Preview 2009 - Offense
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What you need to know:
Myth No. 1: Michigan State
was a pure running team last year. Javon Ringer ran for
1,637 yards, but the ground game was ninth in the Big
Ten and 77th in the nation. Myth No. 2: Michigan State
couldn’t throw. Well, it didn’t throw efficiently and
there were only 11 touchdown passes, but the passing
game cranked out decent yards. Overall, there might not
be much in the way of star power and there are some big
holes to fill, but it’ll be a better overall attack.
This year, despite the loss of Ringer and two all-star
offensive linemen (Roland Martin and Jesse Miller), the
ground game should be better with a combination of backs
ready to take over and a more mobile quarterback,
whoever that might be. Kirk Cousins is ready to step in
and take over the job, but Oklahoma transfer Keith
Nichol has the running skills and the talent to make it
a two-quarterback system. The receiving corps has the
potential to be jaw-dropping good with all the key parts
returning led by Mark Dell, Blair White, and B.J.
Passing: Kirk Cousins
32-43, 310 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Andre Anderson
26 carries, 97 yds, 0 TD
Receiving: Blair White
catches, 659 yds, 1 TD
of the offense: Sophomore QBs Kirk Cousins and
Player who has to step up and
become a star: Junior OT J'Michael Deane
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OG
Best Pro Prospect:
Junior WR Mark Dell
Top three all-star
candidates: 1) C Joel Nitchman, 2) Dell, 3)
Cousins or Nichol
Strength of the offense: Wide receiver, Backfield potential
Weakness of the offense: Backfield experience,
Right side of the line
Now that Brian Hoyer has left, there’s an interesting
battle going on for the starting spot. First on deck is
Kirk Cousins, a talented 6-3, 202-pound sophomore with a nice arm
and enough scrambling ability to be more than just
mobile in the pocket. A smart player who could become a
great game manager (meant in a good way) with the
ability to read defenses and take what’s there to get
the chains moving. He saw a little bit of time last year
and made the most of it completing 32-of-43 passes (74%)
for 310 yards and two touchdowns with an interception
with 161 yards coming in the blowout loss to Ohio State.
Projected Top Reserve: 6-2, 212-pound
Nichol broke Michigan State’s heart by choosing
Oklahoma at the last possible second. And then some guy
named Sam Bradford became a player and things quickly
changed. Nichol is a strong dual-threat playmaker who
can run better than Kirk Cousins and has a good enough
arm to be a solid pocket passer with a little bit of
development. If he doesn’t win the job he’ll still be in
a rotation just to get his feet wet.
Watch Out For ... the battle for the
starting job to continue throughout the season. The No.
1 will be the No. 1 in theory, but both Cousins and
Nichol are good enough to see action and they’re both
going to be looking over their shoulders at all times.
Strength: Talent. Cousins will be more
than good enough to take over for Brian Hoyer and bring
more production to the offense, while Nichol might have
been the most talented quarterback on the roster last
season. There might be two starting quarterback options,
but that’s not a bad thing.
Weakness: Experience. It’s not like Nichol has
actually done anything over the last few years, while
Cousins has been relegated to mop-up time. There might
be a few growing pains to get through.
Outlook: Very quickly, Michigan State’s
inexperienced quarterback situation to become a major
positive. As good as Brian Hoyer was at times, he’ll be
easily replaced by Nichol and Cousins, two
great prospects ready to grow into the offense over the
next three years. Mark Dantonio has openly suggested a
two-quarterback system if both players perform well and
can show different positives in different situations.
It’ll be up to a slew of players to try to replace Javon
Ringer, but the first back in the rotation will likely
be Andre Anderson, a 5-9, 190-pound sophomore who finished second on
the team with 97 yards. The star of the 2007 recruiting
class after running for 2,131 yards and 33 touchdowns as
a high school senior, he has flash, a little bit of
power for his size, and a nose for the goal line.
However, he’s not built to be a workhorse. It’s his job
to break off the big plays.
The fullback has become more of a part of the MSU
offense and there’s a good veteran to use in
The 6-2, 238-pound senior is a great blocker who blew
open holes for Javon Ringer. He’s a decent receiver
catching 11 passes for 81 yards with a touchdown, but
he’s not going to get any carries. Part tight end and
part fullback, he could be used as an H-Back at times,
but he’s mostly a blocker.
Projected Top Reserves: 5-10, 205-pound
Jimmerson was supposed to be a vital No. 2 back in
the rotation last year after showing a little bit of
promise as a sophomore, but he only carried the ball
eight times for 14 yards. With a good mix of speed and
power, he has a good blend of skills. However, he’s
mostly been a special teamer so far and he hasn’t had
too many opportunities to show what he can do.
