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Help is on the way — Taking a look at the 2017 offensive line

The O-Line was a major trouble spot in 2016. Will things be different in 2017?

NCAA Football: Purdue at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State’s offensive line was bad last year. No one denies this.

MSU offenses have generally made their mark on the ground, priding themselves on being able to line up and run between the tackles, even if the defense knew what was coming. 2016 was a drastically different story. The hog mollies were consistently unable to win the line of scrimmage which led offensive coordinator Dave Warner to call too many plays designed to get to the edge, rather than staying on schedule and taking those “easy” yards. If you’re a Big 12 “pace and space” type offense, that might be OK but MSU is not and never will be that.

More often than not, those plays weren’t blocked effectively, turning what could have been a 3-5 yard gain into a 3-5 yard loss or, best case scenario, no gain. Add in a quarterback who struggled to hit intermediate throws, a porous defense and troubled locker room and you start to feel lucky that you got to 3-9.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

There are other, more pressing issues hanging over the football program at the moment, but when it comes to on the field fixes that needs to be made, O-Line is tied with D-Line for priority number one.

That may sound daunting, but the Spartans actually appear to be in pretty good shape. Obviously, a lot can change, so take this with a grain of salt, but compare last year’s starting five with this year’s presumed group.

The first thing that jumps out is that a lot of dead weight has been shed. God bless Kodi Keiler, Benny McGowan and Miguel Machado for trying but they were either overmatched or out of position and it showed up on Saturdays.

On top of that, the only two returning starters — Brian Allen and David Beedle — have returned to their natural positions. Allen is best suited as a pivot but can (and will) moonlight solidly at guard, but Beedle moving after being badly miscast as a left tackle a season ago, is a huge plus. Now back at guard, Beedle represents an athletic upgrade over his predecessor McGowan and can get back to being a road grader.

Despite being in the 270’s, Cole Chewins stabilized the left side of the line after replacing Beedle, and after another year with Ken Mannie, the 6’8” Chewins looks like a prototype blindside protector. His running mate, Tyler Higby, was stellar for long stretches of his redshirt freshman campaign before going down with an ankle injury. He and Chewins should form a dynamite left side.

If you’re keeping score, that’s four upgrades at four starting positions. Not bad!

The final position, right tackle, is not only the biggest mystery but also the biggest area for improvement. After years of waiting and despite having a perfect build and plus athleticism, Machado was a major disappointment last season. He was never able to turn his potential into production and that (among myriad other things) killed MSU.

There are a few candidates to replace him — including Dennis Finley and AJ Arcuri — but the leader in the clubhouse appears to be Luke Campbell (no, not him). The redshirt freshman started in the Green-White game and, by all accounts, held his own against a revitalized defensive end group. Mark Dantonio said after the game that Campbell “solidified himself at the right offensive tackle.” Coach also said “he’s gotten bigger, he’s over 300 pounds now. He’s a good athlete, he can run, he’s tough.” If he can be merely solid instead of a liability, it is a major win.

There are a lot of moving parts, but the ceiling here is very high. With some good health luck and solid development, the Spartans line could go from problem child to golden child in just one season.