Spartan Red Zone: 2017 Offensive Line Assessment

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With a young and rather inexperienced offensive line for the Spartans this season, head coach Mark Dantonio is hoping for the young group to take the next step towards improvement and collective cohesion for the upcoming season. The Spartans lost Kodi Kieler, Brandon Clemons, Miguel Machado and Benny McGowan as they all graduated this past spring, all of whom saw starting roles at some time throughout the season. Thiyo Lukusa, who played as a true freshman last season and showed potential, left the program after just one semester of his college career at Michigan State. The offensive line saw many different players shifting around on the line throughout the season in an effort to find the winning formula for the starting five rotation.

Center Brian Allen will be the lone senior on the youthful offensive line, but he’ll be joined by several linemen who saw notable playing time throughout the season last year. An offensive line who surrendered 27 sacks last season, the second-worst number of sacks allowed under Dantonio’s tenure, this unit will look to greatly improve this season to allow a young quarterback the time and protection he needs to gain some semblance of rhythm with his also-young receiving core.

After the Spartans’ April 1 spring game, offensive line coach Mark Staten was fairly confident with who his starting unit will be for their season opener with Bowling Green on Sept. 2. That probable offensive unit – redshirt freshman Luke Campbell at right tackle, redshirt junior David Beedle at right guard, Allen at center, redshirt sophomore Tyler Higby at left guard and redshirt sophomore Cole Chewins at left tackle – is reasonably cemented.

Campbell, one of the surprise starters for the Spartans in their spring game, gained Dantonio’s confidence as the starting right tackle. Campbell, who’s well over 300 pounds, has great athleticism and the toughness needed to give the Spartans’ offensive line some fortitude it needs to help open up running lanes for their talented trio of tailbacks.

Following the graduation of Brandon Clemons, occupying the starting right guard position heading into the season is David Beedle. After starting at left tackle in the beginning of last season, Beedle, a 6-foot-5, 329-pound junior is looking to make a swift adjustment to bolster the right side of the offensive line. Beedle’s weakness last year was often cited as a confidence issue After using an offseason to improve his technique, extra film sessions and a little bit of positive mental reinforcement, Staten is confident Beedle can bolster the right side of the line.

The lone senior and one of the bigger team leaders heading into the season, Brian Allen is going to lead this young offensive line by starting at the center position. Allen spent the majority of his 2016 playing at the left guard position last season and shared the snapping responsibilities with Benny McGowan. Allen looks to follow in his All-American and now New Orleans Saints brother, Jack’s footsteps as he tries to anchor this young offensive line. Allen, who was named to the preseason watchlist for the Rimington Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s best center, looks to take his 15 straight starts and rally his teammates to rebound from their 3-9 mark last season.

Before having his season end prematurely to a broken right ankle, the Spartan run game, looking to find more success, looked to have found its proven formula, running behind the blocks of Higby and left tackle Cole Chewins. The production that the left side of the offensive line that Higby and Chewins showed before Higby went down against Rutgers has coaches optimistic about the protection that new quarterback Brian Lewerke will get from his blindside. After paving the way for a 277-yard rushing game against Rutgers, the left side of the offensive line with the Higby-Chewins tandem will be a major strength that’ll help out with a talented trio of running backs.

Rounding out the starting offensive line rotation is Cole Chewins at the left tackle position. Looking to build on the tandem that Chewins established with Higby, the 6-foot-8 tackle has added close to 15 pounds in the offseason, looking to improve his body on the edge of the line. Trying to become one of the more vocal leaders on the team, Chewins has set out to build a more unified offensive line with hopes that the cohesion amongst them will lead to improved production this season.

The second unit that saw time in the spring game included AJ Arcuri at right tackle, walk-on Casey Schreiner at right guard, Matt Allen, the brother of Brian and former MSU lineman Jack, at center, Chase Gianacakos at left guard and and Dennis Finley at left tackle. There’s a slight chance Brian Allen could slide to one of the guard slots to allow for his brother and redshirt freshman Matt Allen to play at center. Dantonio said that at least two true freshmen have a chance to play out of the band of Jordan Reid, Mustafa Khaleefah, Matt Carrick and Kevin Jarvis. Jarvis was rated four stars by Rivals.com heading into the season, and is the most likely of any of the true freshmen to see playing time.

Rating: B-

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