2008 Michigan State Preview - Offense
Michigan State QB Brian Hoyer
Michigan State QB Brian Hoyer
Posted May 2, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Michigan State Spartan Offense

Michigan State Spartans

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Michigan State Preview | 2008 MSU Offense
- 2008 MSU Defense | 2008 MSU Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Michigan State Preview | 2006 CFN Michigan State Preview 

What you need to know: There isn't going to be a whole lot of fancy going in in this offense. The huge front five will line up and smack D lines in the mouth as it tries to open up holes for the speedy backs to tear through. Javon Ringer is a special back who could be a threat for 2,000 yards if he stays healthy, and he'll get plenty of help with a few good backups, mainly Andre Anderson. The receiving corps is a question mark needing Mark Dell to be the new Devin Thomas, but veteran QB Brian Hoyer is a good one who'll make the youngsters better. He'll need time, which he might not have behind a mediocre pass blocking line. Depth is an issue up front, while the backups all along the offense are a bit green.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Brian Hoyer
223-376, 2,725 yds, 20 TD, 11 INT
Rushing: Javon Ringer
245 carries, 1,447 yds, 6 TD
Receiving: Javon Ringer

35 catches, 295 yds, 0 TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Javon Ringer
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore WR Mark Dell
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OT Rocco Cironi
Best pro prospect: Ringer
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ringer, 2) QB Brian Hoyer, 3) OT Jesse Miller
Strength of the offense: Running backs, offensive line size
Weakness of the offense:
Offensive line depth, proven wide receivers


Projected Starter
Senior Brian Hoyer was having a nice season with great promise for 2008, and then came the Champs Sports Bowl when he three four interceptions, lost a fumble, and struggled completing 14 of 36 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to BC. Despite the clunker to close things out, he had a nice year completing 59% of his passes for 2,725 yards and 20 touchdowns with 11 interceptions, and he ran for a score. 6-3 and 215 pounds with a good deep arm and a little bit of mobility, he's a good, sound, veteran quarterback who has everything going his way to be a good leader. He should make everyone around him better.

Projected Top Reserves: Working his way into the No. 2 role is Kirk Cousins, a 6-3, 197-pound redshirt freshman who has a live arm and good scrambling ability. Very smart and accurate, he has a razor-thin edge over redshirt freshman Nick Foles, a 6-5, 243-pound pure pro-style bomber from Texas who broke all of Drew Bress' records at Westlake High in Austin by throwing for 5,658 yards with 56 touchdowns. He completed five of eight passes for 57 yards last year in a reserve role.

Watch Out For ... Keith Nichol. The superstar recruit was all but signed, sealed and delivered to the Spartans, and then he did an about-face at the last possible second and decided to go to Oklahoma. With Sam Bradford firmly entrenched as the starter for the Sooners for at least another two years, Nichol decided to go with his first choice and transfer to MSU. He's not eligible this year, but he's arguably the most talented quarterback on the roster, meaning the battle between Cousins and Foles is more than just for being Hoyer's understudy.
Strength: Big-time arms. Hoyer is a big, strong passer with an arm that would have no problem making all the throws at the next level. He has a pea shooter compared to Foles, and Cousins can bring it, too.
Backup experience. It's not like Cousins and Foles would kill the offense, they've been more than fine in practices, but they're not all that experienced. This is Hoyer's offense; he's the leader.
Outlook: Hoyer is a solid, veteran Big Ten quarterback who'll wins a few games by simply being better than his counterpart. He might not be flashy, like a Juice Williams or Kellen Lewis, and he isn't going to get the NFL scouts drooling, like a Curtis Painter, but he's a good player. Cousins and Foles are interesting passers who could each work well if thrown into the fire.
Rating: 7.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters
Last year, senior Javon Ringer set 'em up, and Jehuu Caulcrick knocked them down. The 5-9, 202-pounder ran for 1,447 yards and six touchdowns averaging 5.9 yards per carry, but he deferred to the bigger Caulcrick, who scored 21 touchdowns, around the goal line. Ringer is getting over a shoulder issue, and he suffered a knee injury a few years ago, but he has the toughness to go along with his 4.4 speed. Along with being a good runner, with seven 100-yard games last year and only going under the 80-yard mark twice, against Ohio State and Penn State, he's a great receiver finishing second on the team with 35 catches for 295 yards.

