B1G Football Preview: Michigan State Part 1 OFFENSE
Coordinator: Dave Warner and Jim Bollman
Not another coach or player made a bigger impact last season than Jim Bollman. Although cryptic and often quiet, he rivals only Harlon Barnett as the most popular coach on the team. His impact was felt on both sides of the ball and by coaches and players alike. His impact on the offensive line was immediate and his contribution significant.
Dave Warner returns for the second season as the Co-Coordinator and as the official play caller. At times last year, his play calling was abysmal, but as the season went on he called superior games in the B1G Championship game and the Rose Bowl. That is expected in any first year person in any job and I expect Warner to start off where he finished last season.
Michigan State is blessed to have three QB’s who could all be B1G starters at other schools. Connor Cook has the chance to go from good to elite and possibly even make the jump to the NFL early. Dantonio is fond of saying football is a game of inches and he is right.
Cook benefited from multiple defensive drops of poor passes that should have been picked off. Still he got better as his coaches turned him loose. He is not a game manager, which at times this staff wants. He is a gunslinger. I am not calling him Brett Favre, but there can be tension when they want a Trent Dilfer (former Ravens QB known as a player that didn’t necessarily win you games, but didn’t cost you games) and get a Favre mentality. Cook is at his best when on the attack. IF MSU will have a repeat of the success in 2013 or even better in 2014, Cook can’t be asked simply to not cost them games. He will have to win some for them this season, and I think he can and will.
Cook has to mature and grow up and become a better leader; not just the QB. This is unequivocally his team now and that comes with great responsibility. His teammates must see him in that role. He may have more raw talent than Kirk Cousins, but he does not possess (yet) the off the field leadership of the Washington Redskins QB. For MSU to make that leap, they need more from Cook. He has it in him and I think he will rise to the occasion.
Tyler O’Connor is the clear backup as Damion Terry recovers from surgery. Tyler O’Connor possesses a lot of the mojo that made current Arizona Cardinals QB Drew Stanton great. O’Connor possesses the leadership skills on and off the field and there were several members of the MSU football team that thought he was going to be “the man” before Cook took command of the job.
Terry is a freak of nature athletically, a great leader, and a tireless worker. Although the injury set him back, he was clearly behind O’Connor. That isn’t because he is talented; it is because O’Connor is that good. He will have a lasting legacy at MSU when his number is finally called.
Jeremy Langford was a young man who seriously contemplated transferring last year and at one point last summer was off scholarship. He got his mind right thanks to some great parenting, worked his tail off, got his scholarship back, and has set himself up with a great shot at the NFL and potentially a Heisman run. Unfortunately for Langford, he simply had too many touches last year. Thankfully for him, he didn’t suffer injury, but it was the number of touches that helped influence LeVeon Bell to jump early for the NFL. Langford will get help this season from a much deeper stable of good running backs and he won’t have as many carries as last season. Does Delton Williams play RB or move to D? Gerald Holmes has future star written all over him and true Madre London is a stud. Senior Nick Hill was brought to MSU to handle PR/KR and has not made a splash there. Can he make that impact on RB?
Trevon Pendleton returns as the B1G’s premier FB. Pendleton has been underutilized in this offense, but I do expect that to change in 2014. Because of the position he plays, Pendleton’s athleticism is often overlooked. There is also depth if they should break the redshirt off of Gerald Owens who could give MSU more of a threat at the FB such as former NFL/Purdue great Mike Allstott. I believe Pendleton already has those skills, if used more. I know of more than one MSU coach last year who felt Warner could have used Pendleton more.
I have declared on numerous radio shows around the nation that Josiah Price will be one of the two shock players on this MSU team in 2014. He is the total package as an athlete and person. He is dangerous as a playmaker with his hands, a devastating blocker on the line, and a smart player. I fully expect him to end the year as the B1G 1st team All-Big Ten player.
Jamal Lyles is a special player at TE as well. Just a wonderful kid and hard worker, he had to gain weight this off season and did. He also worked hard. He has to lose some of that weight, but don’t misconstrue that as me implying he is fat and lazy. He isn’t. He is a little too big, but that will come off. He reminds me a lot of former MSU/NY Jets TE Chris Baker.
Andrew Gleichert is also a tremendous athlete and football player. With a beaming smile that makes Earvin “MAGIC” Johnson jealous (sorry Earvin), he is often overlooked because he looks like he belongs in a choir more than on a football field. Make no mistake, he is a great player and he, Price, and Lyles not only make up the deepest part of the team, but top to bottom probably the best unit character-wise on and off the field.
WOWZA…the Spartans are deep and talented. Jack Conklin is the B1G’s premier LT and immediately to his side is the most over looked Spartan on the 2014 football team in Connor Kruse at LG. Jack Allen is an elite C and the right guard and tackle spot are going to be the best battle this summer on this team.
Dantonio is enamored with Kodi Kieler, and Donovan Clark is the starter heading into camp at RT. If Kieler continues to play as he is and finds a way to dig deeper and take the next step, they could then see Clark move inside and battle Travis Jackson at RG. Do not forget the names James Bodanis, Benny McGowan, and Dennis Finley or Miguel Michado either. All four could make a play for a role as a starter or at least in the rotation and all are talented. MSU has ten legitimate offensive linemen and I am calling for this to be the deepest and best line of the Dantonio era.
One name not getting talked about OUTSIDE of the Duffy other than by Spartan Nation (at least that I am hearing) is Monty Madaris. If he can stay healthy, he will find a way into the starting lineup at MSU. He is a game changer. Macgarrett Kings and Aaron Burbridge are both exceptional talents with NFL ability, but they are their own worst enemies. They frankly need to grow up. All the talent in the world is worthless if you can’t use it. If those two decide to make football a priority and grow up as young men, the Spartans could have one of the nation’s elite WR groups.
Keith Mumphery is solid and continues to work to get better. He won’t give up his starting job without a fight, and he is poised to have his best season ever. Tony Lippett, coming down the stretch, was the best WR in the Big Ten and he is the elite player in this group. I selected him preseason first team All-Big Ten and I expect if his growth pattern continues to get a shot at the NFL. R.J. Shelton has speed to burn and if he can develop the ability and hands to make plays downfield, he could be a lights out star. Keshawn Martin (Texans) didn’t have the best hands early and that worked out alright for him. Shelton is cut from the same cloth.
Like Kings and Burbridge, former #1 player in the state of Michigan DeAnthony Arnett needed to grow up. He has. I have always liked Arnett, but he has had a SENSATIONAL off season. If the work he put in over the summer translates into the season, LOOK OUT for Arnett. Andre Sims, Jr. is a young man who struggled at punt returner, but has frankly been underrated at WR. He showed the ability to be sure-handed last year and coming into this season his battle is with himself. Sims must be mentally focused every day and demonstrate in practice he has earned reps. They won’t be given to him, but he can earn them. The ball is in his court.
Finally, as deep as MSU is at WR, they still have a some great young talent yet to hit the field and some other players who are potential stars, but snake bit by injury or opportunity. Top to bottom, this is the Spartans best WR group under Dantonio and I wonder how many of them comprehend the fierce battle in practice every day they will have just for reps.
Michael Geiger is the best in the B1G. He is automatic and with the strength gained this off season, he will be asked to move his range back and become a bigger threat.
Final Analysis of the offense:
This will be the deepest offense MSU has had since Dantonio arrived. The question marks at most positions have to simply do with growing up and maturing. This team has a chance to be special and be in the national title hunt. This team must embrace that early and police themselves. Will they rise to the occasion?