Offensive line set to bounce back in 2013

Fou Fonoti, Dan France and Travis Jackson are back and healthy, but MSU still wants to keep rotation on the front line.

Michigan State's offense struggled in a lot of ways in 2012, and one of the factors that contributed was the injury-depleted offensive line.

So as the 2013 camp opens, senior quarterback Andrew Maxwell is excited to have his linemen back, but he still knows that injuries around bound to happen.

"That's kind of football," Maxwell said. "That's going to happen, especially up front. When you play in a conference like us and you play in so many physical games, unfortunately, that's kind of part of the game.

"The good news is we got the majority of those guys back."

Even though would-be junior Skyler Burkland chose to give up final two years of eligibility, the Spartans did bring back Fou Fonoti and Travis Jackson from season-ending injuries, as well as Dan France.

While last year the Spartans struggled to have a healthy, strong combination of offensive linemen on the field, offensive line coach Mark Staten said rotating guys has been a strength for MSU.

"I've always tried to rotate guys — it really, really helped us in 2011 and 2012," Staten said. "We just started running out of bodies. You want guys to have multiple talents.

"Likewise, you got to spend enough times with the combinations. Whether it be in individual work or team-type situations that they feel comfortable with. They know where the guy on their right of left is going to be."

With rotation, if a player does get injured then it's not as hard for the remaining linemen to work together and gain experience.

"The one nice thing is you saw Donavon (Clark) get a ton of reps. You saw Jack (Allen) get a ton of reps," Staten said. "Then when Travis got hurt, he was able to step in. You saw guys get reps and now all that will pay off."

With the multiple injuries – and more playing time for Clark and Allen – it helped the unit gain experience.

Fonoti said he notices the level of experience has grown since last year.

"We have a handful of guys who know what it is to play in front of a group of people," Fonoti said. "Just having that is comforting for us and we have depth. Having a depth is definitely a good problem.

"So, we got guys who are willing to step up when their number is called and a lot of times it's a brotherhood down there. So, we feel good with the experience we have."

Feeling comfortable with one another is crucial for an offensive line to work together.

When Jackson broke his leg, he believed he lost that cohesiveness with the other linemen because he wasn't in the daily grind during practice. Now that he's back in practice, he said it's like he never forgot how his teammates worked as one.

"These are all guys that I've played with before," Jackson said. "So, you kind of get right back in and get in the flow of things.

"It's kind of a natural thing to connect back up with these guys. The flow has been good so far. We got a lot of guys who have starting experience so we are excited to see who the starting five will be."

Jackson said that while he wasn't able to practice, he was in the weight room getting stronger. Fonoti was right with him in the weight room recovering.

"One thing is I've been trying to get stronger. Take advantage of my last year with Coach (Ken) Mannie. Definitely get bigger, faster and stronger," Fonoti said. Jackson also gave credit to the weight staff and the training staff for his recovery.

"(My leg) is 100 percent," he said. "I did a lot of work in the weight room. Our training staff did a great job with me. The weight staff played a huge part in strengthening my leg back up."

Working with the weight staff and the training staff had Fonoti feeling better before MSU's training camp began.

"Mid-spring ball is when I started feeling good. I was able to — definitely rusty on a lot of things — get back out there," he said.

As players have returned and the rust falls away, Staten said he still plays to get other plays in the rotation, especially those who have earned the right to play.

"I've always been a coach — when I was coaching the tight ends — who played a bunch of different tight-ends and guys got reps," he said. "This year I'm not going to change that.

"There will be a series somewhere in there where I'm able to substitute guys in. Whether we're up by seven (or) up by 10. I'm not going to do it if it's going to be to the detriment of this football team, but if guys have earned the right to play then they've earned the right to play."

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