The fullback was an afterthought in the offense last year, but 6-2, 238-pound junior Andrew Hawken will likely be used far more. He's a good blocker who can blow open holes for Ringer, but he should be more of a receiver after catching 10 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown last year. Part tight end and part fullback, he could be a H-Back at times.

Projected Top Reserves: Taking over the number two job from Caulcrick will be junior A.J. Jimmerson, a speed back with 5-10, 208-pound size and the ability to hit the home run every time he touches the ball. However, he didn't bust off many big runs last year with just 51 yards on 12 carries, and with two catches for 14 yards, but he has the potential to be a dangerous all-around back who demands the ball in his hands at least ten times a game.

Battling Jimmerson for the prime backup job will be Andre Anderson, a 5-9, 186-pound redshirt freshman who was one of the stars of last year's recruiting class after running for 2,131 yards and 33 touchdown as a high school senior. A more talented back than Jimmerson, he needs time to become a better blocker, which would get him more playing time.

The most bruising option in the rushing mix is Ashton Leggett, a 5-11, 228-pound redshirt freshman who has decent quickness, but is all about the power. While he has the skills to be an every down runner, he won't be able to create a niche for himself as a goal line runner if he continues to have the fumbling problem that plagued him all spring.

Backing up Hawken at fullback will be 6-1, 240-pound senior Jeff McPherson, a pure blocker who caught four passes for 43 yards and a touchdown, but didn't get any carries. He'll line up in the backfield if Hawken is used more like a tight end.

Watch Out For ... Ringer to be in the hunt for 2,000 yards. The coaching staff isn't going to be shy about using him early and often. He'll get carries around the goal line, too, so don't be shocked by a 1,800-yard, 15-touchdown season.
Strength: Speed. Ringer should be the Big Ten's premier home run hitting back. Jimmerson can fly, and Anderson has good wheels.
Ringer's workload. He's had two career knee injuries and a shoulder problem. While the coaching staff would love for Ringer to be a 30-touch-a-game back, he'll be needed mostly late in the year. The last five games are against Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue and Penn State. It might not be a bad thing to keep him fresh.
Outlook: The potential is there to be far better than even last year when the Spartans averaged close to 200 yards per game on the ground. Ringer is a special talent who could be a sleeper in the Heisman race, and will definitely be in the hunt for the Big Ten Player of the Year if he stays healthy. Anderson is a big-time talent who needs the ball more, and Jimmerson can certainly carry the mail. Now the backups need to get more experience.
Rating: 8.5


Projected Starters: Alright Mark Dell, time to step up and shine. One of last year's top recruits had a good first year catching 20 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns, spreading out the production with a grab or two a game throughout, but now he's the No. 1 target. With 6-2, 188-pound size, next-level speed and athleticism, and the potential to be another Devin Thomas, he needs to show he was worth the prep hype from game one on the outside X position.

6-1, 215-pound Deon Curry isn't a true go-to target, but the senior has been a decent mid-range receiver catching 24 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown last year. He has 4.5 speed and was a starter for half of last year, but he has a back problem and needs to be 100% to give the passing game a reliable veteran to work with.

Taking over for tight end Kellen Davis, who caught 32 passes with six touchdowns averaging 16 yards per grab, will be Charlie Gantt, a 6-4, 252-pound sophomore who can block as well as any tight end in the Big Ten, but can't catch. He didn't make a grab last year, and while this is an area of work, his bread will be buttered by hitting people.

Projected Top Reserves: Looking to push for time behind Curry at the inside Z position is B.J. Cunningham, a 6-2, 205-pound redshirt freshman who has been fine this off-season, but didn't really make his mark until the spring game. He's a big, acrobatic receiver who isn't afraid to go across the middle.

6-2, 200-pound junior Blair White had a good spring and finished strongly, and now he's ready to use his size and speed to be a bigger part of the offense. The walk-on only caught three passes or 25 yards, but he has the wheels to do far more on the outside behind Dell.

Also looking for a backup job is Chris L. Rucker, a corner by trade who made 24 tackles last season with an interception. The 6-2, 190-pounder is physical with good deep speed.

Almost certain to help right away will be the star of the recruiting class, 6-2, 207-pound Fred Smith. Very big, very fast, and very productive, he has all the next-level tools to be the next Spartan NFL wide receiver. Wiry, he still has room to bulk up a big more, but it's all there for him to come in and take over a starting spot from the moment he sets foot on campus.

