EAST LANSING – Michigan State opened fall camp on Monday one player short but now has a full team.
Shakur Brown, a true freshman cornerback and late addition to the 2017 recruiting class, was still finishing paperwork on Monday and missed the first practice but has been with the team since Tuesday. He participated in the Spartans’ first padded practice on Friday.
“We got him out here a day late so he’s one day behind,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said, “but he’s been impressive as well.”
Brown, a 6-foot, 180-pound three-star prospect from Woodland High School in Stockbridge, Ga., committed to Michigan State in June. He had classes to finish and arrived in East Lansing just before the start of fall camp.
Although Michigan State recruited Brown as a defensive back he also has experience returning punts and was the Georgia Region 4-5A Special Teams Player of the Year. Redshirt junior Brandon Sowards was the Spartans’ primary punt returner last season but averaged just 6.3 per attempt and the team ranked 82nd in the nation in the category. So, Dantonio said he’s considering using the true freshman at the spot.
Michigan State gets physical in first padded practice
“Absolutely,” Dantonio said. “I think we’ve got a situation right now with Brandon Sowards is returning, but we’ve got to get more productivity out of our punt returner. (Brown is) a guy that you see him go back there and catch it off the JUGS (machine) and off the punt and he’s very sure of himself. But, again, very early in the process here so we have to see how he does under duress in that stadium over there with 80,000 people watching him. But, I think he has the skill set, so does (freshman wide receiver) Laress (Nelson) as well.”
Logjam on defensive line: Following a sub-par 2016 season on the edge, Michigan State’s defensive line also suffered heavy losses. As is the case with the secondary, there are open spots up for grabs.
“We’ve got a number of guys at that position,” Dantonio said, “so they’re sort of in a clump there fighting for a position.”
Michigan State registered just 11 sacks last season, which ranked last in the Big Ten and tied for 124th out of 128 teams in the nation. That total was the lowest of the Dantonio era and a significant decline from 42 in 2014 and 37 in 2015.
Fifth-year senior defensive end Demetrius Cooper is a returning starter and on track to fully return to the team after spending most of the offseason suspended due to legal issues. After that, it gets questionable with former walk-ons Kenny Willekes and Dillon Alexander, redshirt junior Robert Bowers, redshirt freshmen Brandon Randle and Mufi Hill-Hunt and true freshman Jacub Panasiuk among those in the mix.
“They have a motor,” Dantonio said, “and they bring it every play.”
Mark Dantonio speaks after practice on August 4
Kicking competition: Senior Michael Geiger attempted every field goal and extra point for the Spartans last season. There’s now an opening for the job with redshirt freshman Matt Coghlin and true freshman Cole Hahn leading the competition. Dantonio said both have performed well so far.
Hahn was a late addition to the 2017 class in April as he opted to turn down a walk-on opportunity at Iowa for a scholarship at Michigan State.
Geiger was 15-for-19 on field goals last season with a long of 52 yards and made all 30 of his extra-point attempts.
Hall of Fame trip: Former Michigan State kicker Morten Andersen will be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio. And, Dantonio will be there in person to see it.
“I want to congratulate him publicly,” Dantonio said. “I’m going to go to that (Saturday) evening and that will be an exciting event to be at.”
Andersen played at Michigan State from 1978-81 and ranks seventh in program history in total points with 261. He was picked in the fourth round of the 1982 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints and went on to play for five teams over 25 seasons and owns the league record for career points with 2,544.
Michigan and Michigan State will play Oct. 7 in Ann Arbor.
Tyquan Lewis led Ohio State with eight sacks last season. (Jay LaPrete | AP Photo)