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Notes & Quotes: Michigan State offensive line group provides plenty of “competition” for the 2021 season

Chris Kapilovic — Michigan State’s assistant head coach/offensive line coach/run game coordinator — spoke to the media about the progress of the offensive line.

Rutgers v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Chris Kapilovic, who serves as assistant head coach, offensive line coach and run game coordinator for the Michigan State Spartans, took some time this afternoon to speak to the media.

Michigan State kicked off spring ball this week and Kapilovic — who was promoted to the assistant head coach title in January — likes the progress he is seeing from the Spartans’ offensive linemen. What he particularly likes is the added level of competition with the group.

“Well, the big word’s ‘competition,’” Kaplovic said. “We definitely have some competition in our room, and that’s something that’s huge for growth and success, and that’s something that I didn’t feel like we had that across the board in the fall. And I’ve told (the players) this at the start of spring ball, in my mind, through our workouts, I see multiple guys that can start at each position. So there’s nobody that’s coming out here at this practice that has the job won, and it’s critical that they understand that.”

As for why the competition in the offensive line room has ascended upward, it wasn’t so much one or two guys stepping up, but more so the fact that MSU returns plenty of offensive linemen with starting experience (seven players who started at least one game last year). The team also added Jarrett Horst, an offensive tackle transfer from Arkansas State with plenty of starting experience. Luke Campbell — who missed 2020 due to an injury — returns for a sixth year. Campbell has played in 31 career games with 26 career starts. Meanwhile, fellow offensive linemen Matt Allen and AJ Arcuri also have chosen to return for a sixth season of eligibility.

Kapilovic noted the position battles at center, between Allen and Nick Samac, and guard between Blake Bueter, and J.D. Duplain are key to the competition this spring and heading into the fall. He also noted Horst, Kevin Jarvis and Matt Carrick are guys with experience who bring the competition level up. Arcuri (who Kapilovic said was the offensive lineman who improved the most throughout the 2020 season), Spencer Brown and James Ohonba are other players who Kapilovic is excited about.

Speaking of Jarvis, one of the more versatile linemen on the roster, it is certainly possible that he moves back to the guard spot in 2021 after playing right tackle last season. Jarvis has played in 32 career games, with 27 starts, and has played at the right guard, left tackle, and right tackle positions. Kapilovic could certainly see him kick back inside to the interior of the trenches, if needed.

“There’s definitely a possibility of (moving Jarvis back inside to guard),” Kapilovic said. “I know it sounds like coach-speak sometimes, but really you’re trying to find the five best guys (to start) and plug them in where you can. Obviously there’s some guys that can’t play tackle just because of their dimensions, but there’s definitely some tackles that can move into guard. So that’s definitely a possibility — if we got three tackles that are three of the best five guys and we need to move one in and do that, we definitely can do that.”

One other player who Kapilovic said he is excited about is true freshman Ethan Boyd. Boyd added some weight when he got to campus as an early enrollee. He is raw and likely won’t see immediate playing time, but Boyd’s attitude, athleticism and bend have Kapilovic excited for his future prospects.

When the conversation then turned to Horst — the aforementioned offensive tackle transfer from Arkansas State who joined the Spartans in January — Kapilovic said he likes what he sees thus far from Horst. Kapilovic had worked with Horst’s offensive line coach at Arkansas State, Sean Coughlin, in the past. He had also worked with Horst’s former head coach, Blake Anderson (who was recently hired as head coach at Utah State), previously as well.

Kapilovic noted that it was nice to get some inside knowledge on the offensive lineman, but Horst’s play on film immediately stood out to him as well.

“You saw that on film pretty quickly, what he’s about,” Kapilovic said of Horst. “Finding those kinds of guys, and those tackles, it’s a premium. There’s a reason why he was in the portal and he was offered by Texas immediately and then you had OU (Oklahoma University) and Florida State and the people like that, you know everybody jumping in there, because those guys are hard to find. He played at a high level at Arkansas State. He plays with an edge. He finishes blocks, which you love to see, because not all offensive lineman play that way naturally. He’s got two years, could possibly have three years (of eligibility left). Those were all pluses, I thought, for him to come in here and compete for a job and add to our depth.”

Kapilovic also noted that offensive tackle Jordan Reid, who opted out of the 2020 season, was expected to come back for his final year of eligibility in 2021, but ultimately felt it was time to move on. Reid felt that football was no longer the right path for him, and after getting his degree, felt it was time to join the workforce. Kapilovic said that the staff would have loved to have him back, but respects his decision.

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker shares the same vision as Kapilovic, which means building the team from the inside out. It all starts in the trenches. Kapilovic noted that Tucker is “not a head coach that just recruits quarterbacks,” and understands the importance of the position while putting in the necessary effort to find the right guys on the offensive line.

“We’re definitely on the same page,” Kapilovic said about his working relationship Tucker. “We know that — you need every position — but you’ve gotta have those guys up front. (Tucker) knows it starts in the trenches on both sides of the ball. We have a blue print that we both agree with. We like to have big guys. We like guys that are athletic. It’s good when you’re working with somebody that you kind of see eye-to-eye with. When we’re recruiting guys and we’re evaluating them, for the most part we’re on the same page.”

When asked about how long the process takes to build a solid offensive line, Kapilovic said there was no time to waste. While he noted that very few freshmen come in ready to play, when you have experienced guys and depth on your roster, there needs to be a sense of urgency to get it right. He also feels that MSU has the experience and depth to be a much improved unit in 2021.

“I want it to happen now, I want it to happen this season,” Kapilovic said about improving the level of play along the offensive line. “There’s not a day in my life that I feel like it’s OK because we got time to get these guys better, It’s gotta happen now. I coach with a sense of urgency and I want our players to train that way.”

Of course, the Spartans’ offensive line really struggled to move the ball on the ground in 2020. The Spartans averaged a putrid 2.68 yards per rush in 2020, and also averaged just 91.4 rushing yards per game last year, which ranked 122nd in the country. MSU’s spring season and many other team activities were taken away in 2020 due to COVID-19, which played a factor in the team’s development. With a full offseason to prepare, Kapilovic expects a much better outcome.

“Going through and watching the fall, it’s was tough,” Kapilovic said. “I’ve been doing this a long time and (last year’s team) was the least productive offensive I’ve ever been a part of, and it was hard to digest. And it wasn’t from a lack of these kids trying. I just think trying to put it together all together in this COVID-era with the lack of reps we had, and the things we couldn’t do, it just didn’t mesh all the time.”

Kapilovic noted that the team showed “flashes” in 2020, like in the victory over Northwestern. But at the end of the day, the Spartans were just too inconsistent. He is excited to see the team’s improvement this spring and heading into the fall.

Of note, Kapilovic who, as mentioned, also serves as the team’s run game coordinator, is excited about Wake Forest transfer running back Kenneth Walker III. He likes Walker’s speed, power and vision.

“There’s no disappointment (in Walker), I can tell you that...he can go,” Kapilovic said.

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