East Lansing — While many Michigan State fans grew more and more disgruntled each week of the 2018 season as the offense continued to struggle, most of the frustration was directed at co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner.
However, as is the case with just about any offense that is having trouble putting points on the board, the Spartans quarterback — Brian Lewerke — also took his share of heat.
How warranted it was is tough to determine considering the junior played the second half of the season with an injured right throwing shoulder and played most of the season behind a banged up offensive line as playmakers like running back LJ Scott and starting wide receivers Felton Davis, Cody White and Darrell Stewart Jr. were hampered by injuries.
And while Dantonio decided to shake up his offensive staff and move quarterbacks coach Brad Salem to offensive coordinator and running backs coach, he has no intentions of making any significant moves when it comes to his quarterback, even as accomplished quarterbacks like Alabama’s Jalen Hurts are seeking a transfer.
“I don't anticipate doing that right now. I don't want to do that,” Dantonio said of bringing in a transfer quarterback. “That's not the way that we're going to go. As I said, the easy thing, guys, is to say, ‘Hey, we've got a great defense; let's get rid of the offensive guys. Let's shake the quarterback out over here. Put a little pixie dust right here and everything's going to be OK.’
“That's not necessarily the situation. Brian Lewerke I think understands our terminology. He's been successful here in the past. I think he can be successful and I have faith in that. And so I put my faith in the people that I know and that's the direction we're going to go.”
Most of Lewerke’s success came in 2017 when he threw 20 touchdown passes and gained 3,352 total yards, the second-most in program history. It helped the Spartans bounce back from three wins in 2016 to 10 in 2017, capped with a victory over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.
It also led to plenty of preseason hype heading into 2018, including talk of Heisman hopes and being a top pick in the NFL Draft. Instead, Lewerke struggled early in the season, throwing seven interceptions in the first six games.
To compound the problems, Lewerke injured his right shoulder during a victory over Penn State on Oct. 13. He started the next week against Michigan but was just 5-for-25 as the shoulder bothered him the rest of the season, including in starts against Maryland and Ohio State.
Redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi started three games in relief of Lewerke, but the junior got the call for the Redbox Bowl matchup with Oregon. But he still wasn’t as sharp, going 22-for-40 for 172 yards with an interception in a 7-6 loss.
Dantonio said rest and recuperation is all Lewerke needs heading into his senior year as Lewerke seems to have the upper hand to remain the starter over Lombardi, freshman Theo Day and incoming freshman Payton Thorne.
“I don't anticipate surgery there. I would be very surprised if there was surgery,” Dantonio said. “I think he needs a little bit of rest. I thought that he threw the ball pretty well at the Bowl game.
“You know, it's not always about throwing the football. It's about decision-making, too. I think he's very, very capable of doing what he's always been able to do in the past.”
'Statement for our defense'
It wasn’t all about coaching changes for Dantonio on Thursday.
As he and the revamped staff hit the road for the recruiting period that beings on Friday, they’ll do so knowing they’ve got some key juniors returning to one of the top defenses in the nation, including tackles Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk, end Kenny Willekes, linebacker Joe Bachie and safety David Dowell.
“To me, it gives you five guys that are almost like signing five, five-star players or four-star players,” Dantonio said. “They know the system. They know the requirements here. They have played championship-type defense. They have dominated at their position at times throughout their careers here.
“To have them all coming back, not only makes a statement for our defense, but makes a statement for our entire program in terms of what they are trying to accomplish in terms of getting their degree and what they are trying to accomplish in terms of winning a championship.”
Dantonio announced that in addition to junior cornerback Justin Layne, who opted to forgo his final season and enter the NFL Draft, freshman punter William Przystup has decided to transfer.
Przystup was forced into action after injuries to Jake Hartbarger and Tyler Hunt. He outkicked fellow walk-on Bryce Baringer and was the primary punter in the final three regular-season games and the bowl game.
However, Hartbarger will be back for a sixth season and the Spartans signed Australian punter Jack Bouwmeester in December and he has already enrolled at Michigan State.