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Donnie Corley could become a 2-way threat for Michigan State

Photo: Adam Ruff | Icon Sportswire

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State has fallen short of expectations this season, but true freshman Donnie Corley has easily played up to his previous billing.

With that said, if the Spartans were better than 2-6 overall and 0-5 in the Big Ten, more people would be discussing the attributes and accomplishments of the 6-foot-2, 186-pound wide receiver.

Tack on “defensive back” to that title, too.

The former Detroit MLK star saw snaps as a cornerback during a 32-23 rivalry loss this past Saturday to Michigan, the No. 3-ranked team in the College Football Playoff poll. He also had two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown.

Of course, he’s known for offense.

At least for the time being.

Did you see him wrestle in mid-air for his first career touchdown? He yanked the ball away from Notre Dame’s Cole Luke, immediately asserting his physical prowess over a senior.

And not just “a” senior, either. Prior to 2016, Luke had stared every game at corner for the Irish. As a sophomore, he won a few national defensive player of the week honors too. He’s a good football player.

However, Corley — who was embarrassing and demoralizing high school kids one year ago — was just much, much better that day, catching four passes for 88 yards (and a score) during the Spartans’ 36-28 win in South Bend.

Through eight games, Corley has demonstrated clear-cut and superior athletic abilities while facing defensive backs. With 323 yards, he’s the Spartans’ second-leading receiver. With three touchdowns, he’s also second in scoring among receivers. In terms of numbers, only R.J. Shelton, a senior, has been better — he has 598 receiving yards and has scored four touchdowns.

But put offense to the side. Shift back to defense.

Yes, Corley had just one tackle Saturday vs. Michigan. And yes, he’s hardly established a defensive body of work in East Lansing — he just arrived this year, so he hasn’t really had the time. But eventually, he could be a featured two-way standout for the Spartans.

“During recruiting, absolutely we saw that potential,” said Spartans receivers coach Terrence Samuel. “He has the ability to play both, and get comfortable with both the offense and the defense. Can you simplify it enough to where he can play fast, is he technique-sound enough to play fast? Next year will be a really good year…”

It takes time to develop, so expect more of defensive-Corley in 2017. This season will serve as a test run for obvious reasons, with the main one being that he’s a freshman — so the whole “test run” thing is pretty standard.

“The first year is a lot about the experience part of playing in the environment and things of that nature,” Samuel said. “He is coming, but you will see an entirely different Donnie next year, and in the spring. What I want to see out of him in the spring is to be in a leadership position.”

VIDEO: Watch Corley discuss details of playing WR/CB

Athleticism helps, but intelligence and technique tend to be the key separating factors. So far, he’s done nothing but prove one thing to the MSU staff: He knows what he’s doing.

“Donnie (Corley) is 100-percent correct. He is a very smart and intelligent individual who is trying to make everything efficient,” Samuel said. “The young wide receivers have a tendency to only rely on their athletic skills. The technique is what will get them a long way. We spend a lot of the time just trying to show them the ‘why’s’ rather than a DB’s technique. Our technique is efficient.”

Corley possesses shades of former players, said Dantonio, who hasn’t had many two-way threats since taking over MSU football in 2007.

“I really see him being a lot like Tony Lippett in a lot of ways, understanding everything defensively to be to put him in there when we need him, but I think he’s got a big upside as a wide receiver, can make a lot of plays,” Dantonio said. “So I think his home is at wide receiver, and then he has to transition to corner as we go, but I think there will be opportunities to do that for him…”

In terms of usage, Dantonio feels that Corley has the potential to handle a stacked workload. He saw similar circumstances during a stay in Columbus.

Michigan State’s offense has been stuck in a state of flux. On the other side, the defense has been incredibly inefficient and un-MSU-like. Having two Corleys would work best, but Dantonio doesn’t have two — so he’ll have to carefully balance frequency and placement with the one he has on campus.

“Like I said, when I was at Ohio State, the most Chris Gamble ever played was 113 plays one game,” Dantonio continued. “He was over a hundred six games in a row. So it can be done. Lippett has played a lot of plays in the past, too. Now he’s starting in the NFL as a corner in his second year. So it can be done…”

Follow Adam Biggers of Today’s U on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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