EAST LANSING - Michigan State fields arguably the most talented set of skilled position players in the conference, but unless the Spartans can shore up their offensive line, they put at risk the production those skilled players can manufacture.
``The thing that's crucial for this offense is the development of the offensive line,'' said Michigan State starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Drew Stanton. ``When we can get time to push the ball downfield and stretch people vertically and horizontally, that's when this offense is at its best.''
It's never easy replacing graduating seniors, especially in the offensive line, but MSU will have to place three seniors, all starters. Veterans Stefon Wheeler (undrafted), Chris Morris (7th round, Oakland Raiders) and Gordon Niebylski (undrafted) all have moved on leaving offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland searching for a combination that will be effective.
The cupboard isn't completely bare for MSU, three-year returning letterman Kyle Cook (GSN rating: 70) will anchor the left guard position and right tackle Mike Gyetvai (GSN rating: 70), a starter a season ago returns. Coming out of seemingly nowhere, Jesse Miller (GSN rating: 61) appears to have claimed the pivotal left tackle position. Miller was one of the stars of spring ball earning him the nickname Jesse "The Body Snatcher" from coach John L. Smith.
The next two positions will be a matter of who shows up to claim them this fall. It looks like senior John Masters (GSN rating: 59) will be the center after backing up Morris for three seasons. Masters is smart enough and understands the protections well enough to make the calls but can he stand up against the fierce pass rush of tough Big Ten opponents like Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State?
It appears that highly touted prospect Roland Martin (GSN rating: 66) of Chicago will claim the right guard position next to Gyetvai, but both coach Stoutland and Smith appear to be leaving the door open for junior Peter Clifford to steal playing time from the first player in the group who falters.
MSU hopes that tackle Tom Kaczmarek(GSN rating: 62), who was penciled in as the starter at left tackle heading into the spring, can recover from a serious knee injury. Kaczmarek is unlikely to play at all this season as he was to have surgery on his knee that requires a cartilage transplant from a cadaver.
Behind the playing group MSU has junior college transfer Daniel Zynn (52), Brian Bury (49) and incoming freshman Jason Diehl (55). This group is neither overly talented nor fields much depth, but Stoutland's task is to get the unit to play greater than the sum of its parts. If he can form a cohesive mesh, MSU should be able to score against even the toughest of opponents. Group rating: 69
What our rating mean:
GSN rates the returning Michigan State playes on this basis.
100-90: Solid first round NFL pick
80-89: An NFL player
70-79: An NFL late round prospect
60-69: Good collegiate player, undrafted free agent
50-59: Reserve caliber collegiate player
40-49: Marginal collegiate player 0-39: Walkon caliber player