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Projecting Michigan State’s starters and depth chart versus Youngstown State

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NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State Spartans head coach Mel Tucker is not a fan of depth charts, so once again I am providing my sure to be wrong best guesses at the starters and backups for MSU’s home open against Youngstown State.

Quarterback

Starter: Payton Thorne (Passing: 15-for-25, 185 yards, one touchdown; Rushing: five carries 28 yards)

Backup: Anthony Russo (Did not play - DNP)

Thorne was the game one starter and had a rather steady game, completing 60 percent of his passes and did not put the ball in danger. I would expect MSU to be a bit more aggressive in the passing game versus Youngstown State, particularly with deep throws.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Running Back

Starter: Kenneth Walker III (23 carries, 264 yards, four touchdowns)

Backup: Jordon Simmons ( five carries 10 yards; one reception 14 yards, one touchdown)

Well, that was a debut. Walker exceeded the hype in his first game as a Spartan putting in one of the most productive outings in MSU history (seventh most rushing yards in a single game in program history, and most for a player making a Spartan debut).

Simmons did not find much open space in the ground game, but his one and only reception resulted in an untouched scamper into the end zone. Harold Joiner III took a nasty shot to the head and did not return to field. Reports are he was back in pads for practice and we hope to see him in action on Saturday. Surprisingly, Elijah Collins did not get any carries — I was near him on the sidelines at Northwestern and there was no noticeable physical limitation.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Wide receivers

Starters: Jayden Reed (five receptions for 64 yards), Jalen Nailor (two receptions for 20 yards), Tre Mosley (four receptions for 59 yards)

Backups: Montorie Foster, Terry Lockett, Ian Stewart, Christian Fitzpatrick, Keon Coleman

Reed, Nailor and Mosley logged at least 45 snaps each and all were involved in the passing game on several occasions. This trio is firmly entrenched as the starters.

No other wide receiver garnered more than five plays from scrimmage, which means MSU is still looking for a play maker – or even a steady hand – to be counted on as the fourth wide receiver. The offense does not have a big receiving target yet, which tends to point to Stewart, Fitzpatrick and perhaps Coleman getting extended looks against the Penguins.

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Tight end/H-Back

Starter: Connor Heyward (three receptions for 28 yards)

Backup: Tyler Hunt

Depending where you look, even on Michigan State’s official program information, Heyward is listed as a tight end and as a running back. He earned the start at the mixed role of H-back and had some good moments receiving along with a couple occasions blocking. Heyward is a willing blocker, but it is not a strong suit, which is understandable as this is the first time in his career he has been asked to do so extensively. Hunt logged the second most repetitions at the position, but was not a factor in the air. Parks Gissinger and Gillison both received a handful of plays as blockers.

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Left tackle

Starter: Jarrett Horst

Backup: Luke Campbell, Dan VanOpstall

Horst showed his nasty streak, which had been mentioned by the staff, and received a penalty for his (over)aggressiveness at one point against Northwestern. I thought Luke Campbell would get a chance at offensive tackle, which is why I had him in the two-deep for right tackle versus Northwestern. That said, Campbell logged more snaps at each tackle position than expected. Campbell has battled a series of injuries since being the full-time starter as a redshirt freshman in 2017, so it was gratifying to see him get the opportunity. VanOpstall grabbed a handful of snaps during the contest.

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Left guard

Starter: J.D. Duplain

Backup: Blake Bueter

Left guard held to form more than any offensive line position, as Duplain received the lion’s share of duties against Northwestern with Bueter getting spot play.

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Center

Starter: Matt Allen

Backup: Nick Samac

Allen was rewarded with the start and the majority of the action after returning for his sixth season with the Spartans. Allen was pretty solid, while Samac received over a dozen plays in the middle of the line. No reason to think both will not receive time again against YSU as well.

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Right guard

Starter: Kevin Jarvis

Backup: Matt Carrick

Jarvis and Carrick split right guard duties along the same lines as Duplain and Bueter did at left guard. Unless something drastically changes, the pecking order of the interior line for starters and reserves seems rather solidified.

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Right tackle

Starter: AJ Arcuri

Backup: Luke Campbell, Spencer Brown

AJ Arcuri maintained the right edge on most plays, though Campbell and Brown also did man the position against Northwestern. Going forward, the offensive tackle jobs look like there will be a three man rotation primarily, but Brown is just scratching the surface and has the potential of making this a four-player swap.

