Our following analysis of Michigan State’s depth chart could have gone down the tube after the Spartans’ scrimmage on Friday night, which the offense won 39-33.
“It’ll be a whole new depth chart, 1s and 2s, in my opinion, on Saturday,” Spartans offensive line coach Mark Staten said earlier in the week.
But Michigan State didn’t even provide a depth chart before the scrimmage, so if changes were made, we won’t know it. We can only use the words of the coaching staff and the film of the spring game to surmise who might be on the field Sept. 2 against Bowling Green.
So here are our projections of Michigan State’s season-opening starters, as well as those likely to back them up.
Quarterback: Brian Lewerke
Everyone around Michigan State knows Brian Lewerke is “the guy,” and it doesn’t look like that will be changing anytime soon. The coaches, offensive line, wide receivers, running backs and anyone else you might ask has expressed supreme confidence in him. Damion Terry and Messiah deWeaver continue battling for the backup spot, but Terry’s experience likely gives him the edge.
No. 2: Damion Terry
Running back: Gerald Holmes
Gerald Holmes, LJ Scott and Madre London all will get plenty of carries, but Holmes’ status as a senior leader whom teammates respect make him a prime candidate to get snaps on the first offensive drive. As games progress and carries go to the hot hand, Scott likely will assume most of the load. Anyone else being the Spartans leading rusher would be a bit of a surprise.
No. 2: LJ Scott
Fullback: Collin Lucas
He has played extremely sparingly throughout his career, but now that he’s earned a scholarship, it’s time for Collin Lucas to show that his football skills rival his bowling skills (which, according to teammates, are among the team’s best). Behind him, freshman walk-on Max Rosenthal and graduate transfer Joe Palange will get their opportunities. But the likely scenario is that the Spartans don’t even start with a fullback.
No. 2: Joe Palange or Max Rosenthal
Wide receivers: Trishton Jackson, Darrell Stewart Jr., Felton Davis III
They don’t have a lot of experience, but they have more than anyone else on the team, and receivers coach Terrence Samuel already has declared Trishton Jackson, Darrell Stewart Jr. and Felton Davis III the top 3. It will be both one of the youngest and fastest receiving corps Michigan State has seen in recent years, and one that may take a while to develop chemistry with Lewerke.
No. 2: Cam Chambers, Hunter Rison, Cody White
Tight end: Matt Sokol
Matt Sokol’s 2 receptions for 26 yards make him the most experienced tight end on the roster now that mainstays Josiah Price and Jamal Lyles have moved on. The staff seems confident in his abilities, and in the spring game, he started alongside Noah Davis. Freshmen Matt Dotson and Jack Camper could see action behind them. In a single TE set, though, Sokol likely gets the call.
No. 2: Noah Davis
Tackle: Cole Chewins, Luke Campbell
Michigan State is expecting huge things out of both, and though the Spartans haven’t typically picked five offensive line starters and stuck with them, it would be nice if Cole Chewins could be on the left and Luke Campbell on the right just about every snap. AJ Arcuri will be right there if he’s healthy, and freshman Jordan Reid (projected as a guard coming in) has impressed at RT behind Campbell.
No. 2: Jordan Reid, AJ Arcuri
Guard: Tyler Higby, David Beedle
It seems Tyler Higby has come back well after his 2016 campaign was derailed by a broken right ankle, and David Beedle has the edge on the right after earning five starts at left tackle as a sophomore. Watch out for freshman Kevin Jarvis, though. He was Michigan State’s top-ranked recruit according to the 247Sports composite rankings and eventually could earn himself a starting spot. The only other scholarship guard is Nick Padla, but Brian or Matt Allen could step in if needed.
No. 2: Brian Allen, Kevin Jarvis
Center: Brian Allen
If Brian Allen doesn’t get every single snap at center, it likely will be either because he’s injured or needed at guard. And if that’s the case, he has his younger brother to back him up. Matt Allen redshirted in 2016, but he seems to have the staff’s confidence to step in right away.
No. 2: Matt Allen
Defensive end: Demetrius Cooper, Kenny Willekes
The staff has indicated that Demetrius Cooper has returned from his punishment for off-field issues and hasn’t missed a beat. As for Kenny Willekes, he’ll likely be the first- and second-down guy on the weak side. Brandon Randle could replace him on third downs. Robert Bowers started the final three games of 2016, and former walk-on Dillon Alexander has earned opportunities as well.
No. 2: Robert Bowers, Dillon Alexander
Defensive tackle: Mike Panasiuk, Raequan Williams
Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams started the final three games of their true freshman and redshirt freshman seasons, respectively, as the staff groomed them for this role. Defensive tackles coach Ron Burton seems confident that he can rotate a bunch of guys in. Gerald Owens and Devyn Salmon will both have a great shot because of their experience. Naquan Jones will be right there as well.
No. 2: Gerald Owens, Devyn Salmon
Star linebacker: Andrew Dowell
All of the starting linebacker spots look pretty much undisputed. Andrew Dowell started eight games at star in 2016 and won’t likely relinquish his role. The aforementioned Brandon Randle, since he’s still getting reps at both spot, seems a solid guess to back him up. True freshman Antjuan Simmons will play, but it’s best to ease him into action.
No. 2: Brandon Randle
Mike linebacker: Joe Bachie
His redshirt had to be burned when Riley Bullough got himself ejected against Maryland. Now the staff wishes he could have played the whole season. Regardless, he’s a guy the staff has full confidence could hold onto this role for the next three seasons. Behind him Byron Bullough has experience off the bench, with Shane Jones ready to step in as well.
No. 2: Byron Bullough
Will linebacker: Chris Frey
No one’s going to take this spot from him. He’s got the experience and the skills to start every single game, just as he did in 2016. Tyriq Thompson enters his third year with the program ready and willing to offer Frey a quick breather when he needs it.
No. 2: Tyriq Thompson
Cornerback: Josiah Scott, Justin Layne
They both started in the spring game and don’t seem to have lost their favor with the coaches. Josiah Scott enrolled early and has blown people away from the get-go, putting himself in position to become the third true freshman to start a season opener under Coach Mark Dantonio. And Justin Layne took the starting role last year as a true freshman and ran with it.
No. 2: Josh Butler, Tyson Smith
Safety: Khari Willis, David Dowell
They only started one game apiece in 2016, but both Khari Willis and David Dowell have been around the program long enough to know what’s expected of them. Grayson Miller and Matt Morrissey both have experience as well, and Austin Andrews provides depth after the staff decided to transition him from cornerback to safety.
No. 2: Grayson Miller, Matt Morrissey
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