quarterbacks were only brought down a total of 14 times.

"But there's a possibility of them getting hit, so it's forcing their hand a little faster to make quicker decisions," Dantonio said. "That's what the game's all about."

Maxwell said in hindsight, going live in practices before the 2012 season could have helped him as a first-time starter.

"You really don't know how much time you have unless you have a guy who's actually going to bring you to the ground," Maxwell said. "When you have the red jersey on and you know you're not live, you may subconsciously give yourself an extra second that, in reality, you don't have.

"But when it's live and the possibility is there, you're making your decisions that much quicker."

Maxwell doesn't think he held the ball too long last season, but he understands the main offseason directive coming from Dantonio and the other coaches: create. The coaches want Maxwell and the other quarterbacks to scramble when a play isn't developing or buy time for receivers to get open.

"We as quarterbacks need to pose a threat and be dangerous with our feet," Maxwell said. "I'm not saying we're going to be rushing for 100 yards a game, but when things break down, if you can go north for five yards, second-and-5 is a lot better than second-and-10."

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