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Michigan State Football 2022 Positional Preview: Offensive Line

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The Michigan State offense in 2021 was a revelation that was the driving force behind a surprising amount of wins (11). The Spartans enjoyed an explosive passing game with wide receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor to go along with a dynamic ground attack spearheaded by Kenneth Walker III, who had perhaps the most unexpected and impactful individual performance of the college football season.

With that said, the offensive line’s contributions were deemed as adequate, not a negative or positive in any sweeping sense. It’s odd that a position group viewed as a foundation to any success was seen as incidental to the achievements. Perhaps perceptions were a bit skewed by big plays such as a flea flicker every game or a Walker rush for what appeared to be a modest gain that turned into a monumental gouge deep into the defense? To be fair, the offensive line did a commendable job keeping quarterback Payton Thorne clean to deliver passes and lanes were set — even if only for a moment — for Walker to hit the hole with pace and power.

MSU’s offensive line did possess a unique feature that was beneficial, and not expected to be present in 2022, which was a bevy of players with experience and capabilities to play competently. Ten offensive lineman rotated in, each accumulated over 150 snaps and were in at least their third season in college football, with eight of those players having previously started multiple games. The Spartans lose five of those players, as tackles AJ Arcuri and Kevin Jarvis, tackle/guard Luke Campbell, guard/center Blake Bueter and center Matt Allen have moved on to chase aspirations in the NFL or professional life beyond football.

Attrition has made Michigan State a bit thin, at least beyond the projected starters, but there is a base core of six players to work from for offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic in 2022. The first two games for the Spartans versus Western Michigan and Akron will be important for this unit to get into form prior to traveling to Washington on Sept 17.

A fair amount of projection on what MSU can accomplish is dependent on the level of play from the offensive line. Here is a look at the players expected to start or contribute for the upcoming campaign.

Projected starters:

Left Tackle - Jarrett Horst, Redshirt Senior

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The starter at left tackle for eight games, Horst played 317 total snaps and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades from by the coaches and media. He missed five games, which resulted in Kevin Jarvis, Luke Campbell or Spencer Brown picking up snaps at offensive tackle. When healthy, Horst is the Spartans’ best edge blocker. His availability is essential to Michigan State due to the lack of depth at tackle and his talent level. His chili cooks a little hot at times, some discipline would reduces penalties, but there’s worst things than having an edge on the field.

Left Guard - J.D. Duplain, Senior

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In my opinion, he’s the best offensive lineman at Michigan State and has potential to be a special player. So far he’s appeared in 30 games for MSU, starting 23 times. Last season he earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors from the media, along with high grades from Pro Football Focus. Duplain’s level of play by the end of the season demanded he remain on the field at all times — in the Peach Bowl alone, he played 89 snaps.

Center - Nick Samac, Senior

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Samac, like Duplain, was a member of the 2019 recruiting class and is entering his fourth season with the program. To date, he’s played in 27 games with 10 starts over the past two seasons. Samac split time with Matt Allen, who has graduated, and the post in the middle is his for the taking. He’s got a high ceiling with potential to receive All-Big Ten honors. Despite entering his fourth season with the program, Samac is a young talent — he doesn’t turn 21 until later this summer. I’m a tad bullish on his chances to excel at center, at 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, he’s reached requisite size for a Big Ten center, and with his mix of experience, unencumbered opportunity and talent, there’s possibilities for a leap in performance.

Right Guard - Brian Greene, Redshirt Senior

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A graduate transfer from Washington State who began his career in 2017 as a walk-on for the Cougars. Over his career, Greene has appeared in 30 games with 10 starts, mostly at center along with some stints at right guard. At 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, Greene isn’t of optimal size for right guard, however he is an experienced player who was named All-Pac 12 honorable mention at center in 2020. Greene shares commonalities with Horst — he originally hails from the Madison, Wisconsin area, was lightly recruited out of high school, missed games last season due to health reasons and transferred into MSU.

Right Tackle - Spencer Brown, Redshirt Junior

The time is now for Brown, a highly regarded recruit in the 2019 class with multiple high level offers (LSU, Florida, Tennessee, etc.). At 6-foot-6, 320 pounds, he has the frame sought after for right tackle. To be perfectly blunt, Michigan State desperately needs Brown to reach his promise with limited options otherwise. Last season was important for his growth, as Brown appeared in eight games in 2021 (155 total snaps), including a start in the Peach Bowl versus Pittsburgh.

