Michigan State has a lot to improve coming off a disappointing 2022. Last year saw concerns across the roster, with the fairly massive fall off in the run game one of the most surprising elements. The run game was always going to take a dip after the departure of Kenneth Walker III, but the lack of push up front doomed Michigan State’s offense seemingly from the start. This year they have to be better.
The good news is a very simple factor will mean this year’s group should show substantial improvement: Depth.
The 2022 Problems For Context
Amidst all the hype coming off the 2021 season, it was massively overshadowed in the run up to last year that Michigan State practiced most of the Spring and Summer with barely enough lineman to field a starting group. Injuries, departures, etc. kept the offensive line extremely thin.
This lack of healthy bodies had a large knock on effect. The offense had to be conservative in how it practiced, so as not to burn out the few lineman they did have. In scrimmages against the defensive line, it meant the D-lineman were not getting true game-like action in the run up to 2021.
While so called “skill players” like wide receivers, cornerbacks, and running backs grab headlines in the off season, an effectively barely there offensive line may have been the wet sand the entire team crumbled on last year.
2023’s Offensive Line
This year, the number of healthy offensive lineman is literally three times what it was a year ago. This alone should mean the entire Spartan team is better.
Interestingly, most of the offensive line are recruits the coaches have had straight out of high school. Beyond the junior college product, Keyshawn Blackstock, Jr., the coaches all recruited this year’s players directly into Michigan State. This is the year that recruiting and development needs to bear fruit.
The question will be how much better the offensive line can be. Can they be more than fresh bodies, and actually start pushing defensive lines around and holding up in extended pass protection.
Projecting the starting lineup and backups:
Starter: Brandon Baldwin, R-Jr.;
Baldwin came to the Spartans in late 2020 from junior college and did not see game action in 2021. A top junior college prospect (Ranked number 4 by 247Sports in 2020), Baldwin joined the starting lineup at left tackle in 2022, starting in 5 games and playing in a total of 9 games last year.
Main Backup: Ethan Boyd, R-So.;
This local product redshirted his first year and primarily played on special teams last year. With measurements at 6 foot 7 inches and 325 pounds, Boyd has prototypical size for the tackle position. How much Boyd sees the field this year may depend on how well Badlwin holds up physically.
Starter: J.D. Duplain, R-Sr.;
One of only two returning starters across the front five. One of the most experienced offensive lineman in this group. Duplain has been the go to starter for the last three years at left guard, starting 30 games straight.
Main Backup: Kevin Wigenton II, R-So.;
Played primarily on special teams during his red shirt freshman year. Wigenton was highly ranked coming out of the state of New Jersey but has not cracked the starting rotation, primarily playing behind long standing leaders like Duplain.
Starter: Nick Samac, R-Sr.;
One of the few truly veteran presences on the offensive line. Samac led all players on the 2022 offense with 803 snaps. Samac has been a starter at center every year except 2021, when he split time with Matt Allen, after filling in for the then injured Allen in 2020.
Main Backup: Dallas Fincher, R-Jr.;
A Michigan product, Fincher joined the team in 2020 rated the best offensive lineman in the state. Fincher red shirted his freshman year before playing primarily on special teams last year. If Samac is healthy, it is expected that Fincher will see little time at the center spot.
Starter: Geno VanDeMark, R-So.;
VanDeMark came to the Spartans in 2020 rated as the best offensive lineman in the state of New Jersey. The 6 foot five inch, 325 pound right guard has great size for his position. After redshirting in 2021, VanDeMark started two games in 2022 (playing in 10). VanDeMark is one of the Mel Tucker era recruits Michigan State is looking to take a big jump this year to push this position group to be a strength of the team.
Main Backup: Kristian Phillips, R-Fr.;
One of the higher rated recruits over the last few years along the front line. Phillips was ranked as the second best guard in the state of Georgia and one of the top 50 prospects at the position in the nation by many outlets. Coming off a red shirt Freshman year, this is a player that could come in and end up playing more snaps than projected if the talent catches up with the size and speed of the college game in their first full year of action.
Starter: Keyshawn Blackstock, Jr.;
Blackstock is a junior college product who was one of the biggest off season acquisitions for the Spartans. He is expected to come in and start immediately. The one area to note is that Blackstock was rated the top interior lineman in Junior college last year. Most projections have Blackstock moving to tackle for the Spartans. At 6 foot five the size is there to play tackle, but only 315 pounds means he is ten pounds lighter than the Spartans’ projected starter at right guard, VanDeMark. How Blackstock transitions to the tackle position could be a defining feature of this year’s squad.
Main Backup: Spencer Brown, R-Sr.;
Brown has been the starter for 13 consecutive games at right tackle, dating back to the Peach Bowl game in 2021. He is one inch taller than Blackstock and listed at about the same weight. The hype around Blackstock has most predicting he will win the starting job, but the Junior College product is transitioning to a new position. The Spartans have mentioned their offensive line depth a ton this year, the combination on the right side of VanDeMark, Blackstock and Brown could be the most obvious benefit of that depth.
The remainder of the offensive line depth chart is primarily freshman (red shirt and true) and primarily special teams players (Evan Brunning).
Cooper Terpstra, Fr.;
Cole Dellinger, Fr.;
Stanton Ramil, Fr.;
Braden Miller, R-Fr.;
Ashton Lepo, R-Fr.;
Gavin Broscious, R-Fr.;
Jacob Merritt, R-Fr.;
Ben Nelson, R-Fr.;
Andy Hartman, R-Fr.;
Evan Brunning, R-Sr.;
Keep an eye on this group. In the early games of the season they need to dominate against Central and Richmond. Anything less in these early games could spell disaster for a team needing more out of its run game and having large question marks at receiver and particularly at QB.