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Couch: MSU football's rebuild has one thing for certain – a presence at QB in Aidan Chiles

EAST LANSING – Michigan State defensive back Dillon Tatum is an alpha personality. He’s engaging. He can light up a room. He speaks with authority, usually candidly. He doesn’t tend to blow smoke into people or situations that don’t deserve it.

But when Aidan Chiles entered the room and joined him on the podium during Michigan State football’s post-spring game press conference Saturday — just as Tatum was being asked about Chiles — Tatum turned a tad sheepish, almost deferring to a larger presence.

“Close your ears,” Tatum said to Chiles, who was sitting a few feet away.

Chiles obliged, putting his headphones on, while Tatum began to gush about the Spartans’ new quarterback.

“Aidan has great size. I think he can run really, really well. And you see the arm that was put on display today, it was very good,” Tatum said. “But an elite-level quarterback like Aidan Chiles continuously gives us work (in the secondary). And we're gonna continue to get better. And I think he's going to be at the top of the Big Ten, if not the top of the country this year.”

For once, I don’t trust Tatum’s analysis. It’s not that Chiles doesn’t have great talent, quick feet and a big arm. It’s not that he won’t one day be at the top of the Big Ten or even all of college football. It’s that he’s a first-year starter and a true sophomore. And, mostly, I think Tatum was playing up to a young man who, in barely any time at all, has become the face and the alpha of MSU’s football program.

There are tons of questions about this MSU football team and its capabilities in Year 1 under Jonathan Smith. But not at quarterback.

We don’t yet know how good Chiles will be on Day 1 under center for the Spartans. But we know he’ll be under center. And everyone in the program knows it, too — from Smith and Chiles, to Tatum and Tommy Schuster, Chiles’ backup. Chiles was brought to East Lansing, from Oregon State, to be MSU’s quarterback. Schuster was brought in, after five years at North Dakota, to be Chiles' backup.

There is a presence to Chiles beyond his resume, having spent one year as a backup QB in the Pac-12, a magnetic quality to him. This is his team. He feels it.

“It's different,” Chiles said Saturday. “… Being in a starting role, it's been a learning experience. It’s been fun. And I'm grateful to be in this position. The biggest thing is everybody's watching. I saw it today. Basically, I see my face every five minutes (on the jumbotron). I can't do anything to mess myself up. I really just have to be on my Ps and Qs and just be able to maintain my composure throughout the game, throughout practice, throughout everything. Because everybody's watching me.”

Some of that’s because MSU hasn’t had a quarterback quite like him, perhaps ever — with all the attributes Tatum mentioned. Some of it’s because he represents hope and change for a program whose fan base is desperate for it. And some of it is how he carries himself — the confidence and charisma, like he’s up for this. Chiles exudes QB1 vibes.

Nothing he did on the field Saturday during MSU’s spring football showcase suggested anything less. He was far from perfect in completing 7 of 14 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. But he was tantalizingly good — on a 22-yard pass over the middle to Montorie Foster on his first throw of the scrimmage, and on a 35-yard dart to Foster down the right side, and again when he spun out of trouble and ran for 17 yards.

“I thought he threw it accurately, moved his feet well,” Smith said of Chiles. “I think it helped that he had a little bit of run game going. He had a nice carry. … He looked comfortable and guys made some plays for him in the pass game, which was great to see.”

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Among Chiles’ attributes — beyond the physical — is his self-awareness and how comfortable he appears to be as a still-growing quarterback. He talked about relying too much on talent and athletic ability alone last year. When asked about Schuster, his veteran backup — who had a strong day himself — Chiles explained Schuster’s strengths by alluding to his own weaknesses.

“Tommy's a baller, man. I like what he does,” Chiles said. “When he goes out there, I watch what he does. Just because he's so much more experienced and I've learned from other coaches, defensive coaches on our team have told me that I live by the gun, die by the gun. I'm a really aggressive quarterback. I take things that I probably shouldn't be taking. And Tommy goes out there and takes what the defense gives him. And I like what he does. He just drives the ball up the field, calm, cool and collected. He never gets out of his head. … It seems easy for him. Sometimes I get out there, I'll panic a little bit, but I get back in my head.”

It’s perhaps easier to speak so bluntly about one’s own faults when you’re not in a quarterback competition, when it’s your team and everybody understands that.

A year ago, MSU made a mess of its quarterback situation. It also didn’t have a quarterback that everyone understood to be the starter. That’s the last thing this team needs, uncertainty at that position. And there is none. It doesn’t take but a minute around Chiles or his teammates to realize it.

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Contact Graham Couch at gcouch@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Michigan State football's rebuild has a presence at QB in Aidan Chiles