After getting off to a slow start last year, the Michigan State offense eventually found their groove as the season wore on, en route to a Big Ten Championship and a win in the Rose Bowl. The play of the offensive line was a big reason for the Spartans’ offensive growth throughout the season. If Michigan State football wants to have similar success this year, they are going to need their offensive line to once again be a steadying force.
Michigan State will need to replace three seniors from last year’s group. Left tackle Blake Treadwell, right guard Dan France and right tackle Fou Fonoti all graduated. Those three combined to start 85 games on the offensive line over the course of their careers. Last season the MSU offensive line gave up 17 sacks, the third fewest in the Big Ten. The line’s stability helped keep Connor Cook off his back and allowed him to grow throughout the season into one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks.
Losing three seniors would normally be very difficult to replace but it might not be as tough for Michigan State as you might think. The Spartans were constantly rotating linemen in and out of games last year, at times using as many as eight different players on the O-Line. As a result, MSU will have four players returning to the line who played at least 400 snaps last year.
The three big returners are Jack Allen, Jack Conklin and Travis Jackson. Allen has started 24 games on the O-Line for MSU and and was named to the preseason Rimington and Outland Trophy Watch Lists. This will be his third year as a starter and should slide back into the center position, where he started the final 12 games last year.
Jack Conklin was listed as the starting left tackle in spring practice after starting 13 games last year, including 10 at left tackle as a redshirt freshman. He was named a first-team Freshman All-American by a number of publications and was named to the Outland Trophy preseason watch list this year. With Conklin in place at left tackle MSU is lucky enough to have a returning starter in place at the most important spot on the O-Line.
Travis Jackson, best known last year for his “Yes!” chant, will be a senior this year and was slotted into the starting left guard spot this spring. Jackson has appeared in 28 career games, including 18 starts. His first career start at right guard came in the Rose Bowl, taking the spot of the injured Dan France.
The final two spots on the line will be open for competition, although I would assume that the MSU coaching staff would like to continue last year’s plan of rotating as many players in as possible to keep everyone fresh late in the game.
Fifth-year senior and former walk-on Connor Kruse was listed as the starting right guard in spring practice. Kruse has appeared in 29 games in his career, including all 14 games last year and played every position on the line.
Junior Donavon Clark was listed as the starting right tackle in spring practice. Clark also appeared in all 14 games last season and started four games at left tackle. He has appeared in 20 career games and started six in his Michigan State career.
The other players vying for time in the rotation are sophomore Kodi Kieler, fifth-year senior James Bodanis and sophomore Benny McGowan. Kieler appeared in all 14 games last year, primarily on special teams. Bodanis is a transfer from the University of Toronto and sat out last year and will make the move from defensive line to offensive line this year. McGowan appeared in one game last year as a redshirt freshman and was ranked as the 25th best offensive guard coming out of high school by ESPN.
While the Spartans may not have the same rotational depth as they had a year ago, they return plenty of experience and there shouldn’t be much of a drop off in production. The group will need some time to get used to playing together as a unit but with a vocal leader like Jackson and a returning left tackle that didn’t allow a sack last year, the Spartans should be in pretty good shape in the trenches.