Behind Gantt at tight end is 6-5, 238-pound redshirt freshman Garrett Celek, a good receiver who needs to grow into more of a blocker. He's the route-runner that Gantt isn't, and he'll see plenty of time in two tight end sets.

Watch Out For ... that out-of-the-blue star. Raise your hands if you saw Devin Thomas coming? He was a great prospect from the JUCO ranks, but almost no one thought he'd be good enough to jump to the NFL early. The opportunity is there for someone to rise up and star. Chris L. Rucker is a prospect, and White could be the breakthrough star, but it's Dell who has to come through and be the new main man.
Strength: The measurables. MSU is a factory for good receivers, and it has a slew of them to work around. They're all 6-2ish, 200 pounds, and can fly.
Experience. The team is taking a big, desperate leap of faith that Dell can become the main man. If not, there isn't a sure-thing playmaker on the roster who'll be counted on right away. It'll take time for everyone to get their feet wet.
Outlook: A decent situation became great once Thomas became a star, and had he come back, this might have been one of the Big Ten's most dangerous corps. Now the team desperately needs Dell to live up to his prep hype, and it could use Smith to be a star right away. The receivers will be fine if the spring game was any indication, but the loss of Kellen Davis is tough to take. There isn't a receiving tight end like him who's ready to roll.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: Three starters return with the big question being at guard. 6-5, 330-pound senior Roland Martin was the main man at right guard last year, moved to left guard this spring, and is going back to the right side going into fall camp. The one-time superstar recruit has yet to live up to the enormous hype, but he has been fine as he grew into a solid blocker last season. He can move for a player of his size, but he needs his mobility back after having problems with a bone spur in his ankle.

Returning to his spot at right tackle is 6-6, 318-pound senior Jesse Miller, a big run blocker, who got bigger this off-season, who would be a perfect guard, but is fine on the outside. While he's a good veteran who has the potential to grow into a top all-around blocker this year, he needs to be more consistent in pass protection.

The other returning starter is junior center Joel Nitchman, a 6-3, 297-pounder who wasn't projected to be in the rotation last year, and then was thrown into the fire starting seven games in the middle and one at guard. He had problems with a knee injury, but he came back and was one of the team's most consistent blockers.

The new star is 6-6, 308-pound junior Rocco Cironi, an athletic, tough fill-in for Pete Clifford at left tackle. While he has been fine as a reserve, he blossomed this spring into a good pass protector who can get his big body on the move.

Depending on where Martin ends up, 6-3, 308-pound redshirt freshman Joel Foreman will likely start at the other spot. While he's green and will be the weak link on the line to start out, he has plenty of potential and should be a starter somewhere on the interior for the next four years.

Projected Top Reserves: The developed depth is almost nil, meaning 6-6, 287-pound junior Brendon Moss has to move from his more natural guard spot to tackle to rotate with Cironi on the left side. He could take over whatever guard spot Martin isn't at, but if Foreman is as good as expected, Moss can work exclusively at tackle.

A key reserve will be 6-6, 290-pound redshirt freshman Jared McGaha, whose emergence would allow Moss to play at tackles. Allowing Moss to stay at tackle. A backup for either spot, he'll most likely start out on the left side behind Foreman or Martin. Athletic enough to play on the outside, he'll be needed early on to boost the guards.

Watch Out For ... Cironi. The line needed a playmaker to step up and tackle, and Cironi did that. While he's not a sure-thing All-Big Ten performer, he's one of the line's best athletes and top pass protectors.
Strength: Size. There are no problems with run blocking with the size and strength of the starting five. Forget your finesse 270-pound blockers who can run like a linebacker; MSU is full of Big Ten-sized 300+ pounders looking to flatten someone.
Pass protection. An issue two years ago, allowing 28 sacks, the line gave up 30 last season. Oddly enough, the Spartans beat two of the nation's best pass rushing teams last year, Penn State and Indiana, but overall, the line needs to be more consistent. With a new receiving corps being broken in, Brian Hoyer needs as much time as he can get.
Outlook: Every offensive lineman worth his salt wants to hit defenders in a power running game. This offense will allow the front five to do it again. The problem is with the depth; there isn't much. As long as everyone stays healthy for roughly half the season, all will be fine, but if there's a slew of injuries, especially at tackle, it could be a disaster. This will be a good line, but it won't be anything special.
Rating: 6.5