August 8, 2011

O-line position battles intensify on Day 2

EAST LANSING - Michigan State assistant Mark Staten would like to have his starting front five in place at the onset of training camp.

"but that is not going to happen," said Staten. "There is too much talent there. So we will keep working through it. We are trying to keep combinations at a minimum right now and give the guys a chance to show themselves that have the ability.

"We have a plan. Our guys in that room want to be two deep, ten strong going into the season. If you put a guy in for a back-up position, or a guy needs a blow for a series. At the end of everything in August we want to have the perfect scenario in that first game and we will want to know when we want to put in different combinations hopefully during the first couple of games until we work to the season."

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has full confidence that his program has the talent and depth at tackle and center to come out of training camp with an offensive line that is better equipped to compete with the upper tier defensive lines that have given the Spartans trouble in seasons past.

"We've got ability, we have numbers, we've got athletic ability there," explained the fifth-year head coach. "So I think we've got enough guys with experience that have played in that setting and they have when I say experience, they know the system. We have enough guys that know our system that will be able to advance pretty quickly to sort it all out."

Quartertbacks coach Dave Warner shares a similar confidence.

"This year there is some uncertainty because of the youth competing for jobs, but we also understand that that youth is very talented," Warner explained. "If we remain patient, coach Staten is going to get those young guys in the right spots and understanding what we are trying to do. We feel really good about the potential there, which is not always a good word but we feel like the potential up front is going to be pretty good."

Michigan State's loaded defensive line should be an accurate barometer of the progress being made by the young Spartan O-line during training camp.

"We've got to be able to handle them up front and there is no question we have struggled with that in the past against a team like Iowa," Warner said. "Now we are going up against a pretty darn good defensive line day in and day out. It isn't the same scheme as Iowa's but we are very talented up front on that side of the ball and those guys are going to help us."

Open competition at three position has accelerated the development of several young offensive linemen hungry to establish themselves as underclassmen the way Joel Foreman did in 2008 and Chris McDonald did last year.

"When there is an opportunity, it really helps in your day-to-day drive to be the best, whether you are an announcer, an offensive line coach, or an offensive lineman. That has really helped those guys. They see it and they sense it. They are able to watch the film and see what they need to do and what needs to get done. I really feel like when it is all said and done we will have 10 guys you feel good about, I really do.

Travis Jackson is the frontrunner for the center position. But the red-shirt freshman from Columbus (Ohio) has plenty of competition from Blake Treadwell and Ethan Ruhland. Nate Klatt is also taking reps at center after missing the entire spring with a foot injury.

"Right now Travis is running with the ones," said Staten. "It pushes him everyday knowing that there is some talent behind him. The better those guys behind him are, the better the chance for them to pass him up if he doesn't stay on top of his game."

Four players are vying for two starting spots at left and right tackle respectively.

Four in the mix at tackle

"You could work any combination with four guys, I feel right now," said Staten. "It will be good to put the pads on beginning with the uppers and then putting it all together on Day 5."

Redshirt sophomore Dan France pulled ahead of fifth-year senior Jared McGaha during spring football at left tackle. Both players are eager to win a starting spot.

"France having been a defensive lineman as recently as the bowl game has made huge strides," Staten said. "McGaha ran the conditioning tests as well as I have ever seen him run it. And really in practice yesterday you could really see the work he put forth during the summer."

Junior college All-American Fou Fonoti is locked in a competition with Skyler Burkland at right tackle.

Fonoti was recruited as a player that could step into the O-line rotation immediately. He appears to be on course to doing just that.
"He has brought in a work ethic and a desire," explained Staten. "He is a very humble young man. Fou is retaining things and putting it to work while he is out there. He makes us better. He makes us stronger."

Staten expected Fonoti to push for immediate playing time when he recruited him out of Cerritos College. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder junior college tackle has not let Staten down.

"He was a junior college all-American and he started for his junior college for two years," explained Staten. "He didn't have to redshirt. He comes in with an impressive resume. I think got his degree with a 3.4 GPA, so we are not getting a guy who was lacking. We are getting a guy that can get it done."

Fonoti will work exclusively at right tackle during the first portion of training camp.
"He is pushing Skyler at right tackle whereas McGaha is pushing France at left tackle," Staten said. "They are working hard. Fou has innate ability. He is very football smart. You tell him a protection you tell him the details of a protection, he cannot only say it back to you but he is also able to put it forth on the football field. He is an extremely intelligent young man."

The Cerritos star could push France for left tackle, but his comfort level is greatest at right tackle.

"Now he could play left tackle," Staten said. "He has an excellent kick slide from the left side. The great thing about him is that he has excellent feet. He has got a really good punch. He is really athletic. The ball is thrown and he is down there running next to the receivers. Yesterday, watching two-minute and he is down there running."

Schofner is not giving up the right tackle job without a fight.

"Skyler has had a lot of retention," Staten said. "The work he put in during the summer, you saw it yesterday in the work he put in on the field."

The presence of Fonoti and Burkland at right tackle will allow Michigan State to keep McDonald at his natural position of guard. McDonald took some reps at right tackle during the spring and performed at a high level during the spring game during the time he spent at tackle.

Fourth-year starter Joel Foreman is the leader of the Michigan State offensive line. Foreman and McDonald provide stability to an offensive line in the midst of transition.

"Joel does a nice job of leading and the older guys in general do a nice job," Staten said. "I was saying to Joel the other day that the chance to be a four-year starter on an offensive line in a Big Ten program does not happen to too many people. He has been doing a really good job. I am just trying to do my best to help him with the little things that he needs to work on coming back from some of his injuries and working on some of the little things that will help him take another step farther which is what we want."

Other Notes

  • Conway easing back into mix at tackle: Dantonio indicated at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago a week ago that red-shirt sophomore tackle Henry Conway had been cleared by doctors to participate during training camp without any restrictions.

    The Spartan staff, however, is easing the high-ceilinged Ohioan back into mix at tackle, who is practicing for the first time since suffering a neck injury during spring football 18 months ago.

    "We are working him in and seeing where he will fit," Staten explained. "He is rusty as you would expect football-wise. The neck thing is supposed to be 100 percent. But you don't want to throw him into the fire too quickly. You have to be careful with that."

  • Nate Klatt working at guard and center: After suffering a spring-ending foot injury, Klatt is repping at center and guard during training camp.

    "He did some good things yesterday," Staten said on Monday. "He's got a ways to go. It hurt him missing the spring. But he is an intelligent young man and he is working hard and he is going to continue to challenge there as well so it is good."

  • Name to Remember: Redshirt freshman Michael Dennis is not in the mix for either of the two vacant tackle spots, but the small town standout from Carey (Ohio) has taken shown strong growth last spring and now. Dennis is on track in his development.

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