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Questions abound in footballs future

January 8, 2002

Joe Namath he’s not, but that didn’t stop Charles Rogersfrom making a bold prediction after a 44-35 victory over Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Football Classic.

Like the Hall of Fame quarterback who guaranteed a victory in the 1969 Super Bowl, MSU’s sophomore receiver has lofty expectations for the future.

“We finished 7-5 this year,” said Rogers, who had a school record 13 touchdown receptions this season. “But I can guarantee that we won’t be 7-5 next year. We are only going to get better and better as long as (head coach) Bobby Williams is around.”

With the Spartans eligible to return eight starters on offense and seven on defense in 2002, Roger’s guarantee looks promising.

Williams - the first MSU coach to win consecutive bowl games since 1990 - is also optimistic.

After a season that saw multiple serious injuries to first-and second-string players, Williams said he’s excited about working with an experienced - and hopefully healthy - lineup.

“We are talking about taking this program to the next level and I think we made some progress against Fresno State,” Williams said. “I think we’re steadily moving this program into the direction of a national championship.”

With most of MSU’s nucleus in tact, spring and summer practices will be a crucial time for player development.

The Spartans will lose most of their experience at tight end, linebacker, defensive line and the punter position due to the graduations of Chris Baker, Josh Thornhill, Josh Shaw, Nick Myers and Craig Jarrett.

Thornhill, a Sporting News All-America selection, looks to be the team’s biggest loss.

Voted by his peers as MSU’s 2001 Most Valuable Player, Thornhill tallied 242 solo tackles and 33 tackles for loss in 46 career games.

Filling Thornhill’s role as a leader on and off the field is another issue, however Thornhill feels the Spartans are prepared.

“Our guys showed a lot of fight all season and it will only carry on to 2002,” Thornhill said of the defense. “In a weird way the injuries helped the younger guys get experience fast. I won’t be worried when I’m gone.”

Returning starters are not a luxury for the Spartan’s special teams however.

The loss of Jarrett and Walter Camp All-American kick returner Herb Haygood create a glaring weakness for MSU’s already shaky special teams.

Freshman kicker Dave Rayner is the only returning special teamer expected to keep his starting position.

Rayner, who was 8-of-14 on the year, will most likely work with former kicker Paul Edinger of the Chicago Bears this summer, Williams said.

Holes created by graduation could be filled during spring and summer practice, but if junior running back T.J. Duckett decides to forgo his senior year for the NFL the Spartans are in trouble.

Williams said Duckett has much he could improve on by staying at MSU, but understands the decision isn’t up to him.

The decision may be Duckett’s, but even he admits it’s one he hasn’t made yet.

“I’ve talked to him about it, but I really don’t know,” said sophomore quarterback Jeff Smoker. “T.J. is going to do what’s best for him and his situation.”

If Duckett leaves, MSU will have only one member of its backfield - junior fullback Dawan Moss - with extensive game experience.

However, the entire starting offensive line will return in 2002 to lead the way for whoever starts at running back.

Against Fresno State Duckett ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns, but he gave the offensive line the credit afterwards.

“They are the backbone of our offense and they are constantly improving,” Duckett said. “They had a lot of penalties earlier in the year, but as the season went on you could see them coming together.”

All told, the Spartans understand a lot of work must be done for complete synergy on the field in 2002.

“It’s all up to us right now,” Smoker said. “I don’t see any limits. We as players can be part of something special next year.”


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