EAST LANSING — A year ago, Michigan State football found itself down on defense in spring practice. A lack of depth in the secondary and at linebacker forced Mel Tucker to eschew a full-team scrimmage for fans eager to see his team again.
This year, it’s the offensive line’s low numbers to eliminate the Green and White “game.”
Instead, it will again be a public practice inside Spartan Stadium as injuries and recoveries continue to limit Tucker’s depth. The festivities and open workout kick off at 2 p.m., and will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.
“I would love to be able to play a traditional game if we could, but our numbers won’t allow us to do it,” Tucker said Monday. “But if we could, then I would do that.”
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MSU lost five offensive linemen to graduation, Kevin Jarvis to the NFL draft and two others to the transfer portal since its Peach Bowl win over Pitt on Dec. 29. Veteran Matt Carrick continues to recover from leg surgery he underwent during the season in 2021, and others have been nicked up during their spring practices.
Saturday’s session will conclude their 15 allowed under NCAA rules. MSU will close its spring with a 15-period practice that will feature individual and group drills during the first half and live scrimmage periods during the second half.
“We like to have as many game-like experiences as we can before the season starts,” Tucker said. “We don’t have preseason games. So when you get a chance to get into the stadium, into the Woodshed, with fans and create a game-like atmosphere, I think that helps. But the next best thing is to just have a really solid practice. And our guys know how to do that.”
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Parking on campus will be free at Lots 79, 63, 67, 126 and Ramp 7; Lot 62 is reserved for accessible parking. The Izzo Legacy Run/Walk/Roll also will be held at 9 a.m., and the Spartans’ baseball team hosts Michigan at 4:05 p.m.
Which means for a busy day around Spartan Stadium. And Tucker wants it to be just as busy during the two-hour workout. Particularly because MSU will be hosting a number of top football recruits to watch the workout and experience what the third-year coach hopes will be a festive environment.
With brisk temperatures forecast in the low 40s but a sunny day projected otherwise, Tucker hopes fans will fill the stadium to help sell the future of his program to prospects.
“It makes a difference because of the recruiting,” he said. “We’re competing for the players, we’re competing against other programs. And in recruiting, the competition, a lot of it is about comparison. So they’re gonna compare their experience here to experiences they see other places. And so we need to put our best foot forward.”
Tucker said despite the limited number of offensive linemen, MSU did hold its second closed scrimmage Thursday. And he said he “liked what I saw” with the Spartans’ energy and enthusiasm in it.
“The football was cleaner on both sides of the ball,” Tucker said. “We got really good work on special teams. There were less mistakes. Guys were playing faster. You could tell that the squad had improved in less than a week, because it just it was just a better brand of football being played in the scrimmage.
“I saw the offensive line do some good things, even as thin as we are. Guys popped a couple of runs, which was good to see.”
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One of those players was running back Jalen Berger, a Wisconsin transfer whom Tucker said “wasn’t at full strength” in the first scrimmage.
“That was the first time I got a chance to really see him live, and he popped a couple of runs,” Tucker said. “And he looked good.”
Berger was one of two running backs Tucker slapped a “player alert” label on — meaning someone to watch come this fall, but stopping short of making “a declaration of a bona fide player.” The other continues to be redshirt freshman Davion Primm.
As for the battle for the No. 2 quarterback position behind incumbent starter Payton Thorne, Tucker said it continues to be a competition between sophomore Noah Kim, redshirt freshman Hamp Fay and early-enrolled freshman Katin Houser — none of whom have taken a college snap.
“I think it’s gone probably go into camp with those guys,” Tucker said of the QBs. “They’re getting better, all of them. They’re all very talented guys. It’s just going to be a matter of who’s gonna step up the most and be the most consistent position. But I like to play from the guys that we have there.”
While much of the attention has been on wide receiver Keon Coleman and tight end Maliq Carr spending the winter playing basketball, MSU has another two-sport athlete in tight end Adam Berghorst.
However, the senior currently is not playing either football or basktball.
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Tucker said Berghorst has been “banged up” this spring. The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Zeeland native played 39 snaps in six games last season and has made 18 career appearances in football.
A right-handed pitcher for the Spartans’ baseball team, Berghorst has pitched 41⅓ innings in two seasons, making seven starts and striking out 19 in 19 appearances. The Texas Rangers drafted him in the 14th round of the MLB draft, but Berghorst opted to play both sports at MSU.