2008 Michigan State Preview - Offense
Michigan State QB Brian Hoyer
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Michigan State Spartan Offense
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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
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
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
Weakness of the offense:
Offensive line depth, proven wide
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.
Weakness: 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.
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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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
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.
Weakness: 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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Weakness: 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
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.