A hamstring injury slowed Aaron Burbridge in 2013. (David Guralnick / Detroit News)
East Lansing — It took the Michigan State offense a few weeks to get going last season, but once it did, it was a balanced attack that led the Spartans to a Big Ten championship and a victory in the Rose Bowl.
Most of the core of that group is back for 2014 and even better numbers are expected.
With preseason camp less than a week away, here is a look at five key players who could make a difference for the Spartans this season.
Aaron Burbridge, WR
Much was expected of Burbridge entering last season. He had just come off an impressive freshman year where he had 29 catches for 364 yards, including a touchdown grab in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl victory over TCU. But a hamstring injury hampered him at times in 2013 and he never was able to regularly see the field as the Spartans receiving corps found the consistency that eluded them the season before. Burbridge is still an immense talent and will get every opportunity to live up to that talent, but he’s battling for time with veterans and young players alike. He has the chance to be an All-Big Ten player, but it won’t be a given as he’ll compete with seniors Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery as well as underclassmen Macgarrett Kings Jr., R.J. Shelton and DeAnthony Arnett for playing time.
Josiah Price, TE
Entering last season, tight end was a positon of concern for the Spartans. By the end of 2013, it was a strength with Price leading the way. He shared time with Andrew Gleichert while Jamal Lyles continued to make steady progression after moving over from defense in preseason camp, but by late in the year it was Price that began to emerge. He had 17 catches, including four for touchdowns, one coming in the Big Ten championship game. At 6-foot-4 and nearly 250 pounds, Price has the size to be a solid blocker in the run game with all the tools to be an effective receiver who could be on the verge of a breakout season in 2014.
Gerald Holmes, RB
The redshirt freshman did not play a down last season, but that hardly means he won’t have an impact this season. There is little doubt that senior Jeremy Langford is the No. 1 ball carrier, but Holmes will get a chance to prove he belongs in the mix, as well. Senior Nick Hill will be in his final season and sophomore Delton Williams, who made a splash as a true freshman in 2013, will also be battling for carries. But Holmes has been drawing praise from the coaching staff and will certainly get his shot.
Jack Conklin, LT
He entered last season as a virtual unknown, but by the end of the year he was a freshman All-American after starting 13 games — 10 at left tackle and three at right tackle. Despite arriving at Michigan State without a scholarship, Conklin now appears on track to become an All-American on more than just the freshman level. At 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds, Conklin has all the tools to be a great left tackle and appears to be ready to anchor the offensive line for at least the next two seasons.
Connor Cook, QB
It might seem like an odd pick, especially for a player that was 12-1 last year as the starter and was named second-team All-Big Ten after posting record passing games in both the conference title game and the Rose Bowl. But Cook is far from hitting the ceiling and he could easily surpass the numbers he put up in his sophomore season — 223-for-380 for 2,755 yards and 22 touchdowns. He still struggled with accuracy at times but should have many of those kinks worked out this season. He has a gunslinger’s attitude but only threw six interceptions. With most of the core of the Spartans’ offense back, Cook could be on the verge of individual stardom in 2014.