EAST LANSING – Mel Tucker was working with cornerbacks during a practice drill Tuesday morning when Charles Brantley’s turn arrived.
The Michigan state sophomore coach shouted instructions about outdoor leverage, quick feet and low cushion level, then clapped as the real freshman picked up a mock fumble.
“We have to give Chuck a chance,” Tucker said after the rep. “We have to give Chuck a chance.”
The Spartans have now started their fall camp for two weeks and this is a chance for the newcomers to stand out. This includes 18 real freshmen who were members of a 2021 Tucker signing class and his staff recruited almost entirely virtually due to the pandemic.
“These are my Zoom babies,” Tucker said with a smile after Tuesday practice.
What Mel Tucker saw in Michigan’s first state scrum
Four members of the 2021 signing class were early registrants who joined the program in January while the rest arrived in the summer. Brantley, a 6-foot-0, 165-pound former three-star prospect at Venice High School in Florida, was among the latter group.
“I love Chuck,” Tucker said. “Chuck throws him in there now, he’s physical, he’s a quick learner and he’s about it.” He lives it, he really loves it.
Wide catcher Keon Coleman, a former three-star rookie at Opelousas Catholic School in Louisiana, was another summer addition to Tucker’s first recruiting class leading the Spartans. He also distinguished himself in the Michigan State’s first fall scrum on Saturday.
“Keon made a game there for us, a few games,” Tucker said.
At 6-4 and 210 pounds, Coleman brings height to Michigan State receivers. He also had Division I basketball offerings and plans to play both sports at Michigan State. For now, his athleticism will be focused on the football field.
“Keon Coleman is young, very young, very raw,” said offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, “but obviously has great talent.… He’s doing pretty well mentally and I think he continues to grow there. , but as we get a little more work here in the next seven to 10 days, kind of see where that takes us. And then I think I’ll have a better idea – is that a guy that you can use sparingly and get yourself a match or something? But right now we’re still in this scoring tool to make him do it all, make him do everything and see how he progresses.
Michigan State OC Jay Johnson wants to see a more disciplined attack in 2021
Michigan State has a crowded backfield to sort through and the mix includes Davion Primm. The former three-star Oak Park High School rookie was another freshman who was recognized for his performance on Saturday.
“I liked Primm in the fray,” Tucker said. “He ran behind his pads and fell forward on contact. He made good cuts and showed some explosiveness to get through the smoke and the hole.
Michigan’s first state scrum has been closed to the public and media and no statistics have been released. The program released a brief highlight video and featured linebacker Itayvion Brown sacking against quarterback Anthony Russo, who is competing with Payton Thorne for the starting spot. Brown, a former four-star rookie, didn’t play like a true freshman in Minnesota last season before being transferred to Michigan state in May.
“Defensively I like what Tank Brown did on the rim,” Tucker said. “He gives us juice on the edge and he was solid in the running game as well. “
Brown is one of three stock linebackers transferred by the Spartans during the offseason, along with Quavaris Crouch (Tennessee) and Ben VanSumeren (Michigan).
“Q. Crouch introduced himself,” Tucker said. “He plays fast, plays physically. It was good to see. … VanSumeren has been running there the last few days to do a good job.
VanSumeren spent two seasons behind the Wolverines before moving on to lineback last year and registering seven tackles while playing all six games with two starts. Former four-star rookie Crouch had 85 tackles, including three for loss, in 23 games with 11 starts in two seasons at Tennessee.
“He’s lightning fast,” Michigan State fifth-year senior tight end Tyler Hunt said of Crouch. “He breaks on the ball and he’s there.”
Tucker’s roster redesign includes 15 scholarship transfers, including five defensive backs. Redshirt’s junior starting cornerback Kalon Gervin is back but, following the portal rotation, the squad are heading into the fall needing to rely heavily on the newcomers. Ronald Williams (Alabama) and Chester Kimbrough (Florida) both bring SEC experience and talent to the group.
“These two guys really pushed me and the whole receiving room, making us improve,” said junior red jersey receiver Jalen Nailor. “I think those two have really established themselves as our cornerbacks right now.”
Williams, a former Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, suffered an arm injury that limited him to one tackle in three games last season for the Alabama national champion. At 6-2 and 185 pounds, he gives the Spartans a head start.
“Ron it’s a pretty long wedge so he likes to use his arms a lot,” Nailor said. “It’s a real tough challenge for any receiver, a guy with long arms, and he can run too.”
Kimbrough, 6-0, 180 pounds, had 15 tackles and three broken assists in 17 games in two seasons with the Gators. Senior safety Xavier Henderson said last month he could play away and also quickly clinched the nickel spot.
“He’s really light on his feet, he has good feet, good hips,” Nailor said of Kimbrough. “He’s going to be a player.
Transfers in attack
Michigan State’s six transfer additions in January included a trio of attacking players in Russo (Temple), running back Kenneth Walker III (Wake Forest) and offensive tackle Jarrett Horst (Arkansas State). All three are potential starters who were with the team during spring practice.
Harold Joiner, a running back from Auburn, officially joined the program in May. Coaches and players have raved about Walker’s abilities since the winter while Joiner later began working with the Spartans.
“I really like what Harold Joiner did in the scrum,” Tucker said. “He was able to get off his pads and run with some authority. He has excellent ball skills out of the backfield.
Michigan State QB competition continues as fall camp continues
Joiner has had 15 career carries for 103 yards and two touchdowns and six receptions for 128 yards and one scoring in 17 career games at Auburn. At 6-4 and 215 pounds, the former four-star rookie is three inches taller than any other backer in Michigan state and could be used differently.
“He’s long, he can run and he’s shown good ball skills so far so I think you could move him to a lot of different areas and we tried to do that with him a bit,” said Johnson. “Yes, I see it as being very versatile in use.”
The Spartans added two tight transfers to Maliq Carr (Purdue) and Powers Warren (State of Mississippi), who is the son of Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren. Carr caught a 15-yard catch in three games as a wide receiver at Purdue last season before being transferred to Michigan State and switching positions. He was in a boot the first day of fall camp on August 5, but no longer has any the following week.
“Maliq Carr is starting to make headway,” Tucker said, “so hopefully he starts showing up here at some point at the end of the week and we’ll see what he can do.”
Carr, 6-5, 245 pounds, is a former four-star Oak Park rookie. He had Division I basketball offerings and could play two sports for the Spartans as well.
“Great athletic body,” Johnson said. “Really, really excited for him. Keep growing, keep learning.
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