Michigan State freshman Brian Allen, right, is listed as the Spartans' No. 2 center. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — Mark Dantonio never has shied away from playing true freshmen. If the talent is there, that player will play, regardless of class.
With the release of this week’s depth chart, it appears several will have a shot in Friday’s opener against Jacksonville State, if not at some point this season.
Defensive tackle Malik McDowell and center Brian Allen are listed as No. 2 at their positions, while defensive tackles Craig Evans and Enoch Smith Jr., safety Montae Nicholson, defensive end Montez Sweat and linebacker Chris Frey are all listed No. 3. Running back Madre London is listed as the fourth backup behind Jeremy Langford.
“I think you can basically say that Craig Evans is going to play and Malik McDowell is going to play, and then the third one we’re going to have to wait and see,” Dantonio said. “You want to make sure if we play a freshman, they’re going to get the reps throughout the season as we go.”
Nicholson is another one closer to playing than not. He played cornerback early in camp before switching to safety.
“He can be an A player and be a starter,” Dantonio said. “He has the skills to be a starter this year, but he also could not see the field this year. So it just depends on his development.”
All signs point to Allen getting a shot, while Frey and Sweat will have to continue to progress.
The last wild card is London. There has been competition to back up Langford between fifth-year senior Nick Hill, sophomore Delton Williams, redshirt freshman Gerald Holmes and London.
“Take a red shirt off of Madre and he’s got to play in other areas in terms of special teams, and I think he can do that,” Dantonio said. “But that’s a big decision.”
Hicks a 'star' linebacker
A solid camp for fifth-year senior Mylan Hicks got him listed as the co-starter at the “star” linebacker position.
Hicks, a former defensive back who made the move to linebacker early last season, is in position to play in passing situations. That could mean substantial playing time depending what team the Spartans are facing.
“He’s certainly earned the opportunity to be on the field,” Dantonio said. “He’s a guy that plays with a lot of toughness, he’s extremely quick, he’s powerful, he’s going to play reckless, he’s not going to be intimidated by any situation.”
Depth at corner added
R.J. Shelton isn’t switching positions, he’s just adding another to his repertoire.
The sophomore is the starter at flanker but also No. 3 at the boundary corner position behind Trae Waynes and Jermaine Edmondson.
“I felt like we needed more depth at the corner position,” Dantonio said. “He’s an outstanding football player, could have been playing corner all along. He has those type of skills, and he is extremely confident, and I guess I would say energized at game time.”
Dantonio confirmed wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. is available for Friday’s game. The sophomore was suspended during spring practice after a DUI arrest in early April and is listed as the No. 2 flanker behind Shelton and the No. 1 punt returner.
… Sophomore safety Demetrious Cox will be the nickel back, according to Dantonio, and the first safety on the field after starters Kurtis Drummond and RJ Williamson.
… Sophomore quarterback Tyler O’Connor remains slightly ahead of redshirt freshman Damion Terry, though Dantonio wouldn’t commit to playing either Friday. Connor Cook is the starter.
Michigan State depth chart
WR — 14 Tony Lippett, 19 A.J. Troup, 87 Tres Barksdale
WR — 25 Keith Mumphery, 16 Aaron Burbridge, 5 DeAnthony Arnett
WR — 12 R.J. Shelton, 85 Macgarrett Kings Jr., 86 Matt Macksood OR 21 Andre Sims Jr.
LT — 74 Jack Conklin, 73 Dennis Finley
LG — 63 Travis Jackson, 75 Benny McGowan
C — 66 Jack Allen, 65 Brian Allen
RG — 76 Donavon Clark, 64 Brandon Clemons
RT — 79 Kodi Kieler, 55 Miguel Machado
TE — 82 Josiah Price OR 11 Jamal Lyles OR Andrew Gleichert, 83 Paul Lang, 80 Dylan Chmura
QB — 18 Connor Cook, 7 Tyler O’Connor, 6 Damion Terry, 226
FB — 37 Trevon Pendleton, 84 Andrew Gleichert
TB — 33 Jeremy Langford, 20 Nick Hill, 22 Delton Williams, 24 Gerald Holmes, 28 Madre London
DE — 89 Shilique Calhoun, 98 Demetrius Cooper
DT — 92 Joel Heath, 99 James Kittredge, 56 Enoch Smith Jr.
NT — 8 Lawrence Thomas, 4 Malik McDowell, 72 Craig Evans
DE — 44 Marcus Rush, 85 Evan Jones, 94 Montez Sweat
STAR — 6 Mylan Hicks OR 45 Darien Harris, 23 Chris Frey
MIKE — 34 Taiwan Jones, 33 Jon Reschke
SAM — 43 Ed Davis, 30 Riley Bullough, 49 Shane Jones
FC — 2 Darian Hicks, 36 Arjen Colquhoun, 17 Monty Madaris
FS — 27 Kurtis Drummond, 7 Demetrious Cox,
SS — 26 R.J. Williamson, 29 Mark Meyers, 9 Montae Nicholson, 35 Jalyn Powell
BC — 15 Trae Waynes, 39 Jermaine Edmondson, 12 R.J. Shelton
KO — 4 Michael Geiger, 24 Kevin Cronin
K — 4 Michael Geiger, 24 Kevin Cronin
P — 3 Mike Sadler, 25 Jake Hartbarger
SN — 52 Taybor Pepper, 56 Leland Ewing
HLD — 3 Mike Sadler, 18 Connor Cook
KR — 12 R.J. Shelton, 20 Nick Hill, 85 Macgarrett Kings Jr., 24 Gerald Holmes
PR — 85 Macgarrett Kings Jr., 21 Andre Sims Jr.