Bringing more power to the rotation is 5-11, 235-pound
Leggett, a bruising back who has the potential to be
a key all-around playmaker if he can curb his fumbling
issues. He hasn’t had a chance to do too much in games
with just six carries for seven yards last season. With
big-time upside, he’ll be given every shot to win the
starting job and was the star throughout the spring
making a strong claim for the
No. 1 job.
5-9, 195-pound redshirt freshman
is a promising back who could be the sleeper in the race
for the starting job. A huge recruit for the program two
years ago, he’s a tough runner who, despite his size,
can be used for long stretches.
On the way is star recruit
one of the nation’s top running backs according to every
major recruiting service. While he has a little bit of
an issue with a knee injury, he could turn into the main
man from day one. At 5-10 and 205 pounds he’s compactly
built and is the type of back who could be another
Ringer-like producer in time.
While not the hot recruit that Edwin Baker is, 5-11,
was a good get for the program. A true workhorse, he
carried the ball 46 times in a game in high school and
also showed good pop to crank out yards in chunks.
Watch Out For ... the freshmen. The other
backs are all excited to get their chance to shine, but
Baker and Caper might be the most talented runners on
the roster. There’s no need to rush them into the
equation with so many good options, but the coaching
staff might move up the timetable if there isn’t
Strength: Speed. The Spartans are great at
getting fast backs who can crank out big plays, or at
least have the potential to. Jimmerson and Anderson can
fly and should be doing far more than they did last
Weakness: Experience. Ringer simply never came
out. The other backs were patient, but it was Ringer,
Ringer, and more Ringer, and now there’s a free-for-all
for playing time since no one’s quite sure what any of
the top backs would do with a steady workload.
Outlook: The running game was Javon
Ringer, Javon Ringer, and even more Javon Ringer. Out of
the team’s 511 carries, 1,692
yards and 24 rushing touchdowns,
Ringer had 390 carries for 1,637
yards and 22 scores. Was Ringer
that good, were the other
options too mediocre, or both?
This year, it’ll be a bit of a
approach with speedsters Jimmerson and Anderson combining with Leggett and, maybe, Baker to get the
ground game moving. There might not be a Ringer, but
don’t be stunned if the team has a more effective
6-2, 205-pound senior
wasn’t expected to lead the team in
receiving, but he did with 42 catches for 659 yards and
a touchdown highlighted by a two-game stretch against
Michigan and Wisconsin when he caught 11 passes for 307
yards and a score. The former walk-on will start out at
the outside X position, but he’ll have to be great to
hold off the more talented Mark Dell. He might not be a
big NFL prospect, but he’ll be the team’s most reliable
Able to play at the inside Z position or at the outside
Cunningham, a 6-2, 210-pound sophomore with great
athleticism and good toughness. He was second on the
team with 51 catches for 528 yards, but he didn’t get
into the end zone. Steady, he caught four passes or more
in six games, but he was never a go-to target. He might
not be flashy, but he’ll grow into a more dependable
Gantt had a tough task replacing Kellen Lewis at
tight end, and he was surprisingly good. Known as a
blocker, he wasn’t supposed to do much as a receiver
before catching 19 passes for 302 yards and a
team-leading four scores. While he catch a pass or two
per game, the 6-4, 245-pounder will mostly be used for
the ground game.
Projected Top Reserves:
Dell ripped off 202 yards and a touchdown on nine
catches in the season-opening loss to Cal, and then was
mediocre the rest of the way. One of the team’s
superstar recruits of a few years ago has been a steady
pass catcher with a few grabs a game throughout his
first two seasons, but he needs to be the next Spartan
star receiver for the offense to shine. He finished with
36 catches for a team-leading 679 yards and three
scores, he has to do more. With 6-2, 188-pound size,
next-level speed and athleticism, and the potential to
be another Devin Thomas.
One of the top recruits of last year was
a 6-0, 186-pound sophomore who came up with some nice
plays in the middle of the season catching 11 passes for
143 yards. The do-it-all player was also used a bit as a
runner with 51 yards on nine carries and even completed
2-of-3 passes for 59 yards. He could become a bigger
part of the return game soon, but most of his time will
be spent at the Z position.
Looking for more playing time will be
the crown jewel of the 2008 recruiting class. The 6-2,
225-pound sophomore saw a little bit of action in nine
games last year making just one catch for seven yards
against Northwestern. Very big, very fast, and very
productive, he has all the next-level tools to be the
next Spartan NFL wide receiver now that he has bulked
Behind Gantt at tight end is 6-5, 243-pound sophomore
Garrett Celek, a good receiver who caught six passes
for 50 yards and a score. He's the route-runner that
Gantt isn't, but he’s not the same sort of a blocker.
