There's still one looming question Michigan State has to answer after spring practice ended
The biggest question hovering over Michigan State entering spring practices is still the one that has yet to be answered. What can we expect to see from the offensive line?
Saturday’s format didn’t exactly create the best environment to learn about the Spartans’ play in the trenches. A good portion of the open practice was dedicated to position drills with some 7-on-7 action and a brief live scrimmage sprinkled into the day. Plus, offensive line starters AJ Arcuri and JD Duplain and reserves Blake Bueter and Luke Campbell were all out for Saturday’s spring finale.
Given the circumstances, it’s hard to make any judgment on what Michigan State might look like up front on Sept. 4 when it plays Northwestern to open the 2021 season. But let’s say this: no concerns about the offensive line will be put to bed after Saturday.
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Like a dark rain cloud in the middle of April, that issue continues to linger over Spartan Stadium.
Quarterbacks Payton Thorne and Temple transfer Anthony Russo had to maneuver quite a bit throughout that brief scrimmage to avoid being sacked at a high frequency. At times, the offensive line would give its quarterbacks time to throw and even stretch the field on a few occasions, but it was far from a consistent effort.
Michigan State’s rushing attack, which head coach Mel Tucker called “putrid” a season ago, didn’t look that much better. Running backs Elijah Collins and Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker III, who took most of the first-team reps, were forced to dance around to pick up yardage. Holes at the line of scrimmage were nonexistent. The play in the trenches didn’t look much better than the previous three seasons.
Poor offensive line play has been costly for the Spartans each of the last three seasons. The rushing attack ranked 13th in the B1G each of the past three years. The scoring offense was last in the league during the 2020 season and hasn’t been higher than 12th in the league since 2017.
That’s not a recipe you’re going to find in any successful B1G cookbooks.
The good news from Saturday’s open practice, at least offensively, is that the skill position groups should have plenty of talent. Thorne appears to be the current leader for the starting job, but Russo isn’t far behind. Regardless of who wins the job, the Spartans will be in a better situation under center than a year ago.
Michigan State’s backfield has some quality depth behind Collins and Walker. Connor Heyward and Jordan Simmons are both capable ball carriers and should provide the offense with plenty of options at running back throughout the course of the season.
At wide receiver, Jayden Reed and Ian Stewart both made some big plays throughout the day and Ricky White will be an excellent option in the passing attack, though he wasn’t suited up Saturday. Michigan State will also be adding two transfers to the roster at the position, with Louisville’s Christian Fitzpatrick and Purdue’s Maliq Carr both coming in.
From the skill position standpoint, this might be one of the better lineups Michigan State has fielded in the last five seasons. It doesn’t mean much if the guys on the front line struggle again.
Michigan State wasn’t at full strength along the offensive line on Saturday. This is a unit that still has plenty of time to get healthy and show significant progress over the summer and into fall camp. And it’s going to have to if the Spartans want to be in bowl contention in 2021.
There were plenty of things to like from an offensive standpoint from Saturday’s open practice in East Lansing. The line still isn’t one of those, at least not yet.