East Lansing — With Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery off to the NFL, there has been plenty of talk around Michigan State football as to which receiver might step to the forefront and become quarterback Connor Cook's favorite target.
There are plenty of options, and most of them have experience. Seniors Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings Jr. have shown flashes throughout their careers, but consistency has been an issue. And junior R.J. Shelton is a threat to run as well as catch.
But where Cook might end up looking often, or more so than he has in the past, is tight end.
It's that position where the Spartans bring back most of their scoring production through the passing game. Junior Josiah Price had six touchdowns last season, the most of any receiver or tight end returning.
And Price, who was honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2014, spent plenty of time with Cook in the offseason breaking down how they can be even more productive this season.
"We sat down and watched every pass to me," Price said. "I think there were 52 and we completed like 27 of them, or something like that. We want a better completion percentage between us because that is only like 50 percent. I'd definitely like to see that ratio closer to 70 percent.
"Sometimes the (missed) plays were my fault, sometimes he missed me. But that is stuff you do in the offseason to try and get better at your game."
Price's actual numbers were 26 catches for 374 yards and six touchdowns. Combined with a solid redshirt freshman season in 2013, Price has 43 catches for 584 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career.
And improving on those numbers by putting in the extra work is all in an effort for Price to become as much of a go-to guy as any of the receivers.
"My job is to go out and make a play every time the ball is thrown my way," Price said. "The more confidence Connor has in me and the more the coaches see me making plays the more I think I'll be used in the offense. So I don't know if (the offense) will be a ton different, but I think I'm a more confident tight end this year, especially in the passing game."
Price has some help, too, including fellow junior Jamal Lyles. The one-time defensive end has slowly made the transition over the past two years and the coaching staff believes they have a solid one-two punch.
And now that both Price and Lyles have become better blockers, they form a quality tandem.
"Jamal was an offensive kind of skill guy in high school, so he has good ball skills," co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Jim Bollman said. "The evolution of learning to block (came) in the same way with Josiah Price. Those guys were not in situations where they were blockers in high school, so they've done a good job learning the last couple years, and they're certainly a lot more proficient than they used to be."
The Spartans also have a group of tight ends behind Price and Lyles pushing to see the field. Fifth-year senior Paul Lang has the experience in the system while sophomore Dylan Chmura and redshirt freshman Matt Sokol are at the point where they could jump into the playing rotation.
"I feel very fortunate to have five guys that I feel could go out and play football for Michigan State right now," Bollman said. "It is fun to coach all of those guys. Some are farther along experience-wise than others, and some are stronger than others, but as far as guys being capable of winning football games for Michigan State, we have that."
Michigan State at Western Michigan
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4, Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo
Series: Michigan State leads 11-2 (Michigan State 26-13, Aug. 30, 2013)
Line: Michigan State by 18.5