Moving forward with Impact Sports’ summer position group breakdown series, it is time to focus on one of the most improved units from last season – the receivers.
A group that was known for dropping passes in 2012 became a deep and reliable group of players in 2013.
In case you missed it, here are the breakdowns for:
SafetiesCornerbacksLinebackersDefensive LineOffensive Line
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Key Departure: Bennie Fowler
Fowler, a product of Detroit Country Day High School in Beverly Hills, Mich., was Michigan State’s top receiver in 2013. He led the team in both receiving yards (622) and receiving touchdowns (6).
At 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, Fowler was the most physically gifted of the Spartan receivers last season. His stellar final season with Michigan State, along with good measurables at the NFL Combine, led him to get picked up as a free agent by the Denver Broncos.
Key Returner: Tony Lippett
Lippett returns for his senior season after leading the Spartans in receptions last season, with a career high 44. He was also second in receiving yards, just nine behind Fowler with 613.
Although Fowler only had two touchdown receptions last season, they came in the most important games. He had a 33-yard grab in the Big Ten Championship game against Ohio State and a 25-yard grab early in the 4th quarter of the Rose Bowl game against Stanford, putting the Spartans up 24-17.
Lippett brings good size to this group, measuring in at 6-foot-3.
He will be counted on as a leader for the receivers in his final season in the green and white.
Other Contributors: MacGarrett Kings, Keith Mumphery, RJ Shelton, Andre Sims, Josiah Price, DeAnthony Arnett, Aaron Burbridge, Jamal Lyles and Andrew Gleichert
This is yet another unit for the Spartans that has tremendous depth. Michigan State has prided themselves on not necessarily having superstars, but a large group of players capable of coming in and making an impact.
Kings, who was suspended for spring practice for a violation of team rules, has returned for fall practice and impressed the coaching staff.
Mumphery was a big play threat last season and looks primed to be a good downfield option for Connor Cook.
Burbridge, who took a step back in 2013 after having an impressive 2012 season, has turned some heads in fall camp. He was listed before camp as Lippett’s backup at the “X” position.
Shelton, who was a solid playmaker as a freshman last season, should build upon that with an expanded role this year.
Arnett, a highly touted recruit from Saginaw, Mich., has struggled to find his groove since transferring from Tennessee. However, he made some good plays in spring practice and the green and white game and looks to be ready to be a playmaker in his junior season.
Sims was listed as a backup at both the “Z” and “F” receiver positions before heading into camp. The speedster out of Georgia is great at finding open pockets in the defense and will provide great depth for the unit.
Tight ends Price, Lyles and Gleichert are all poised to make an impact and be a big part of the offense as well.
Gleichert is listed currently as the starter and is a massive 6-foot-5, 265 pounds.
Price had a great in-season maturation last year and is looking to build upon that momentum in 2014.
Lyles switched from defensive end to tight end in his redshirt freshman season last year and has turned some heads in fall camp as a potential big-time playmaker.
The Future: AJ Troup
The reason Troup is here is not because he is a quickly rising youngster on the team, he is actually a redshirt junior.
Troup is not a household name on the team, but has the potential to be.
Troup tore his left ACL twice his senior year in high school, then once more about a month before fall camp last season.
However, he is feeling good this season and co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner has said he can be a “big-time player” if he can stay healthy.
At 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, Troup has the size to dominate opposing corners in both the red zone and open field.
Preseason Grade: B
What this unit lacks in superstar potential, it more than makes up for with depth. The coaching staff has said during fall camp that they are comfortable going six or seven guys deep and they may be able to add more into the mix during the season. That will allow the Spartans offense to constantly rotate different players in who are fresh and test opposing secondary’s conditioning.
This unit should have enough depth and talent to provide Cook with targets all over the field. Expect this group to have a better season than last year, providing some good offense for a team usually known for their defensive prowess.
Dan Tyler is the host of Spartan Red Zone for Impact Sports.
Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports