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MSU offensive line struggles with early season injuries

October 8, 2015
<p>Head coach Mark Dantonio looks down at sophomore offensive lineman Dennis Finley after Finley broke his right tibia and fibia in the second quarter of the Homecoming game against Purdue on Oct. 3, 2015, at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Boilermakers, 24-21.</p>

Head coach Mark Dantonio looks down at sophomore offensive lineman Dennis Finley after Finley broke his right tibia and fibia in the second quarter of the Homecoming game against Purdue on Oct. 3, 2015, at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Boilermakers, 24-21.

Photo by Alice Kole | The State News

The Spartan offensive line has 10 starters listed for five spots on the week six depth chart, but this overload is not a sign of health.

Senior Jack Allen is listed as a co-starter at both center and left tackle, senior Donavon Clark is co-starter at right guard and right tackle and sophomore Brian Allen is co-starter at left guard and center. This means three players make up for six of the 10 named starters.

Two of the remaining four players are under questionable status with injuries: junior left tackle Jack Conklin and junior right tackle Kodi Kieler. Lastly, redshirt freshman David Beedle is co-starter at left guard and junior Benny McGowan is co-starter at right guard.

Offensive line coach Mark Staten said he doesn’t even know which players are going to get the starters’ nod for the away game at Rutgers on Saturday.

"We’re dinged up now and that is only going to make us stronger."

“We’re dinged up now and that is only going to make us stronger," Staten said. "The biggest thing is getting guys the reps at practice."

When Kieler went down with a leg injury in week two against Oregon the offensive line faced its first adversity of the season. But when Conklin went down with a knee injury in week four against Central Michigan and his replacement, sophomore Dennis Finley, broke his tibia and fibula against Purdue in week five, the offensive line became inarguably hobbled.

Staten said Conklin and Kieler are close to returning, which would bring back the Spartans’ depth and experience upfront.

“They are working towards that," Staten said. "They were out there today and they're getting better. The plan is for one if not both to be back and if it doesn’t happen we’ll just continue to play on."

The left tackle position is the most important lineman to a right handed drop-back passer such as senior quarterback Connor Cook. The position is responsible for guarding his blind side and Conklin has been sufficiently doing so since the Spartans’ 2013 Rose Bowl season. Conklin has allowed just 2.5 sacks in 27 career games.

“Kodi could play left and Jack could play right,” Staten said about the scenario where Conklin does not return but right tackle Kieler does.

Jack Allen will see playing time at left tackle for the second straight week if neither are healthy enough to go against Rutgers. The challenge does not faze him, though. It actually fires him up.

"Not a lot of centers get to do this, so I’m going to enjoy it while I can."

“You kind of get out of the daily norm of the things you do every day, I don’t know, I think it is a really cool experience," Allen said. "Not a lot of centers get to do this, so I’m going to enjoy it while I can."

Clark started at left tackle when he joined the MSU football team, but his solid chemistry with roommate McGowan and his recent experience on the right side will keep him where he is most comfortable.

“It’s getting better because me and him are actually roommates so we can talk about different things so that kind of helps out and it’s pretty fun playing next to your roommate,” Clark said. “And he has come a long way, so I try to help him and help push him and make sure he knows what he’s doing.”

Through all the early season shuffles, Jack Allen said it can only help the team to have young players thrown into the fire amidst the Kieler, Conklin and Finley injuries.

“Yeah they could be back this week, and a lot of the young guys are getting tossed into it out there taking reps with the ones and it is going to be good for the whole o-line to keep building depth," Jack Allen said. "We’re going to have more and more guys we can toss in there."

Staten also agrees in the offensive line's ability to turn things around.

“I think what makes an o-line great is the ability to play multiple positions and not have an ego about it and know that it is for the betterment of the program, and if my feelings and beliefs are true then I know we have a good line," Staten said.

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