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Projecting Michigan State’s starters and depth chart versus Akron

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s the second game of the 2022 season for the Michigan State Spartans, and for the second game in a row, MSU will host a Mid-American Conference team. This time, the Akron Zips will travel to East Lansing (4 p.m. Easter Time, Big Ten Network). Head coach Mel Tucker does not release a depth charts, so after viewing the previous game and reading reports about the roster, I am have made my best attempt at determining the starters and reserves.


Starter: Payton Thorne

Backup: Noah Kim

Thorne had an uneven game with several overthrows and an ugly interception, and never seemed to totally settle into the game. Regardless, he did throw for four touchdowns in the victory versus Western Michigan and averaged nearly 10 yards per passing attempt. Hopefully Thorne can show more accuracy in a matchup against a challenged Akron defense.

Kim replaced Thorne for one snap last Friday after Thorne took a big hit. Kim surprisingly uncorked a deep pass to Jayden Reed, which resulted in a pass interference call against the defender. It is possible we will see Kim and Katin Houser as the Zips are expected to give little resistance to the Spartans.

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Running Back

Starter: Jalen Berger

Backup: Jarek Broussard

The first outing provided a clear view of the running back situation for the Spartans. Berger and Broussard will share carries, with Berger being the lead back for the time being. Though Michigan State has depth at running back with Jordon Simmons, Harold Joiner and Elijah Collins, it does not appear those players will be utilized much in the MSU offensive attack this season, but that trio should see some time versus Akron. Berger rushed for 120 yards with a touchdown, and there was a rather questionable fumble based on the officials’ determination of forward progress, but ball security is something to track going forward. Broussard showed lively movement, and there is obvious potential for big plays from him.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Wide receivers

Starters: Jayden Reed, Keon Coleman, Tre Mosley

Backups: Germie Bernard, Christian Fitzpatrick

Reed, the returning star receiver, was relatively quiet last week, hauling in two passes. It is evident Reed is still struggling with a nagging injury, as he was slow to leave the field after a catch. Coleman — who was the team leader in receptions with four against WMU — along with Mosley and Bernard (true Freshman), all scored touchdowns against the Broncos. Fitzpatrick made an appearance in the game but was not targeted.

It should be noted Montorie Foster did not dress for the opener and is dealing with an injury, which has limited him throughout spring and summer to individual workouts only. As a whole, the wideouts look big or fast (both in Coleman’s case), and with good health, they shall be extremely productive.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tight end/H-Back

Starter: Daniel Barker

Backup: Tyler Hunt; Maliq Carr

Hunt got the start last week, but only recorded one catch for four yards. Meanwhile, Barker snagged a one-handed touchdown and had a couple of rushing attempts. Carr brought in one catch for six yards while splitting time with the other two tight ends. This trio may play two at a time as the team will use two-tight end sets occasionally, particularly if the wide receiver injury situation worsens. Blocking remains a point of emphasis, the tight end who shows an ability to block at the point of attack will be a matter to keep tabs on.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Left tackle

Starter: Brandon Baldwin

Backup: Jarrett Horst

There is quiet talk that Horst is working through some health issues, which led to Baldwin getting the start against Western Michigan. I would assume the staff will continue to play it safe and shall place Horst on a pitch count so to speak until he is a full go. Baldwin handled himself relatively well, and it was nice to provide him with real playing experience that he needs foe development.

J.D. Duplain, Nick Samac, Matt Carrick and Spencer Brown rounded out the starting group on the offensive line last week. Brian Greene made his Spartan debut backing up at right guard, while Geno VanDeMark, Dallas Fincher and Ethan Boyd also saw limited field action.

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Left guard

Starter: J.D. Duplain

Backup: Geno VanDeMark

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Starter: Nick Samac

Backup: Dallas Fincher

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Right guard

Starter: Matt Carrick

Backup: Brian Greene

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Right tackle

Starter: Spencer Brown

Backup: Ethan Boyd

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Defensive tackles

Starters: Jacob Slade, Simeon Barrow

Backup: Maverick Hansen, Derrick Harmon, Dashaun Mallory, Jalen Hunt

The veteran duo of Slade and Barrow got starting nods last week, while Hansen and a slimmed down Harmon rotated in as reserves. Shortly before kickoff, it was reported by multiple sources that Mallory and Hunt would not be participating in the game, with the assumption being for health concerns. Interestingly enough, Michigan State showed some formations with three defensive ends on the line and only one defensive tackle when the opponent was in passing downs. WMU’s running backs accounted for just 100 yards on 31 carries, however the defensive push seemed not to the standard of the group as a whole.

