East Lansing — Last season, Michigan State's offensive line excelled at rolling eight or nine players into games on a weekly basis.
That hasn't been as easy this season, but it appears help could be on the way.
Offensive line coach Mark Staten said Wednesday senior guard Connor Kruse is close to returning, and could be ready by the Wyoming game next week.
"I'm hoping so," Staten said. "He was running and hitting the sled yesterday and I'm excited. It'll help a ton and also make everybody else a little nervous who has been starting the last few weeks because you don't lose a spot because of injury. So he comes back, I think a couple guys are entrenched where they are, but a few other guys need to continue to accelerate their play."
Kruse suffered a lower-body injury in camp and has not played the first two games.
While Kruse has been out, junior Donavon Clark moved from right tackle to guard while sophomore Kodi Kieler has taken over at right tackle. Those two could be moving around with the return of Kruse while the rest of the line is "entrenched."
Center Jack Allen, left guard Travis Jackson and left tackle Jack Conklin have been solid while true freshman Brian Allen has been getting experience at both guard spots and center.
The return of Kruse certainly will bring more flexibility to the line, but his presence is more than that.
"Leadership. Toughness," Staten said. "He's terrific, he doesn't get enough praise for his leadership value and he's a former walk-on, earning his way for a couple years and then gets a scholarship. The toughness, the demand that he places not only on himself but everybody else in that room and on the offense is tremendous."
Staten said he intended to play junior college transfer Miguel Machado against Oregon game but circumstances changed that.
Now, he hopes to keep the redshirt on Machado.
Pushing for time
Michigan State linebackers coach Mike Tressel said the fourth quarter against Oregon was the worst quarter of football he could remember the defense playing.
He wasn't, however, committing to any changes in the lineup just yet. Specifically, he was asked if there would be any changes at the STAR position, where Darien Harris and Mylan Hicks have been sharing time.
"I can't answer that yet," he said. "We still have two more days of practice. Darien Harris and Mylan will play. I hope Chris Frey gets more and more reps still. Ed Davis is the MONEY. Taiwan Jones is the MIKE, but there's guys there that are pushing them so at least they can get rest."
Tressel praised sophomore Riley Bullough and suggested he might see more playing time behind Davis as well as redshirt freshman Jon Reschke, who is backing up Jones in the middle.
"After the game you're like, 'Man, those guys should have got a few more reps,'" Tressel said. "That's not taking anything away from the other guys, it's just nice against fast tempo teams to be able to give someone a break and feel really good about the other guy."
Eastern Michigan at Michigan State
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Records: Eastern Michigan 1-2, No. 11 Michigan State 1-1
Line: Michigan State by 45½
Series: Michigan State leads 9-0 (Michigan State 23-7, Sept. 22, 2012)
Did you know? Michigan State has defeated Eastern Michigan by an average of 36-7.