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Predicting who could be breakout stars on offense for the Spartans

October 13, 2020
<p>Then-redshirt freshman Trenton Gillison (88) dives with the ball during the first quarter of the homecoming game against Indiana on Sept. 28, 2019, at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans led the Hoosiers 21-14 at halftime.</p>

Then-redshirt freshman Trenton Gillison (88) dives with the ball during the first quarter of the homecoming game against Indiana on Sept. 28, 2019, at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans led the Hoosiers 21-14 at halftime.

Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

Michigan State's offense was tantalizing at the peak of former coach Mark Dantonio's success, but had hit a brick wall and become stagnant en route to two straight 7-6 seasons.

New Head Coach Mel Tucker brought in a completely new offensive staff, led by Offensive Coordinator Jay Johnson, and it will be interesting to see how different the Spartan offense looks in 2020. There will be growing pains as Tucker and Johnson install their new system, but there's no doubt the Spartans have some playmakers on offense who could surprise some people this year.

After predicting potential defensive breakouts, let's take a look at who could break out onto the scenes for the offense this season:

Payton Thorne

All signs point to redshirt-junior Rocky Lombardi starting at quarterback come Oct. 24 against Rutgers. Whether he is the quarterback at the end of the season remains a greater unknown, and how big his margin of error will be could be determined by how highly the coaches think of Thorne.

Thorne, a redshirt-freshman who was the top-rated high school quarterback in Illinois coming out of high school, is the most mobile of Michigan State's options at quarterback. He attended high school with wide receiver Jayden Reed and the two could complement each other well if Thorne sees the field this season.

Lombardi, Thorne and redshirt-sophomore Theo Day are all vying for the starting job. Johnson insists they're all getting equal reps, and Thorne has the highest ceiling out of the three. If Lombardi gets the job and struggles to start the year, Thorne could have the opportunity to show what he's got and set himself up to be Tucker's starting quarterback for the next several years.

Trenton Gillison

As senior tight end Matt Dotson struggled with drops and injuries, it was Gillison who stepped up at the tight end position for the Spartans late last season. The redshirt-sophomore finished the year with 12 receptions for 147 yards, and showed what he's capable of in the passing game in MSU's win over Wake Forest in the Pinstripe Bowl last December.

A former four-star recruit, Gillison should be ecstatic coming into the season, as Johnson is a big fan of utilizing the tight end position. He calls it the "MVP" of the offense based on all of the responsibilities that come with it, so Gillison could be in line for a featured role this season.

"I kind of say they're the MVP because they have to do an awful lot for us," Johnson said of the tight end spot. "They've got to run. They've got to be able to pass protect. They've got to run routes. They have to do a little bit of everything. We've been moving them all over and trying to experiment with them and again. I think there's some young guys, and we tried to look at a couple of wildcards there to help us, but I do like some of the things I'm seeing."

Jayden Reed

Reed sat out all last season after transferring from Western Michigan, where he collected 797 receiving yards to go along with eight touchdowns. He joins a wide receiver room that that has a lot of depth, with sophomores Jalen Nailor and Tre Mosley also in the fold.

Reed could prove to be a big time vertical threat for the Spartans, and it also looks like he will get work in on special teams returning punts and kicks. Running back Elijah Collins and Johnson have both spoke highly of Reed, and after all of his time spent on scout team last season, Reed could be in line to break through in game action this fall.

"I'm glad because it shaped my character in a way," Reed said of sitting out last season. "It helped me become a better person, helped me to become more patient. It really gave me a year to get faster, stronger, focus on myself. I don't regret it at all. I'm very happy with where I'm at right now, today."

Honorable Mentions: RB Jordon Simmons, OL J.D. Duplain, WR Tre'von Morgan

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