Last year there was no argument against the fact that Le’Veon Bell was Michigan State’s offense, but how will the Spartans replace Bell’s production? The running back position looks to be a 7-man battle and the most intriguing position battle on the entire roster.
As we all know, the Spartan passing game struggled mightily in Andrew Maxwell’s first year behind center, but without a Le’Veon Bell this offense must find some consistency. Andrew is not the only one to be blamed for the poor passing game last season as dropped passes seemed to happen at all the wrong times; killing many Michigan State drives.
With the Spartan defense looking to have another Top-10 year, the offense must step up if Mark Dantonio and co. hope to reach the Rose Bowl for the first time in 25 years.
Unfortunately for all of you Connor Cook, Tyler O’Connor or Damion Terry fans, it looks like Andrew Maxwell will be back behind center again for the 2013 season. We know 2012 was a huge disappointment for number 10 and the numbers speak for themselves: Maxwell only completed 52.5% of his passes (10th in B1G) and only averaged 5.84 yards per completion (8th in B1G). Andrew did throw more touchdowns than interceptions 13/9, but found himself ranked 6th in the B1G in touchdown passes. His quarterback rating was pretty awful as well, as his 107.1 rating ranked 9th in the Big Ten. Despite all of the bad numbers, not all of his statistics were awful as he finished the year with 2,606 passing yards ranking him 4th in the B1G. Maxwell was hit a lot last year and he seemed to make erratic throws because of it. He was sacked 21 times, which ranked 5th most in the B1G and a lot of that can be put on the offensive line issues that MSU dealt with in 2012. In my opinion, Andrew needs to start the year off strong to gain confidence heading into the B1G season. If he is unable to, we may see the same erratic throws that we saw in 2012.
What about the other quarterbacks? Coach Dantonio has talked about more than one quarterback playing in hopes of preparing that quarterback for the starting job in the future. But what quarterback will that be? For now the clear leader for the back-up position has to be Connor Cook, who held that position in 2012 and led the team to a bowl victory a year ago. In that bowl victory against TCU, Cook went 4-11 for 47 yards and a touchdown. It was Cooks first career TD pass which capped a 14 play, 90-yard scoring drive; the longest touchdown drive of the season and Michigan State’s longest drive in bowl history. Tyler O’Connor looks to be third in line and he brings a bit more athletic ability to the position in comparison to the other two quarterbacks. Like Tyler, true freshman Damion Terry has a strong arm and is very athletic. Terry recently stated in an interview that for now the plan is to not redshirt, with that said I would not put redshirting out of the question. If he is not redshirted, Terry may be used in option plays that are surely to be run at some point in this season. Damion has the speed and vision to pick up a nice gain every once in a while and that ability may be needed in 2013.
Well like stated earlier, gone is Le’Veon Bell and basically all of the MSU rushing game from a year ago. When I say basically all, I mean it; the Spartans only return 30 carries, 71 yards and one rushing touchdown from a year ago. Percentage wise, Michigan State only returns 4% of rushing yards, 6% of carries and 8% of rushing touchdowns from the 2012 season.
With all of that on the table, who will be getting the bulk of carries in 2013? Nick Hill returns the most statistically, as he rushed 21 times for 48 yards and 1 touchdown. Hill played 13 games in 2012, though he was primarily used as a kick and punt returner. Though Nick has great quickness, it seems as if he has a hard time finding the right holes. Redshirt freshman Nick Tompkins out of Georgia will also get a chance to earn the starting job and as he showed in the spring game he has a good burst. Tompkins broke a 30-yard run in the scrimmage and really opened some eyes. Converted linebacker and redshirt freshman Riley Bullough also opened some eyes in the spring game, leading the way in the group with 11 carries for 46 yards. His teammates really liked his ability, as he was the first running back selected in the spring game senior draft. Unfortunately for him the players will not be selecting the starting running back, though I think Bullough will see some carries in 2013, possibly as a goal line back. Redshirt junior Jeremy Langford will also be in the running for the starting job; Langford may be the fastest player on Michigan State. A lot of hype has surrounded that speed, but Langford has been unable to find a position on the field. He has been used on defense, as a wide out and finally converted to running back a year ago. If Langford can perform as he apparently does in practice, he may be able to use his speed to steal the starting job.
