Each week heading into the fall soccer season for MSU, The State News will take a look at each positional group in Mel Tucker’s roster as the Spartans prepare for their third season under the Tucker regime. In this installment, Sam Sklar dives into who could be a key component on offense line.
Earlier in the spring, MSU offensive coordinator Jay Johnson was asked if the offensive line was the most important group in need of development.
“Yeah, no, I’d say you’re probably spot on,” Johnson replied.
Michigan State deployed a highly experienced offensive line in 2021, allowing for a nine-man rotation in the trenches. But now MSU faces a different challenge than it did a year ago: A lot of those experiences are gone.
The Spartans lost three regular starters in tackle AJ Arcuri, center Matt Allen and guard/tackle Kevin Jarvis. They also lost Blake Bueter, who appeared in all 13 games and started at right in five of them, and Luke Campbell, who appeared in 12 games in 2021 and started 26 during his career. That’s 136 combined launches out of the door.
To make matters worse, the offensive line was decimated by injuries during spring training. At Michigan State’s seventh practice session in the spring, one of a select few available to the media, the Spartans had only seven offensive linemen, two of which were walk-ons. It not only hampered the training opportunities of the available offensive linemen, but also affected the entire team. For example, team exercises had to be reduced so that the seven available linemen were not overloaded.
Even offensive line coach and run game coordinator Chris Kapilovic, who has a strong track record of developing quality offensive lineman, admitted it was an unusual circumstance. But the train kept chugging along, and those who could tried it.
“These young people are getting everything and everyone now,” Johnson said. “You get everything. And so I think that’s probably going to be a challenge for us right now, but boy do I think it’s going to pay off hugely for us in August because we need them to come along.
The offensive line can be the X factor for MSU offense. They have a few encouraging bits, but the depth behind is where things might get shaky. If those stepping into new roles can do so seamlessly, the offense could repeat last year’s historic production. But if injury frequency or the new roles don’t work out, it can be a long season.
Here’s a look at who could be tasked with more snaps in 2022:
Horst’s decision to return for a fifth season could be one of the sneaky, underappreciated moves of the offseason.
After spending a season at Community College in Iowa and then two seasons at Arkansas State, Horst transferred to Michigan State ahead of the 2021 season. As a senior, he started eight games in left tackle and earned All-Big Ten honorable mentions.
Horst suffered an injury that cost him the last five games, but he expects to get back into his left tackle position.
Then there’s Horst’s left side pal, Duplain, who is also returning after a productive season.
Duplain has been a consistent rock for Michigan State throughout his career, starting 2019 as a true freshman in five games, all at left touchline in five games as a sophomore and all 13 games last fall. He also took a step forward in 2021, playing his way through to an All-Big Ten media mention and a Pro Football Focus second-team nominee.
Note that Duplain continues to be an effective guard in his senior season.
The launch center job likely goes to Samac, given his tenure in the program.
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He left high school as one of Ohio’s top guards, but came to the center as a true freshman. In three seasons, Samac has played in 27 games and started 10 of them. In 2021, he gave Allen starting duties but still recorded 307 offensive snaps. Samac started in six games in 2020 and four in 2019 and it’s about time he took the central starting position.
Greene is a Washington state transfer and joins MSU this summer as a sophomore.
His story is fascinating, ranging from a humble recruit who joined the Cougars in 2017 as a preferred career changer, to a highly sought-after player when he entered the transfer portal this winter. Greene received a scholarship ahead of the 2019 season and appeared in all 13 games. He then made his first four career starts in the shortened 2020 season before making six starts and appearing in eight games in 2021 while battling injuries.
Greene has experience in both center and guard and could start with either. He projects an immediate transfer that could pay off in 2022.
Perhaps the most mysterious of the expected starting five, Brown is showing a lot of promise. However, in a mini sample size.
He wore a redshirt in 2019 and only played six snaps in 2020 before upping his role last fall. Brown earned his first career start at right tackle at the Peach Bowl when Jarvis got out and played pretty well. And that was against a stingy Pittsburgh front seven. He was a three-star recruit at Walled Lake Western and now it’s time for Brown to get the proper tackle job.
Carrick is returning for a sixth season after recovering from a serious ACL injury that cost him the final six games of 2021.
He has 18 starts, including 11 in 2019 and seven in 2020. Carrick played 211 snaps in seven games last season as a key element of the nine-man rotation before going under. His role next fall may depend on how well he recovers from his injury, but he has the ability to be a viable starter when called upon.
Outside of those six, things get muddy; they’re the only six to have snapped in college.
Redshirt student Brandon Baldwin was a distinguished JUCO player who came to MSU before last season. Dallas Fincher and Jacob Lafave are also redshirt sophomores, Fincher is a former three-star contender, and Lafave is a 2019 walk-on. Kevin Wigenton, Geno VanDeMark and Ethan Boyd are all redshirt rookies and former three-star players. Michigan State also brought on a trio of offensive linemen from the 2022 class who will join the team this summer: Gavin Broscious, Ashton Lepo and Braden Miller.
The Spartans have the numbers if needed, but they’re unproven. We’d better read who’s sitting where when training resumes soon.
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