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Offensive line rotation works for Michigan State

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Chicago — It seemed odd a couple of years ago, as Michigan State was marching toward a Big Ten championship and a victory in the Rose Bowl, that the offensive line was far from an established, five-man unit.

While most teams want the five starters to be clear and will stick with that group, Spartans offensive line coach Mark Staten began implementing a type of rotation. As many as eight players were seeing regular snaps, often changing from possession to possession.

It wasn’t the norm in college football, but it paid off for the Spartans.

“It helps the whole offense,” fifth-year senior center Jack Allen said. “Instead of knowing what just your position does on every play, there are guys that have to know all five or the three interior (positions). That helps you play faster and you know what you’re doing and just reacting. At the same time it helps if someone goes down with an injury.

“The best example was the Big Ten Championship two years ago. Dan France went down and Travis Jackson slid in and it was like nothing changed.”

Heading into 2015, you can bet there is no plan to change of offensive line rotation, though the first five are pretty good without any help.

The Spartans have plenty of experience, led by a pair of potential All-Americans. Allen, who has played both guard positions in past seasons, anchors the unit at center while junior Jack Conklin could be playing himself into a first-round draft pick at left tackle.

The experience doesn’t end there.

Junior Kodi Kieler started eight games at right tackle last season and fifth-year senior Donavon Clark, who has started at both tackle spots and right guard in his career, will man the right guard spot again this fall.

Sophomore Brian Allen takes over at left guard after seeing action in 12 games last year at both guard spots and center.

This year’s rotation will likely include junior tackle Miguel Machado and sophomore tackle Dennis Finley while fifth-year senior Brandon Clemons and junior Benny McGowan could see time on the interior.

“Coach Staten, our offensive line coach, has done an outstanding job with those guys,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.

“We have built this from the ground up as we've moved forward. … I anticipate us playing eight guys again much like we have. We've got depth in the offensive line position, which is huge in college football.”

Dantonio’s kind of town

As Dantonio prepared to step down from the podium at Hyatt Regency McCormick Place during the Big Ten’s media days, he wanted to make a quick point about the Windy City.

“Just want to give a shoutout to all our players coming and currently from the city of Chicago,” he said.

It was a smart move considering the area has been fertile recruiting ground the past couple of years. Five of the 20 verbal commitments for 2016 are from the Chicago area, including defensive end Josh King of Hinsdale South, the top-rated player in Illinois.

Michigan State also landed three players from the area in 2014 and defensive end Raequan Williams of Chicago DePaul College Prep begins his first preseason camp later this week.

It was enough to have Allen, another area product who hails from Hinsdale Central, take notice of the change in Chicago.

“When we were driving around yesterday, I swear we saw a Michigan State T-shirt on every block,” he said. “It's definitely becoming more and more of a Michigan State town I would say.”

Heady comparison

Plenty is expected of incoming freshman running back LJ Scott.

And according to Allen, the young back reminds him a lot of a former Spartan who is now starring in the NFL.

“He looks like Le’Veon Bell,” Allen said.

“When I saw him, he looked like he would be Le’Veon’s cousin or little brother.”

MSU schedule

Fri., Sept. 4 , at Western Michigan, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)

Sat., Sept. 12 , Oregon, 8 p.m. (ABC)

Sat., Sept. 19 , Air Force, noon (ESPN or ESPN2)

Sat., Sept. 26 , Central Michigan

Sat., Oct. 3 , Purdue, noon

Sat., Oct. 10 , at Rutgers, 8 p.m. (BTN)

Sat., Oct. 17 , at Michigan

Sat., Oct. 24 , Indiana

Sat., Nov. 7 , at Nebraska, 7 or 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN or ESPN2)

Sat. Nov. 14 , Maryland

Sat., Nov. 21 , at Ohio State

Sat., Nov. 28 , Penn State