Lewerke looking for next level as leader in 2018

The Spartan Red Zone crew is kicking off (pun intended) their preview of the 2018 college football season by analyzing the Michigan State roster position by position. Check back the rest of this week for more positional previews!

After breaking his tibia in 2016 having shown flashes of untapped potential, Brian Lewerke entered last season under a cloud of uncertainty, with people wondering just how good the then-sophomore could actually be.

Lewerke approached last season on a rather short leash, but what did he do to quickly turn heads? All he did was throw for nearly 3,000 yards, tossing 20 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions.

Lewerke was responsible for 258 yards of total offense per game last year, which was third-best in the entire conference, but he didn’t do all of his damage through the air. Lewerke, who stepped onto campus as a dual-threat QB, also tallied 559 yards on the ground, using his legs to find the end zone five times.

Michigan State, who in the last two seasons entered its season with a question mark under center, is hoping for a big and inevitable leap in play from its rising star gunslinger.

“Our players believe in him [Lewerke] totally, so they have propped him up there in a good place,” head coach Mark Dantonio said of his quarterback. “I think it gives us a chance to win every time he takes a snap.”

Lewerke entered last season still a work in progress, but made significant strides weekly, becoming battle-tested in many different environments. Experience-wise, Lewerke now has a full year of starting experience under his belt, having faced Notre Dame in a night game, gutting out a rivalry win in Ann Arbor and traveling to Columbus to face a national title-caliber team.

“He got better and better as the season went,” Dantonio said of Lewerke’s steady improvement in 2017. “I think what he had to improve on is knowing where to go with the football, his reads, being consistent with that, and then also, a little bit of patience. He got out of the pocket. He made things happen. I think that’s the beauty of it. He can create.”

Lewerke’s vast skill set is something that hasn’t really been there with any other QB in the Dantonio era, having the arm to zip it to one of his many playmaking receivers, but also the legs to make something out of nothing and to keep opposing defenses honest.

With the 2018 season three weeks away, the biggest area of improvement for Lewerke will be with his arm. Surrounded by a deep receiving corps, it’ll be key for him to take the next step in the passing game, which could really push the MSU offense to an elite level.

Racking up 215 yards per game through the air, which ranked fifth-best in the Big Ten, Lewerke should see that number significantly rise with more accurate balls this season. His accuracy failed him at times, completing just 59 percent of his passes. Having been named to the preseason Davey O’Brien Award watch list, an award given to the nation’s top quarterback, Lewerke feels building off last season’s success could put vault him into a different tier of quarterbacks this year.

“Obviously, you still have to play and translate that hype onto the field so that’s something that I’ve been focusing on just living up to that, but some of it will just come if it happens,” Lewerke said of the heightened expectations for him in 2018. “3,000 yards passing, 25 or more touchdowns, somewhere in the range of 65 percent completions would kind of be my goal for the season.”

There’s not a whole lot of quarterback experience behind Lewerke. After redshirting last season to learn more of the offense, the backup position seems to be Rocky Lombardi’s to lose. Lombardi ran the scout team a season ago and had a strong spring game, further bolstering his case as the probable backup come Week 1.

Behind Lombardi is true freshman Theo Day. Day, a three-star, was the higher-touted of the two backups, being ranked No. 377 in the 2018 class. His 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame will definitely have Spartan fans patiently awaiting him as a potential starting option down the road.

With the new redshirt rule, MSU could very well take advantage of it, letting Day get a year of scout-team experience under his belt before moving in a position to compete for a bigger workload.

Mickey Macius, the lone senior in the QB room who transferred last season from Austin Peay, should provide depth at the position.

While there isn’t much experience behind Lewerke, as long as stays healthy, there may not be any worry for that inexperience. Lewerke’s improvement as a passer could go a long way to guiding the Spartans to their second Big Ten title in the last four seasons.

Grade: B+