That leaves us with the three incoming freshman: Gerald Holmes, R.J. Shelton and Delton Williams. Gerald Holmes looks to be the most likely of the three to steal the starting spot, as that has been the rumor around the team for a while now. Holmes brings good vision, decent hands and a power running style to the table. He may be a dark horse for the job, but I think Holmes has a good chance to be the starting running back some point in the 2013 season. R.J. Shelton enrolled a bit earlier than most of the Michigan State freshman, which may give him some sort of advantage heading into the fall. Shelton has a great burst, but seems to be the least likely of the three freshmen to win the starting spot. Delton Williams, who played high school football with Damion Terry will also have an opportunity to play as a freshman. Williams who also played linebacker and defensive back in high school; has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. That ability should give him the opportunity to run away with the starting spot if he can produce when given the chance.
As you can see from the amount of writing this section took, this should be a pretty fun race to watch play out. All seven players will have the opportunity to win the starting job; it’s just a matter of who will produce when given that opportunity.
This unit took quite a few hits last year with injuries across the offensive line. Those injuries led to some poor pass protection and quite possibly the loss of Andrew Maxwell’s confidence. But 2013 looks to be much brighter for this unit, despite departure of guard Chris McDonald and the early loss of junior tackle Skyler Burkland. Fou Fonoti will be back and it sounds like he is better than ever. A foot injury in 2012 derailed Fonoti’s season. Senior guard Blake Treadwell will look to be a force on the interior. Treadwell played in nine games last year, including seven starts while being credited with 26 knockdowns. Junior Travis Jackson looks to be the star of the bunch and will hold down the center position. Jackson was a freshman All-American, but only played 5 games in 2012 before a knee injury and broken leg derailed his season. With the loss of Skyler Burkland, I would look for sophomore Donavon Clark or senior Dan France to fill the hole at left tackle, moving Fonoti back to right tackle. Though Dan France moved to guard in the spring, the injury may force him back to the outside for the 2013 season. In 2012 France started 11 games at left tackle, playing 90 percent of the offensive snaps. Donavon Clark will also be in the mix at left tackle and guard, Clark played in 6 games last year; serving as the back up left tackle, behind France. Redshirt freshman Jack Conklin also could be in the mix at tackle.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
Though this group struggled mightily last year with drops, they return every starter at the wide receiver position. A huge hole was left at tight end when Dion Sims left early for the NFL and that battle will surely continue a few games into the season. Returning are starting wide receivers: Tony Lippett, Aaron Burbridge, Keith Mumphery and Bennie Fowler. Quite a few other wide outs including: A.J. Troup, McGarrett Kings Jr., Andre Sims, DeAnthony Arnett and Monty Madaris may all see the field at some point in 2013. Aaron Burbrige has the most star potential and burst onto the scene in 2012 as a true freshman. Burbridge finished his freshman year with 11 games played, 29 receptions and 2 touchdowns while being named to the Big Ten freshman team by ESPN.com and BTN.com. Bennie Fowler returns as the leading receiver from a year ago where he ended with 41 receptions, 524 yards and 4 touchdowns. Keith Mumphery led the team a year ago in receptions with 42 and he will be returning as well after finishing with 515 yards. Tony Lippett showed playmaking ability in 2012, snagging in the longest touchdown of the year at 46 yards. A.J. Troup will certainly be fighting for a starting spot after a tremendous spring and spring game. Troup seems to have playmaking ability, with the speed to breakaway from the secondary.
The Tight end position is another interesting battle to watch. Junior Andrew Gleichert seems to be the leader for the starting spot, though sophomore Paul Lang doesn’t look to be to far behind. Gleichert played in 8 games a year ago, starting two, only recording one reception. While Lang appeared in 10 games, starting 2 and recording 3 catches and one touchdown. Redshirt freshmen Evan Jones and Josiah Price will also see some playing time in 2013 and may fight their way to a starting spot. Jones seems to be coveted as a blocking tight end and Price has been looked at as a catching tight end. If neither Gleichert nor Lang steps up, Price and Jones could both see significant time this season. Like I mentioned earlier; this position will at least last a few games into the season.