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Defensive tackles

Starters: Jacob Slade and Dashaun Mallory

Backup: Simeon Barrow, Jalen Hunt, Maverick Hansen

Hunt and Barrow got the nods as starters, but it was a rather weird allocation of snaps given to the interior defenders. As snaps go, Mallory received the most followed by Slade, Hansen, Barrow and Hunt. Kyle King was also given half a dozen plays and looked active.

It should be noted Barrow and Slade played with clubs on their right hands, which is not optimal. I am unsure if Hunt was injured or ineffective, but four guys getting more playing time was unexpected, perhaps concerning, as he was expected by many to have a breakout season. This position looks deep fortunately, though it’s rather unknown who the top players are as of now.

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Defensive ends

Starters: Drew Beesley and Jacub Panasiuk

Backup: Drew Jordan, Jeff Pietrowski, Michael Fletcher, Jack Camper, Itayvion “Tank” Brown

The defensive end position was more fleshed out from a perspective of starters, as Beesley and Panasiuk saw most of the action. As expected, Jordan was present as the first reserve and looked good. A mild surprise was Jordan drawing more assignments than Fletcher, Itayvion Brown and Camper combined. Pietrowski is a touch undersized at 6-foot-1, however he was a St. Edwards product, which the previous staff was quite happy in landing. Michigan State enjoyed strong run defense on the edge, but is still hoping to find a pass rush presence.

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Linebackers

Starters: Cal Haladay, Quavaris Crouch

Backups: Chase Kline, Ben VanSumeren, Noah Harvey

The biggest revelation on the defense Friday night was the performance of Cal Haladay. He was all over the field and was an absolute hammer. Haladay shockingly played more snaps than any other linebacker. Crouch showed as billed, a very fast athlete who shows a lot of promise.

Kline and VanSumeren each got 20-plus opportunities at linebacker, which was the thought process going into Friday night. Surprisingly, Harvey was the odd man out, only getting a handful of snaps at the spot he held last season. My first impression is this position looks deeper and with a higher ceiling than last season.

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Cornerbacks

Starters: Ronald Williams, Kalon Gervin

Backups: Chester Kimbrough, Charles Brantley, Marqui Lowery, Khary Crump

Murmurs were out there that Gervin may be getting pushed to hold onto his returning spot. That chatter did not hold up in the first game, as Gervin tied with Williams for the most reps at cornerback. Despite some shaky moments for both, there is no reason to believe these two will not be the starters in the second matchup.

Kimbrough and Brantley each were limited to a few occasions on the field, which is interesting as most people expected the cornerback position to be one where we saw a lot of different faces. I think Youngstown State is a spot where the staff will want to work in more guys to get a feel of where they are at.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Nickelback

Starter: Michael Dowell

Backup: Darius Snow

The nickelback assignment went as expected last week, as Dowell dominated the duties with Snow getting into the game periodically with some solid minutes. Nothing to note other than they looked pretty good so far.

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Safeties

Starters: Xavier Henderson, Angelo Grose

Backups: Darius Snow, Kendell Brooks

Common thought was Henderson would be one of the best defenders and players overall for the Spartans. He did nothing to disprove that Friday night, active and involved often. Grose looked rather comfortable and made a play on the ball at least once. The duo occupied the backend for the vast majority of the game. To be honest, due to formations and such I was unable to tell if Snow primarily played nickel or safety, regardless he was obviously the first man off the sidelines to back up either position. Brooks did see his first action while wearing the Green and White, but only for a moment or two. Once again, I feel like the staff will go deeper into the roster at home with an FCS opponent and that will lead to guys getting looks in spots such as safety.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Special teams

Placekicker

Starter: Matt Coghlin

Backup: Stephen Rusnak OR Evan Johnson

Have you ever had a haircut which rivals Coghlin’s red mullet? I am still uncertain who the backup is and that is okay.

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Punter

Starter: Bryce Baringer

Backup: Cody Waddell

Baringer looked good against Northwestern — he had some touch and a bit more loft. Congratulations to him being placed on scholarship.

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Punt/Kick returner

Starter: Jalen Nailor, Jayden Reed

Backup: Jayden Reed, Jalen Nailor

So, it seems Nailor will be the primary kick returner and Reed will be the primary punt returner. Both did a lot of waiving their hand over their head for a fair catch. Nailor had one kick return for 12 yards. It would be nice to see something explosive in the return game — it has been a while.

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Long snapper

Starter: Hank Pepper (freshman)

Backup: Michael Donovan (freshman)

Pepper snapped without issue in his debut against the Wildcats, and that is all that can be asked for right now.