Monday, June 1, 2020

'It's like a new start': Michigan State football offensive line begins to rebuild after a tough season

April 8, 2020
Senior center Matt Allen (64) waves to the crowd before the start of the Green and White game at the Spartan Stadium on April 13, 2019.
Senior center Matt Allen (64) waves to the crowd before the start of the Green and White game at the Spartan Stadium on April 13, 2019. —
Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

When Chris Kapilovic was tapped to be the new offensive line coach at Michigan State by Head Coach Mel Tucker this February, he was tasked with quite the challenge rebuilding an offensive line that was ranked 114th out of 130 offensive lines in the country by Pro Football Focus.  

This isn’t anything new for Kapilovic, however, as he has been forced to do this in just about every job he has had. Before being brought onto Tucker’s staff last year at Colorado, he was at North Carolina building an offensive line around future second overall pick Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

Kapilovic also served as an offensive coordinator at North Carolina during that time, and in 2015 led the Tar Heels to the ninth-highest scoring offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision. 

Can Kapilovic bring those same results to East Lansing? 

“You want (linemen) to be technically sound,” coach Kapilovic said. “We’re going to work on technique, and rep it till you can’t rep it anymore, because I think that is very important for our position.” 

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Newly appointed offensive coordinator Jay Johnson also expressed that same sentiment. 

“I’m also looking for athleticism,” Johnson said. “The guys that can have that athletic piece to protect the passer and do all those things.” 

This is an offensive line that has a lot of young talent. Sophomores Devontae DobbsNick Samac and J.D. Duplain made starts in the later part of their freshmen seasons. Veterans like Matt AllenKevin JarvisLuke CampbellJordan Reid and AJ Arcuri are in the mix for playing time as well. Both Kapilovic and Johnson would like to have a rotation of guys that they are comfortable with giving time to, but only if the level of play and the continuity of the offensive line does not drop. 

“In a perfect world, you’d like to be able to play more than the five.” Kapilovic said. “I think if there’s a significant drop-off between the starter and the backup, then the only time they’re going to get on the field is because of injuries or if the game is out of hand.” 

If Kapilovic wants to get to his younger guys, building a relationship with Matt Allen will be key, as he is one of the de facto leaders of a young offense this season. Allen is working alongside his older brother, former Spartan center Jack Allen, as players isolate with families during the COVID-19 crisis. Matt Allen says the morale of the offensive line has been uplifted by this new coaching staff. 

“It’s kind of like a new start for everybody in the program,” Matt Allen said. “I really think it lit a fire under everybody and everybody is coming to work.” 

Because of the closing of facilities, the team has had to get creative in their attempts to get reps and workouts in. Some have resorted to using broomsticks and cinderblocks while others have better set ups with blocking dummies and benches. 

“We’ve got to be creative in the different kinds of videos we’re using to train and quiz off of,” Kapilovic said. “We’ve got apps that we’re using to quiz and test them, we’re just trying to find different ways to stimulate their brains and keep them locked in so we can continue to learn.” 

As much as tests help out the players, it means nothing if the players do not understand the terminology they are using, and that has been a challenge thus far for the coaching staff. 

“It’s like learning a foreign language,” Kapilovic said. “The calls that I usually have are different than the calls they had previously. ... There’s some things that were going to do that are very similar to what they have been taught, but there’s some things that are quite a bit different.” 

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