March 28, 2012

Lippett opens spring No. 1 at wide receiver

EAST LANSING - Tony Lippett has already been asked to do a lot for Michigan State's football team.

He has simulated Michigan's Denard Robinson in practice, he has defended against wide receivers in the secondary and caught passes against defensive backs downfield.

But it finally looks like the talented 6-foot-3, 192-pound sophomore will finally get his opportunity to settle in and develop in one area - at wide receiver.

With the loss of three very good and experienced receivers in B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol, Lippett, who made plays on both sides of the ball in games last season is getting his chance to possibly take over the reigns held so tightly and productively by Martin.

It's a role of pass catcher and 'playmaker' that suits Lippett just fine.

"I feel that wide receiver is in my future,'' he said. "I feel more comfortable at it and I feel like it's more natural to me. I felt like once the bowl game was over, I was going to be primarily back on offense and that's where I want to be. It's just more natural.''

Although Lippett heads a cast of talented but young receivers - the most experienced being junior Bennie Fowler, who is absent from spring football practice because of an injury - it is safe to say that his work on both sides of the ball in practice from the day he stepped onto MSU's practice field has given him a slight advantage over most of his other young counterparts expected to compete for time at the position where junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell will be throwing many of his passes this season.

"I was going to play wide receiver last year but obviously we had three senior receivers that were coming back and who had way more experience than me. But once they left, I felt that and they (the coaching staff) felt that I should be back on the offense.''

Lippett should also benefit from last season's relationship that he started to develop with Maxwell, playing with the 2s. In that respect, the growth of their early relationship could be compared to the extra work former Spartan QB Kirk Cousins and Cunningham developed during those early days as redshirts playing with the 2s.

"I felt like it was home,'' Lippett said after his first practice with Maxwell on Tuesday. "I was with the 2s last year and he was too, so I'm more comfortable with Maxwell.''

Last season, Lippett, a highly sought-after and recruited athlete out of Detroit's Crockett High School, where he was known more for his quarterbacking abilities, as well as his secondary play, saw action in all 14 games.

On the offensive side of the ball, he had four catches for 44 yards and one rush for minus-3 yards. Defensively, he had one fumble recovery and return for 15 yards and tied for 14th in tackles with 18. He added a half tackle for loss totaling minus-1 yard and tied for second on the team with five pass breakups.

But if the spring depth chart holds true, Lippett will begin work on replacing Martin, who not only starred as a wideout but became an all-purpose machine, returning punts, running reverses, and even throwing passes.

Despite returning to the position that he says he feels most comfortable at, he said the first day of spring ball required a mental adjustment in his approach to practice and preparation.

"I had to get myself back into it, physically and mentally, because I was playing a lot of defensive back last year and working out, you've got to get back comfortable with all of the movements of a wide receiver. So I just have to keep grinding everyday and getting better.''

Of course, Lippett is still a long ways a way from making Spartan fans forget about Martin's accomplishments but spring ball is where the grooming is expected to start in developing MSU's next all-purpose threat.

"I feel like it's my turn so I've got to step up to the plate,'' he said. "Now it's just about coming to practice and getting better everyday.''

And even if he wanted to, he couldn't deny that playing on both sides of the ball during his first full season of play in a Spartan uniform last year wasn't beneficial in his continued development at the wideout spot.

"I kind of know what corners want to take away and what they're taught to take away, and what they're positioning is supposed to be like as far as blocking, when it comes to the outside. I just know a lot more about working out the angles as far as want they want to exploit and what I have to take away as a wide receiver. It did give me a leg up.''


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