Sunday, August 14, 2022

Fall Football Breakdown: MSU's offensive line

July 5, 2022
<p>Center, Matt Allen, prepares to snap the ball to quarterback, Payton Thorne, during the game against Youngstown State Sep. 11, 2021. The Spartans won the game against Youngstown State 42-14 at Spartan Stadium.</p>

Center, Matt Allen, prepares to snap the ball to quarterback, Payton Thorne, during the game against Youngstown State Sep. 11, 2021. The Spartans won the game against Youngstown State 42-14 at Spartan Stadium.

Each week heading into the fall football season for MSU, The State News will be taking a look into each position group on Mel Tucker’s roster as the Spartans prepare for their third season under the Tucker regime. In this edition, Sam Sklar dives into who could be a key component on the offensive line.

At the beginning of the spring, MSU offensive coordinator Jay Johnson was asked if the offensive line was the most important group in need of development. 

“Yeah, no, I would say you're probably exactly right,” Johnson said in response.

Michigan State fielded an uber-experienced offensive line in 2021, allowing a nine-man rotation in the trenches. But now, MSU is facing a different challenge than a year ago: a lot of that experience is gone.

The Spartans lost three regular starters in tackle A.J. Arcuri, center Matt Allen and guard/tackle Kevin Jarvis. They also lost Blake Bueter, who appeared in all 13 games and started in five of them at right guard, as well as Luke Campbell who appeared in 12 games in 2021 and started in 26 during his career. That’s 136 combined starts out the door. 

Then to make matters worse, the offensive line was decimated with injuries during spring practices. At Michigan State’s seventh practice of the spring, one of the select few open to the media, the Spartans had just seven offensive linemen practicing, two of which were walk-ons. It not only hindered the capabilities of training for the available offensive linemen but also rippled to the entire team. Team drills, for example, had to be scaled back so the seven available linemen were not overworked. 

Even offensive line coach and run game coordinator Chris Kapilovic, who has a strong track record of developing quality offensive lineman, admitted it was an unusual circumstance. But the train kept chugging, and those who could, gave it a go. 

“Those young guys now they're getting anything and everything,” Johnson said. “They're getting it all. And so I think that's going to be challenging probably for us right now, but boy, I think come August it's going to pay huge dividends for us because we need them to come along.”

The offensive line may be the X-factor for MSU’s offense. They have a few encouraging pieces, but the depth behind them is where things could get wonky. If those who are stepping into new roles can do so seamlessly, then the offense could repeat last year’s historic production. But if injuries amount or the new roles do not work out, it may be a long season. 

Here’s a look at who could be tasked with more snaps in 2022:

Jarrett Horst

Horst’s decision to return for a fifth season may be one of the sneaky, underrated moves of the offseason. 

After spending one season in community college in Iowa and then two seasons at Arkansas State, Horst transferred to Michigan State ahead of the 2021 season. As a senior, he started in eight games at left tackle, earning All-Big Ten honorable mentions. 

Horst suffered an injury that cost him the final five games, but he figures to slot back into his left tackle position. 

J.D. Duplain

Then there is Horst’s buddy on the left side, Duplain, who also returns after a productive season. 

Duplain has been a steady rock for Michigan State in his career, starting five games as a true freshman in 2019, five games as a sophomore and all 13 games last fall all at left guard. He took a stride in 2021 too, playing his way to an All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media and a second-team nominee by Pro Football Focus.

Look for Duplain to continue to be an effective guard in his senior season. 

Nick Samac

The starting center job likely goes to Samac, given his tenure in the program. 

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He came out of high school as one of the top guards in Ohio but made the shift over to center as a true freshman. Through three seasons, Samac has played in 27 games and started 10 of them. In 2021, he yielded starting duties to Allen, but still logged 307 offensive snaps. Samac started six games in 2020 and four in 2019 and it's time for him to presume the starting center position. 

Brian Greene

Greene comes over as a transfer from Washington State, joining MSU this summer as a sixth-year player. 

His story is fascinating, going from a low-level recruit that joined the Cougars as a preferred walk-on in 2017 to a highly sought-after player when he entered the transfer portal this winter. Greene was put on scholarship ahead of the 2019 season and appeared in all 13 games. Then he made his first four career starts in the shortened 2020 season before making six starts and appearing in eight games in 2021 while battling injuries. 

Greene has experience at both center and guard and could start at either one. He projects as an instant-impact transfer that could pay dividends in 2022. 

Spencer Brown

Perhaps the most mysterious of the anticipated starting five, Brown shows a lot of promise. Albeit, in a mini sample size. 

He redshirted in 2019 and played just six snaps in 2020 until elevating his role last fall. Brown earned his first career start at right tackle in the Peach Bowl when Jarvis opted out, and played pretty well. And that was against a stingy Pittsburgh front-seven. He was a three-star recruit at Walled Lake Western and now is the time for Brown to assume the starting right tackle job. 

Matt Carrick

Carrick returns for a sixth season after recovering from a serious ACL injury that cost him the final six games of 2021. 

He has 18 starts under his belt, 11 of which came in 2019 and seven in 2020. Carrick played 211 snaps in seven games as a key part of the nine-man rotation last season before going down. His role next fall may depend on how well he recovers from his injury, but he has the capability of being a viable starter if called upon. 

Honorable mentions

Outside of those six, things get mushy; they are the only six who have taken a snap in college. 

Redshirt sophomore Brandon Baldwin was an excellent JUCO player who joined MSU before last season. Dallas Fincher and Jacob Lafave are also redshirt sophomores, Fincher a former three-star prospect and Lafave a 2019 walk-on. Kevin Wigenton, Geno VanDeMark and Ethan Boyd are all redshirt freshmen and former three-stars. Michigan State also brought in a trio of offensive linemen from the 2022 class that will join the team this summer: Gavin Broscious, Ashton Lepo and Braden Miller. 

The Spartans have the numbers if necessary, but they are unproven. We should get a better read on who sits where when practices resume soon.

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