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Projected Contributors:

Matt Carrick, Guard, Redshirt Senior

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Carrick is by far the most experienced player who isn’t guaranteed a starting role, but (if healthy) he will compete with Greene for the right guard spot, and should heavily factor into the rotation either way. He is part of the six-man group presumed to be the foundation of MSU’s 2022 offensive line. Carrick has appeared in 38 games and started 18 of those contests since he joined the program in 2017. At 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, he’s the proper size for a road grader right guard. Carrick suffered a significant leg injury in 2021, which required surgery, but he should be in the mix with Samac and Greene to compete for the interior line positions at center and guard.

Brandon Baldwin, Tackle, Redshirt Sophomore

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Entering his second season in East Lansing, Baldwin is listed as one of the largest offensive lineman on the roster at 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds. He will be in competition to be the first offensive tackle off the bench if Horst or Brown require replacement. He was rated as the fourth-best junior college prospect in 2021 and comes from a basketball background, which indicates he has the necessary movement to block the edge.

Dallas Fincher, Center/Guard, Redshirt Sophomore

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A former top-500 recruit from the 2020 Class, Fincher has slowly but surely added weight to his frame, which is necessary to play in the trenches of Big Ten football. It feels like an important season for Fincher, either he will establish himself as a key reserve at center and guard, or he gets passed by younger prospects brought in by a different coaching staff. His father, Mark, was an offensive lineman for the Spartans in the early/mid 1980s under George Perles.

Ethan Boyd, Tackle, Redshirt Freshman

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The 6-foot-7, 315-pound offensive tackle out of East Lansing High School was one of Mel Tucker’s earliest and most important recruits of his inaugural class. Boyd will battle Baldwin to back up the starters on the edge. He has the frame to see the field, but it is unknown if his technique and overall development have reached necessary levels for consistent play.

Geno VanDeMark, Guard, Redshirt Freshman

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The highest rated of the Michigan State offensive line recruits in the 2021 class, VanDeMark projects to have a high ceiling as an interior bruiser. Unfortunately, VanDeMark suffered a hand injury in the spring and was unable to participate for much of the process, thus missing out on essential live practice snaps and the spring game itself. Fall camp is important for him to gain ground in his growth as a player.

Kevin Wigenton, Guard, Redshirt Freshman

Thick. Wigenton has had to sculpt his body, transferring his girth to a higher percentage of “good playing weight” to assist in more power and better stamina. His strength and burliness may grant him faster playing time than expected if the Spartans do not get the desired push in the inside for their running attack. He is still young and rounding into the form desired from a technical sense as well.

True Freshmen:

  • Gavin Broscious, Guard
  • Ashton Lepo, Offensive Tackle
  • Braden Miller, Offensive Tackle
  • Kristian Phillips, Guard

These freshmen should focus on practice, lifting weights, nutrition, and academics (otherwise known as redshirting for most, if not all of these players). None of the incoming freshmen project as contributors in 2022, and that is a good thing, generally speaking, for their development.

Broscious is the highest-rated recruit in the group, as he was ranked as the No. 749 overall player and No. 37 interior offensive lineman in the 2022 class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Others on the roster:

  • Jacob Lafave, Guard/Defensive Tackle, Redshirt Junior

Lafave transitioned from the defensive line to the offensive line during the spring of 2022 — probably due to the limited amount of bodies Kapilovic had to work with this past spring. He did not see game action in 2021, but appeared in all seven games of the 2020 season on special teams, playing 46 snaps. He is a walk-on, and his father played for Spartans in the early 1990s.

  • Evan Brunning, Offensive/Defensive lineman, Redshirt Junior

Brunning is still currently listed as a defensive tackle on the roster, but like Lafave, transitioned to the offensive line for the spring. It is unclear if he will move back to the defensive line for fall camp or remain on the offensive side of the ball. Brunning walked-on to the team in 2019 and redshirted that season. Through three seasons, he is yet to see game action. Brunning is a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection.