Damion Terry steals show in MSU spring game

Damion Terry can either fill in for Connor Cook or make plays out of the backfield.

Mike Carter/Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State Spartans fans were introduced to their own "Slash" on Saturday afternoon.

Quarterback/tailback/receiver Damion Terry stole the show in the spring intrasquad scrimmage at Spartan Stadium by displaying his ability to pressure defenses with his arm, feet and hands.

Kordell Stewart became known as "Slash" because one was needed to separate the positions that the quarterback/receiver played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Terry could be cut from the same mold.

Last fall — with quarterback Connor Cook struggling to find success and rhythm in a real game — a chant began in the student section. They wanted Terry, the highly-recruited freshman from Erie, Pa., for the second half.

Despite the loud pleas for a change, coach Mark Dantonio stuck with Cook, who took a few games to hit his stride. Now Cook is cemented as the starter. He recovered from a rocky start in September to throw for 2,755 yards and 22 touchdowns with only six interceptions.

Cook was the second-team All-Big Ten selection of conference coaches, the Big Ten championship game MVP and the Rose Bowl’s Most Outstanding Player. He also has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

So what to do with Terry, who has four years left to play?

Dantonio provided his answer in a 20-13 White victory over the Green, which was played in front of an estimated 35,000 fans. Terry, who played for both teams, took snaps as a quarterback and tailback. He split wide as a receiver on a trick play, too.

But the thing Terry did best was put a shiver down the spines of Big Ten defensive coordinators. MSU will be that much tougher to prepare for with him.

I asked Dantonio if he decided that Terry was a player he simply had to get onto the field — one way or another.

"You saw what he could do," Dantonio said. "He has great running ability, but he’s got to grow with his position … making the basic reads. And these 15 practices really helped him.

"We see certain people using two quarterbacks in systems, and we’re experimenting. Damion’s a guy who can make plays. We’ve got to find out (about) our quarterbacks. He’s a good football player. He’s got to grow, but he can throw."

Even in limited action, Terry looked far more intriguing than QB Tyler O’Connor, who has three years of eligibility remaining. O’Connor threw three interceptions and one touchdown in the scrimmage.

Terry, on the other hand, took a handoff from Cook and raced for a 23-yard touchdown the first time he touched the ball.

Later, Terry split to the left before being waved into the backfield by Cook, who handed the ball off to him after the snap. Terry then overthrew the intended receiver, but it was entertaining play — even if it was ineffective.

Terry later pulled up and pump-faked on what appeared to be a run. He then took a quick step forward that caused safety Kurtis Drummond to bite and come forward for run defense, leaving receiver Tony Lippett alone. The result was an easy third-down completion of 22 yards to Lippett.

That play best displayed the problems defenses could have dealing with Terry, who rushed for 699 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior at Erie Cathedral Prep. He also threw for 3,599 yards and 50 touchdowns for a 15-0 state champion.

On Saturday, he had three carries for 32 yards and completed 2 of 5 passes for 30 yards, but two of his throws were dropped.

Even with only eight snaps coming down to Terry, he was the player everyone was talking about.

He wasn’t among the half-dozen players brought to the press box for interviews, but he’ll have plenty to say about what kind of a threat the Spartans pose on offense in 2014.

While the defense returns standout end Shilique Calhoun — who had a sack and blocked an extra point in Saturday’s scrimmage — it must replace its other two key defensive starters. Shutdown cornerback Darqueze Dennard and middle linebacker Max Bullough, who ran the unit like a coach on the field, are awaiting the NFL Draft.

But the offense returns all of its stars. Cook is back, as is tailback Jeremy Langford, who rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. The leading receiver, Lippett, who had 44 catches for 613 yards a year ago, also returns.

And now there’s Terry — another weapon who can either fill in for Cook or make plays out of the backfield.

Having an offense so good that he has to find a way to get Terry onto the field is a nice problem for Dantonio to have. He took joy in fielding questions about how he would use him, and who could blame him?