EAST LANSING - So is Macgarrett Kings Jr. being groomed for the role of Devin Thomas 2.0?
Recent moves are starting to make it look like Michigan State's coaches could be grooming Kings Jr. for a role similar to the one Thomas took on during his two seasons (2006, 07) at MSU.
While Thomas had a minor role in 2006, he became the Spartans' chief playmaker the following season, filling a myriad of roles designed to get the ball in his hands.
During his record-breaking 2007 season, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Thomas did a little bit of everything and produced a whole lot.
And when it was all said and done, just before he decided to forgo his senior season to be drafted by the Washington Redskins as the 34th overall pick, Thomas put up some gaudy offensive numbers.
As a receiver during that breakout junior year, he had a record-breaking 79 catches for 1,260 yards and eight touchdowns. He also ran the ball for 177 yards on 27 carries, averaging 6.6 yards a pop. And as if that wasn't enough, he collected 1,135 yards in kick returns and tossed in 18 punt return yards for good measure.
For an offense that has been as anemic, at times, as MSU's has been during its first four games, the discovery of an explosive playmaker could be the difference between a good season and a mediocre one.
And if you don't think MSU is starving to find someone to fill that role, just remember that they pulled the redshirt off of speedy first-year running back/receiver R.J. Shelton in an effort to find someone who could provide the offensive explosiveness head coach Mark Dantonio wants and feels his team needs to be consistent the rest of the way.
After Saturday's game at Iowa, that search could be over.
Entering Saturday's Big Ten opener, Kings Jr. has emerged stepped as a go-to pass receiving target, leading the team in catches (13), receiving yards (136) and touchdown receptions (2).
"It's just about living up to your name really,'' Kings Jr. said. "When I came here, Coach D expected me to do great things, (and) when he recruited me, he recruited me to come in and make plays and I think the fruits of his labor are showing right now.''
Kings Jr. will have a chance to add to the fruits of his coach's labor and his production totals after being promoted to the No. 1 spot on punt and kick return, according to this week's depth chart. Although Dantonio is no quite ready to hand all of the special teams return responsibilities to his second-year wideout.
"(We've) got to make better decisions back there, and we're looking for an explosive play,'' Dantonio said during his weekly press conference. ・Kings Jr. is) at punt return. We'll see if he is at kick return this week or not. We'll make that decision later in the week.''
Kings Jr., never shy about his ability and desire to create positive results, believes he can provide the spark his team needs on both special teams.
"I wouldn't say that I knew that I was going to earn the job but I just figured through hard work and dedication that I would be rewarded the job,'' Kings Jr. said. "I was pretty confident, just through practice with (him) seeing me back there, Coach D got comfortable with me back there. He feels comfortable, so he put (me) back there and made me the main man so . . . I'm just trying to make plays.''
In limited special teams duty, so far this season, he has totaled 16 yards on one kick return and 21 yards in two punt return experiences. On Saturday, he will have the limited tag removed as he attempts to establish himself on special teams.
While smaller than Thomas, at 5-10, 186, Kings Jr. expects to play much bigger than his weights and measures indicate on paper.
"(This is about) opportunity. Coach D giving me the chance to help the team out in every way that I can,'' Kings Jr. said. "It's just a God-given opportunity.''
Despite the additional opportunities to prove himself, Kings Jr. said there haven't been any special additions made to the offense to get him the ball out of the backfield,. That would seem to make sense since both junior running backs Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill have looked good in sharing the the running back load.
"Everything is normal. We're going to run our (regular) offense.. Right now, it's just about being comfortable with what Coach Warner calls and knowing that he's going to make the right call, him and Coach Bollman. Just being confident in their play-calling is good enough for me.''
The comfort will come at a quicker pace once Kings Jr. and sophomore quarterback Connor Cook are on the same page, much like Thomas and Brian Hoyer were back in 2007.
"It was pretty loud at Notre Dame so we sometimes got the wrong play call, that's probably why it looked like we were all out of sync but when we did hear the plays, we were able to connect and get positive yards.''
And what play would Kings Jr. like to hear called when he steps in the huddle with Cook?
"(The back-shoulder throw), that's my favorite play that we run, especially when we're isolated one-on-one because I just feel like no one can stop me one-on-one. (That means) Coach Warner and Coach Bollman have faith in me to make a play and I want to do that for them every time.''
NOW THAT'S ACCOUNTABILITY: Senior cornerback and captain Darqueze Dennard wasn't about to sit back, whine and lament the pass interference calls he received at South Bend.
While he may have disagreed with some of the calls he wasn't about to make excuses, as the Spartans prepared for their showdown with the Hawkeyes.
"I'm a better player than that and I have high goals for myself. The coaches said I have to continue playing the way I played but just looking back on it, I have to be smart enough to know what kinds of refs that they are and how to play the game that they're calling. At the end of the day, I've got to be smart enough. I put all of the pressure on me and not on the coaches. I have to be a smart enough player not to fight with (the receiver) down them field and just make a play on the ball.''
As a matter of fact, he put the onus on himself to take the decision out of the officials hands and get control of a situation many defended him for after MSU's 17-13 loss to the Irish.
"I blame myself. At the end of the day, I've got to make the plays. I'm the one out there playing . They're (the coaches) going to put me in the best position to make plays and I have to have enough confidence in myself and pride in myself that at the end of the day, that I've got to make the plays.''
While Dennard wouldn't go in-depth about whether it was possible to defend a receiver without contact, he said he would do something from now on that maybe he should have done at Notre Dame.
"There's pushing and shoving on both sides of the ball and I guess you've got to give a little bit on the refs and know what they're going to call. If they're going to call them ticky-tack or let both of you do what you do. Either way, you have to be smart enough to know how the refs are calling it.
"I guess I have to start asking questions to the ref. Like, 'what does he call pass interference and what did I do wrong on that play?' I just have to communicate with them better and just play how they say I gotta play.''
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