Stop me if you have heard this from The State News before: The success of Michigan State football is largely dependent on the offensive line.
With guys like Luke Campbell, Matt Allen and Blake Bueter all gone, many snaps have left the program, leaving lots of uncertainty at the position.
In the spring, more questions lingered as the staff resorted to using walk-on defensive linemen at the offensive line just to be able to complete drills. However, Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker said at Big Ten Media Days that he truly believes it will help them in the long run, especially for younger guys who needed the reps and could play.
At the latest press conference, Michigan State Offensive Line Coach Chris Kapilovic spent time breaking down where he believes some of his linemen are.
Leaders of the room:
With many of the leaders gone, new faces and names are going to need to step up. These three should project as immediate starters and lead this room.
Senior tackle Jarrett Horst
Horst made an immediate impact at Michigan State after transferring in from Arkansas State a year ago, starting at left tackle for the first eight games as the Spartans got to 8-0 before Horst went down with injuries.
Kapilovic said Horst has been “great” this offseason after having a couple of “clean-up” surgeries in the offseason and is even taking a bit of a leadership role in the room since coming back.
Horst, if healthy, could be a sturdy anchor for this offensive line at left tackle.
Seniors guard J.D. Duplain and center Nick Samac
Duplain and Samac have had a lot of snaps in their time at Michigan State, dating back to getting time as freshmen in 2019. These two have been around the program for some time and should bring some consistency to the interior of the offensive line, something that Kapilovic needs desperately.
“If everybody is healthy, (we’ve got) four interior guys that have played in that fire,” Kapilovic said.
Both Duplain and Samac will be a big piece of keeping the quarterback clean and plowing the way for the running backs.
Remaining potential starters:
After those three, the experience drops and the question marks arise, but we learned more about the three below recently.
Redshirt junior tackle Spencer Brown
Brown started in his first game against Pittsburgh in the Peach Bowl and played admirably, earning him the tentative title as the other tackle opposite Horst.
Kapilovic has been impressed with his progress as an athlete, taking better care of his body, expanding his football IQ and his effort, but Kapilovic was most impressed with his maturity. After being the guy in the corner and not saying much, Brown is becoming the first guy in, last guy out type of person.
“I think back to my first day when I had my first meeting and he was sitting in the very back with his head down, pouting and he didn't know who I was,” Kapilovic said. “I was like, ‘Man, that guy's gonna be a problem.’ And then he's come 180 ... He's really matured quite a bit so I'm proud of him and we're excited to see what he can do.”
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The coaching staff at this point seems confident that Brown can become the tackle they envisioned him to be after a strong finish a year ago.
Graduate student offensive lineman Brian Greene
Transferring in from Washington State, Greene looks to crack his way into the rotation as a graduate transfer. Greene played in 30 games for the Cougars and brings loads of experience to a room that desperately needs it.
Kapilovic loved his ability to play at either guard spot or center if they need it, allowing flexibility along the line. Thus far, Greene has split his time nearly 50-50 between guard and center.
Whether Greene beats out the man below him remains to be seen, but expect plenty of Greene on the field this fall.
Sixth-year offensive guard Matt Carrick
Carrick has been through hell and back with injuries in his career, but returned on day one for fall camp, albeit on a “pitch count,” according to Kapilovic and Tucker. Both, however, have been impressed with his progress.
“(We're) making sure we don't wear him down, but the flip side of that is he's a little rusty,” Kapilovic said. “It's been a while and his fourth practice was better than his first practice. So that's what you want to see. If he just keeps up the progression, I think he'll be good.”
Carrick will also certainly be seeing the field if he can remain healthy, but that will be the lingering question as the year goes on.
The depth is the main concern for the Spartans going into this season. With about seven proven guys, some will need to step up to fill in rotationally in case of injuries.
The first two Kapilovic mentioned that needed to step up were redshirt sophomore Brandon Baldwin and redshirt freshman Ethan Boyd to emerge at the tackle spots. Kapilovic said he would feel comfortable with three ready-to-go players, but four obviously wouldn’t hurt.
As for now, the staff feels Baldwin is ahead of Boyd after some time in the community college ranks. Kapilovic said Baldwin has been the most consistent thus far between the two, but Boyd has shown some big flashes of potential in his second year in the program after redshirting last year.
Freshmen Ashton Lepo, Kevin Wigenton (redshirt freshman), Kristian "Big Dooley" Phillips, Gavin Broscious, Braden Miller and Geno VanDeMark (redshirt freshman) were all mentioned as ones Kapilovic was impressed with thus far.
Lepo was mentioned as making a major transformation since arriving in the spring with his body and now looks ready to face Big Ten competition, but has to improve mentally to get onto the field. Kapilovic said Miller has the highest football IQ of any of the young guys after getting some advanced coaching at his high school in Colorado. Broscious and Phillips were both credited as big bodies that needed more time to develop.
VanDeMark was one guy on the interior that the staff feels can play at any of the three interior positions in the future and said he and Wigenton are two guys that will be asked to handle more snaps like Baldwin and Boyd potentially if needed.
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