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Defensive ends

Starters: Jacoby Windmon, Jeff Pietrowski

Backup: Khris Bogle, Brandon Wright, Zion Young

Windmon is the reigning Defensive Player of the Week in the Big Ten and nationally after accumulating four sacks and terrorizing WMU’s left tackle all game long. Bogle had some nice moments and flashed at times, while Pietrowski remained a steady and reliable edge defender for the squad. Wright showed some burst, but didn’t get the tackle on a couple occasions. As a unit, the pressure on the passer was extremely encouraging, but there are some questions against the run, which need to be answered this week. Young, the true freshman, got in the game against the Broncos and looks like a large man. Avery Dunn appeared also, but left with an injury. Michael Fletcher was unavailable due to a suspected injury.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports


Starters: Cal Haladay, Ben VanSumeren

Backups: Aaron Brule, Ma’a Gaoteote

With Windmon being wisely reassigned to defensive end, VanSumeren and Darius Snow were the first linebackers on the field against WMU, with Haladay playing 63 defensive snaps himself. The most disappointing (and problematic) circumstance from Friday night was the season-ending injury to Snow after he took an unintentional direct hit to his knee from Chester Kimbrough. Snow was the most versatile linebacker Michigan State had on the roster. On a positive note, VanSumeren played the best of his short career with the Spartans, looking fluid, mobile and active. Brule got a sack in his MSU debut, and he could perhaps be the starter if his skill set is favored over VanSumeren’s or Haladay’s, but all will play. With Snow’s departure, the door is opened for more opportunity for Gaoteote as well.

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Starters: Ameer Speed, Ronald Williams Jr.

Backups: Charles Brantley, Marqui Lowery

The defensive backfield, specifically the cornerbacks, looked improved. though the Broncos — with a new quarterback and offensive coordinator — were perhaps not the best litmus test. Brantley got the starting nod last week, as did Speed, but caution with Williams’ health was exercised and I believe he will shortly take over the majority of snaps from Brantley. There is a likelihood Brantley will see more overall downs than Williams against Akron. Lowery was quietly present, which is perfectly fine for a cornerback.

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Starter: Chester Kimbrough

Backup: Justin White

Working from the inside of the formation seemed to suit Kimbrough, as he had a nice outing in the opener, though at novice glance, signs pointed to him being targeted by the WMU passing attack. He really held his own, though. White got into the action as well, though sparingly.

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Starters: Angelo Grose, Jaden Mangham

Backups: Kendell Brooks, AJ Kirk, Xavier Henderson (likely to miss game)

The second most concerning matter after the victory over Western Michigan was the health of Xavier Henderson, as the most experienced and perhaps most valuable defender, left the game for medical care and did not return. His status going forward is unknown, but he is not expected to play against Akron.

In replacement, Kendell Brooks was also bumped and bruised leading to true freshman Jaden Mangham seeing an unexpectedly heavy workload. This will be a learning process for the youngster, patience with a talented prospect is in order. If Brooks is healthy, he could very well draw the start over Mangham.

Grose continued to be a fixture on the field and his presence increases with importance, but he needs to play better in coverage. Not experiencing any additional injury issues is imperative for this group, as the Spartans’ defensive backs have already skated onto thin ice and further ailments will lead to open water.

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Special teams


Starter: Jack Stone

Backup: Ben Patton, Stephen Rusnak

The good: Stone hit all of his point after attempts. The “Meh, OK”: three of the six kickoffs ended in touchbacks. The bad: a 44-yard field goal miss, which on its face isn’t bad, except it looked like he hit a knuckleball with a 2 Iron. One would guess the kicking competition continues into Week Two, and don’t be surprised to see two or even three kickers used against the Zips.

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Starter: Bryce Baringer

Backup: Ryan Eckley, Evan Morris

From time to time, Baringer can send a rocket into the opposing end zone no matter how far back MSU is pinned. Baringer also had nice spin back on at least one punt last week, which shows improved finesse to his abilities. He shall be important in several games this season, and is one of the best punters in the nation.

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Punt/Kick returner

Starter: Jayden Reed/Jarek Broussard

Backup: Jarek Broussard/Jayden Reed/Germie Bernard/Tyrell Henry

Reed is a dynamic in the return game, with an 18-yard punt return last week that looked for the moment as if it could result in a score. That said, Reed is dinged up and the return duties are taxing (and dangerous) to a guy compromised physically. I would expect Broussard, and perhaps a reserve wide receiver or defensive back to be cycled in to the action with Reed being removed from that task for at least a limited time. Bernard and Henry, the true freshmen, could see time here on Saturday.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Long snapper

Starter: Hank Pepper

Backup: Michael Donovan

Hank Pepper is in his second season of handling long snapping duties. Nothing to report is the best report.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Nebraska at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images