MSU football's offensive line still learning, finding consistency
In the world of sports nowadays, Michigan State offensive line coach Mark Staten understands there’s pressure.
“Like any human being, especially in this generation that we’re upbringing now, everybody wants now,” Staten said to reporters Sept. 26. “Everybody wants that tweet to be good about them. Everybody wants that picture out there of them in the recruiting facet of things.”
Staten said he knows his offensive line doesn’t get the recognition it deserves when it makes a good block that leads to a touchdown.
Instead, he said the offensive line gets pointed out when bad plays happen, especially when it's allowed eight sacks in three games, and help produced a rushing offense who’s averaging 119.7 yards per game, which is 112th in the nation out of 129 teams.
Which Staten said is all part of “the process.”
“Being an offensive lineman, you toil away in your own little space, and it’s generally when something bad happens,” Staten said. “When Lewerke throws that touchdown, they don’t say ‘Hey, you see that great block by so-and-so?’ You see and you celebrate those guys. We just give each other high-fives and continue working. Oftentimes with the offensive line, it’s when bad things happen that we’re noticed. But, it’s also in our nature to just kind of wipe it off and get back to work.”
One player who’s impressed Staten so far is sophomore center Matt Allen, who overtook Tyler Higby as the starter in this week’s depth chart.
Staten said Allen, younger brother of former MSU offensive linemen Jack and Brian Allen, said he’s been showing traits of Jack, including in the Spartans’ 35-21 win against Indiana last Saturday.
“As a starter, he pulled the guys together right before the game, which usually an older guy does,” Staten said. “It wasn’t like Brian, but it was like Jack because Jack was a guy who, for his entire time here, had the whole picture in his mindset. It took Brian a little bit — you know, middle child syndrome — to develop that; and I have it, so I understand."
“Matt, one of his teammates actually said on Monday, ‘Coach, I don’t know if you heard him, but it was just like Jack Allen was back. It was awesome,' " he added.
But even with the compliments, Allen and the rest of the offensive line are still looking to gel, which Staten said takes time.
And it doesn’t help that tackle Cole Chewins, who started at left tackle in all 13 games in 2017, has only had limited action against Arizona State and Indiana this season because of an unspecified injury.
“The thing with Cole, he’s still trying to regain the strength that he lost from being out the spring and then the majority of the fall,” Staten said. “He’s just trying to get that back. We’re trying to ease him back out there and not make anything that’s too harmful for him or too harmful for the team. With him not being out there, that’s our bell cow, like Brian (Allen) was last year. So, truly from last year’s season we’re missing two great leaders out there.”
As a result, Staten has put tackles Luke Campbell, Jordan Reid and Higby out at left tackle.
This week, Reid is at right tackle, while Higby or Chewins listed as the starting left tackle, according to the depth chart. Campbell is listed as a co-starter at left guard with guard David Beedle, which Higby said is flip-flopped from last season, when Campbell started 12 games at right tackle and Higby started seven of 13 games at left guard.
“I think just him playing in the spring and taking some reps over the summer has helped him too,” Higby said after a Sept. 25 practice.
Staten said MSU has always thought of Campbell as a guard, which is why he’s gotten reps throughout the 2018 calendar year.
“He’s more suited for the guard position — he always has been — and that’s what our thought was,” Staten said. “Through summer, through fall camp, he’s been playing both guards, so he’s able to do that. When you don’t have to occupy a large space and you’re more confined in between two people, it’s generally easier.”
Ultimately, Staten knows the offensive line's progress starts with himself. And he knows he needs to do better as a coach.
“I won’t make any excuses,” Staten said. “I’m a Randy Walker, God rest his soul, thumb-pointer. And so I’ve got to do a better job of leading these guys from the sidelines and making sure and going over each thing they see, each play, and as we go through the week giving them that confidence.”
Blake Bueter, Ryan Armour playing well after earning scholarships
Armour has been the starting long snapper since MSU played Utah State in its opener Aug. 31, while Bueter has steadily gotten more reps as the season has progressed, totaling 26 snaps against IU.
“Blake Bueter played 26 plays last Saturday, I thought he did a nice job,” Dantonio said in a news conference Sept. 25. “His first opportunity to really play a ton of plays. He's going to be a better player for it, and those type of situations continue to happen at different positions.”
Staten said he didn’t see Bueter play like he has until the week leading up to Utah State, and Bueter has developed quicker then expected.
“I think it’s just his want to,” Staten said. “His dad was a Spartan, so this place was always very, very important to him. We gave him that chance, that maybe other schools weren’t. So, he’s gonna put it all out there. [He] Played his most snaps last week, and just continues to learn and you need those game reps to learn. So he’s gonna play a lot of football for us.”
And Staten said Armour earned his scholarship and starting job through “hard work.”
“It’s like the o-line position, you don’t notice it until you notice it,” Staten said. “He’s (Armour) been laces-out on all his field goals, he’s been laces-up on the punter. I mean he’s been lights-out.”