Even so, he’ll get a few starts and will see plenty of
time in two tight end sets.
Watch Out For ... Fred Smith. There’s too
much talent and too much upside for him not to be a
bigger part of the offense. He’s too big and too
athletic to be an afterthought.
Central casting. If you’re
looking for a roster of NFL-looking receivers, MSU has
it with averaging around 6-2 and 200 pounds with
excellent speed. This has the potential to be a special
corps over the next few years.
A step-it-up superstar. So who’s it
going to be? Who’s going to be the one to break free
from the pack and be
the guy who is the one to keep defensive coordinators up at night?
Mark Dell should be it, but he’ll have to prove he can
be the main man on a weekly basis.
There’s a slew
of ultra-talented prospects with fantastic high school
résumés. Now it all has to come together with the size,
speed, and experience all combining to form a killer
corps. Five of the top six pass catches from last year
are back (with RB Javon Ringer being the one missing)
and there’s more than enough talent to produce a
devastating passing game. The ball will be spread around
with so many good players to work with, but someone has
to step up and become a go-to, No. 1 star for the
offense to work around.
One of the team’s better run blockers last year was left
Cironi, a 6-6, 308-pound senior who was average in
pass protection but solid overall as his first season as
the starter. He’s athletic for his size and extremely
tough, but now he’ll have to come back healthy after
missing most of the off-season hurt.
Next to Cirone at left guard will once again be
Joel Foreman, a solid 6-3, 310-pound sophomore who grew into the job
as last season went on. Even though he’s a pure guard,
he’s a very athletic, very tough blocker who can get on
the move and mix it up well on the inside for the
running game. He could play either guard spot and is
almost certain to earn all-star honors before his career
Nitchman was one of the two returning starters to
the line last year and he came though big. A 6-3,
296-pound pure run blocker, he was thrown into the fire
early in his career, and he had problems with a knee
injury, but he’s consistent and experience. The senior
will be a true quarterback for a line that needs a bit
Needing to replace all-star Jesse Miller at right tackle
Deane, a 6-5, 297-pound junior who could be the
team’s key new player. He only saw time in one game last
year and is still learning on the fly after starring as
a defensive lineman in high school in Canada. He’ll be a
work in progress and he’ll have problems against speed
rushers early on, but he has the overall athleticism and
the strength to grow into a good all-around blocker.
The other big hole to fill is at right guard, where
second-team All-Big Ten selection Roland Martin is gone.
6-6, 289-pound sophomore
Jared McGaha isn’t big, but he’s one of the team’s most versatile
blockers able to play either tackle or guard position.
He’ll start out at guard, but he needs seasoning after
seeing time in only one game as a redshirt freshman.
Projected Top Reserves: Until Rocco Cironi
is healthy, 6-6, 284-pound senior
will be a key factor at left tackle. After starting out
his career at guard Moss moved to the outside where he
was supposed to be a regular in the rotation, but only
saw time in three games. If nothing else, he’ll be one
of the team’s most vital reserves with the versatility
to play almost anywhere.
Adding more size at right tackle is the combination of
Schmeding and junior
Neither one has done much for the offense, but they’re
very big and they’ve been around. The 6-5, 335-pound
Jeremiah was a reserve defensive tackle last year making
eight stops while the 6-8, 330-pound Schmeding has been
a career backup.
The star of the future could be asked to play a key role
right away. True freshman
was all but certain to go to Iowa, but the 6-8,
295-pounder chose MSU and he should be a great tackle
with a little bit of time. He has the frame to get
bigger and the long arms to lock on to pass rushers.
Watch Out For ... the right side. It could
be a work in progress, especially at tackle. McGaha
should be solid at guard, but Deane will have to show
right away that he can handle the work on the outside.
Strength: The left side. When healthy
again, Cironi will be solid at left tackle and Foreman
is a high-riser at left guard. Combined with Nitchman at
center, the Spartans have a good nucleus to build
Weakness: Production. The lines have been fine
under Mark Dantonio, but nothing special. Pass
protection has been the biggest issue giving up 82 in
the last three seasons, while there wasn’t enough done
for the running game. Yes, Javon Ringer ran for 1,637
yards, but the team averaged 3.3 yards per carry.
Outlook: It’ll be an interesting line with
a good mix of solid veterans and young prospects who
could be even more talented than the starters. The left
side of the line will be fine, but the question mark
will be at right tackle where the unproven J’Michael
Deane has to show that he’s ready. There’s good size,
good toughness, and good upside. However, this isn’t
going to be a special line in any way. It’ll be fine,
and it certainly won’t be a weakness, but it’s not going
to be the reason Michigan State has a big season.