EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Andrew Maxwell dropped back, rolled out to his right and tossed a short, crisp pass to Dion Sims.

Spring practice has begun at Michigan State, and Maxwell has the crucial task of replacing Kirk Cousins at quarterback. Tuesday was Maxwell’s first chance to take over as the leader of the offense, and it was an unusual feeling.

“It was different. It was weird,” he said. “It’s a challenge I’ve been waiting for.”

Cousins led the Spartans to 11-win seasons as a junior and senior, and his departure leaves both a leadership void and a hole to fill in the team’s passing game. Maxwell, who will be a junior in the fall, has attempted 51 passes in his college career and hasn’t played much in non-blowouts.

“We’re very fortunate to have him be as patient, really, as he’s been throughout this process,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “He came here as a highly recruited young man, and from day one when he came in here he impressed. So it wasn’t the type of thing where we had to sort of sit there and say, ‘Well, hopefully he gets good enough.’ He’s come here with an idea that he can be the guy, and this is his time.”

A standout at Midland High School, Maxwell redshirted in 2009 at Michigan State and was a backup the last two seasons. He’s never thrown more than 10 passes in a game as a Spartan, reaching that number twice — most recently in a 44-0 rout of Florida Atlantic last September.

Cousins, meanwhile, went 27-12 in 39 career starts. He threw for 3,316 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, leading Michigan State to the Legends Division title a year after the Spartans tied for the Big Ten crown. By the time he was finished, Cousins may have been the most recognizable student on campus.

From out of that shadow steps Maxwell.

“I just think I need to be myself,” Maxwell said. “If I try to be Kirk’s replacement, I’m not being myself.”

At 6-foot-3, Maxwell is the same height as Cousins, and he’ll have the benefit of an offensive line that returns four starters. The challenge for Maxwell will be working with a group of receivers who are also being asked to fill different roles this season. Michigan State loses B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin from the 2011 team, meaning Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery are currently atop the depth chart. They combined for six catches last season.

Sims, a tight end, had 12 receptions, including three touchdowns. Wide receiver Bennie Fowler was limited by a foot injury last season, and Dantonio hopes to have him back by the end of the spring.

DeAnthony Arnett, a transfer receiver from Tennessee, is hoping to receive a waiver so he can play immediately. Arnett, who is from Saginaw, said his father has had multiple heart attacks and is on dialysis. He left the Volunteers and moved closer to home.

“That petition has gone in. So we’ll wait to see where the NCAA is on that,” Dantonio said. “But he’s involved in winter conditioning. He’s involved in spring practice. We’ll work him as if he’s going to be game-ready.”

Maxwell will get the same treatment, of course. There are other quarterbacks, including Connor Cook, who redshirted last season, but Maxwell is the heir apparent to Cousins unless something happens to change that. Michigan State’s spring game is April 28, and the Spartans open the regular season Aug. 31 against Boise State.

“It’s a work in progress. I think we played with pretty good enthusiasm, pretty good speed today,” Maxwell said. “I think I learned a lot of things sitting behind Kirk.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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