The offensive line must intensify on Saturday


EAST LANSING — As Michigan State football postpones its second scrimmage to Saturday, offensive coordinator Jay Johnson highlighted some of the positives from the first scrimmage on Thursday.

His offense did a good job of protecting the ball and preventing turnovers, a main focus of Mel Tucker’s program. Veterans generally performed as expected.

The negatives? Some explosive games, but not enough. Some progress, but with plenty of room for improvement.

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Johnson hopes some of the Spartans’ new players will take the next step on Saturday as the quest to define the “rep chart” preached by Tucker becomes clearer.

“I think you kind of find these situations where some of the younger guys were in that first live scrimmage and it didn’t quite go to plan,” Johnson said. “They needed to grow a bit through this. I thought the veteran guys were on point, but I’m looking for those younger guys, hopefully through another week of preparation, to take a big step.

Perhaps no group is more critical to this development than the offensive line.

MSU enters the season needing to replace five linemen who combined 213 games played and 136 starts from 2017-21.

Left guard JD Duplain (23 starts) and right guard Matt Carrick (18 starts) return with the most experience. Center Nick Samac started 10 games in 2019-20. Left tackle Jarrett Horst started the first eight games last season after being traded from Arkansas State, and center/guard Brian Greene made 10 starts at Washington State before arriving this season. by transfer.

The other offensive linemen are relatively inexperienced; their highlight was right tackle Spencer Brown who made his first career start against Pitt in the Peach Bowl. MSU had significant issues with injuries and outbound transfers in the spring that limited numbers up front and changed practices. It also gave other young players, such as sophomores Dallas Fincher and Brandon Baldwin and redshirt freshmen Ethan Boyd and Kevin Wigenton, more chances for reps.

“We got pretty badass out there in the spring, so some of those guys got a hell of a rep,” Johnson said. “I think people like Brandon Baldwin and Ethan Boyd are starting to show signs (at tackle). Again, in my opinion, they have to grow, but that’s part of the process we go through. So, I feel strongly about them. Even the inside guys, the addition of Brian Greene has been good for us – he’s been all over the place. A guy who has done a really good job is Dallas Fincher. Shoot, we play it in the center, goalkeeper, tackle. He is able to do it, he manages it from a mental capacity and does positive things.

“So I think collectively as a group we’re making progress there. And some of these young guys are going to have to step in and play.

Johnson named Samac, a fourth-year senior, and Carrick, a sixth-year senior who just suffered a knee injury that cost him the last six games of last season, as emerging leaders in the room.

“I think they’re starting to gel, and Nick is kind of taking over that unit,” Johnson said. “You kind of have a bit of a center, you kind of are the vocal point of it, with the help of these other veterans. … I think there are some very talented youngsters out there, but they have to be able to do it and do it consistently. And it’s probably more than anything about mental capacity. And so that’s what has to happen, that’s what has to grow.

Michigan State wide receiver Antonio Gates Jr. catches a pass during practice Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, in East Lansing.

WR Update

One place where veteran depth isn’t an issue is wide receiver, although first-year quarterback Katin Houser said wide star Jayden Reed has been in practice and out of practice with injuries during camp.

This opened up opportunities for Houser’s former high school teammate, Germie Bernard. The freshman and former four-star rookie, who signed up in January, continues to battle with second Keon Coleman for the No. 3 spot behind Reed and junior Tre Mosley.

“We push ourselves every day,” Bernard said Thursday of the Coleman fight. “We both tell each other what we need to work on and what works. He teaches me a lot, and I teach him a lot. And we just grow from each other.

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While Johnson and Tucker have both mentioned the development of freshman Tyrell Henry, a three-star Roseville rookie, little has been said about Dearborn Fordson’s four-star product, Antonio Gates Jr. He is l one of the young players Johnson hopes will grow on Saturday.

“Antonio Gates – very talented, very talented. He’s showing flashes, but he’s got to keep taking action,” Johnson said. work off the pitch to try to learn it. … But I like him as a player. He shows some will and physicality and good skills.

Michigan State tight ends coach Ted Gilmore, left, talks to offensive analyst Effrem Reed during Meet the Spartans open practice Monday, August 23, 2021, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

run ahead

Johnson coached new MSU running backs coach Effrem Reed in Louisiana and then worked with him as a graduate analyst for the past two seasons.

When William Peagler left for Florida, Johnson convinced Reed to come back from a job at Georgia Southern he had accepted a few weeks earlier to lead the Spartans back room.

“Effrem is a great coach,” junior running back Jordon Simmons said. “He’s done a great job so far after taking over the running backs’ room. Overall, he teaches us new things for the season.

Although Reed has a lot of work ahead of him to help find MSU’s replacement for Kenneth Walker III, Johnson is happy with what he’s seen so far from his new assistant and his knowledge of the players he works with. .

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“I was lucky enough to coach Effrem in college, so I knew what he was made of,” Johnson said. “Just very hardworking, very detailed. It’s a room I wanted him to be in, because I knew he was there. He knows what this room is and I knew he could get away with it. to occupy. And I think in that time he’s developed a really good relationship with those guys.

Johnson pointed to transfers Jalen Berger (Wisconsin) and Jarek Broussard (Colorado) as the top two in a five- or six-man battle for the runs. He also singled out Simmons in the deep group which includes seniors Elijah Collins and Harold Joiner and redshirted rookie Davion Primm.

Contact Chris Solari: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Learn more about the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.


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