One of the main reasons for the success of the Michigan State football team last year was the play of their offensive line. Spartan quarterbacks were sacked only 17 times last year, the third fewest in the Big Ten.
It was a deep group that saw eight different players contribute throughout the season. When asked if the depth and the O-Line rotation was a key for the Spartans, Mark Dantonio said, “No question, it paid dividends. Coach (Mark) Staten had a method in mind when he started doing that.”
The Spartans lost three key members from last year’s offensive line to graduation. Blake Treadwell, Dan France and Fou Fonoti combined to start 85 games over the course of their Spartan careers. All three players brought a little something different according to Coach Dantonio. “The toughness aspect Blake brought, the experience that Dan France brought, the excitement that Fou brought, we miss all that,” said Dantonio at Monday’s media day.
Replacing three seniors is never easy, but this year’s group thinks they have what it takes to get the job done. “A lot of people assume that (we won’t be as deep) because we lost three great players but I think we are going to have that seven or eight guys (rotation) again,” said Connor Kruse, a senior this year on the O-Line. Kruse went on, “Those (new) guys just need to step up and perform, and they can.”
Mark Dantonio echoed Kruse’s comments when talking about his returning O-Line players, “We have starters that have played a lot of football for us and have all played in the Rose Bowl and a Championship game,” Dantonio said.
Senior Travis Jackson believes the experience factor will be key, “We’re pretty excited about this whole line that we’ve got here,” said Jackson. “The really cool thing with this group is there’s guys with a lot of experience, a lot of game experience.”
The biggest key for an offensive line is for the five guys on the line to play as one cohesive unit, something that often takes a while to come together. For members of the MSU offensive line, establishing that bond starts off the field.
“As an offensive line, we are always doing little things throughout the summer, even if it’s just going out to the movies or going to grab dinner somewhere,” said Sophomore Jack Conklin.
“After meetings get done around 8:30, every offensive lineman will go sit in the O-Line room and we will have the film running,” said Kruse.
“I love all these guys here,” says Jackson, “the offensive line room is so tight.”
The players believe this comradery off the field will translate to success on it. “This is practically your best friends right next to you so you know that maybe if you are slow on something, they will be right there to back you up,” said Conklin.
“Me, Jack (Allen), Travis (Jackson), Jack Conklin and Donovan (Clark,) we all work together as such a great team, we are always talking out there,” said Kruse. He went on to say, “When we get done with the play we go right back in the huddle and talk about it. What happened? Who did something great? Connor you need to do this or Jack you need to do that.”
Trust is important for an effective offensive line, every player needs to be where they are supposed to or the whole thing can break down. That is why these guys believe that being so close off the field is important.
“When you’re out on the field you know you can trust the guy next to you because you have created such a great bond on and off the field,” said Conklin.
Part of that trust is being able to speak frankly when someone messes up. “We are good with talking to each other and we are fine calling each other out if we need to,” said Kruse.
While hanging out off the field will hopefully lead to success on the field, the members of the Spartan offensive line want to make sure they have a little fun along the way. Last year no one had more fun than Travis Jackson, who became a very public member of the O-Line thanks to his now famous “Yes” chant.
“It was something that we always talked about in the (offensive) line room, I told these guys I always did celebrations and I would always run it by them. I’d do it so we’d see it on film,” said Jackson.
“When I saw him do it on the field,” says Kruse, “I was laughing. Then I saw it go viral. He didn’t even know, we had to show him.”
Even Coach Dantonio got in on the fun when the team was set to attend the Michigan State basketball game after the Rose Bowl. “Coach D. came to me the day of the game and said ‘I want to see this thing done right.’ I was so nervous,” said Jackson. “Luckily everyone did it with me.”
As for this year’s celebration dance, Connor Kruse says we will have to wait and see what develops. “We gotta make sure the things Travis does are legal. Sometimes we just do goofy ones at practice and get yelled at because that wouldn’t work ‘cause it’s a flag,” Kruse said.
Like the rest of their teammates the offensive line group has the same set of lofty goals for this season, but knows that they have to work hard every day in order to get there.
“Our goal is we want to be part of that four team playoff. We want a national championship, we want all those things,” says Connor Kruse. “We want to get better, like Coach D always says 3% better every day. So there is no reason for us not to up (our) goals.”
And if the Michigan State football team does accomplish their goals this year, you can bet that Travis Jackson will be right back at the Breslin Center next January leading the student body in another “Yes” chant.