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Spartans offense aims to quiet doubters

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Few people doubt Michigan State’s defense will be good this season.

But when it comes to breaking down the Spartans and their chances to repeat as Big Ten champions, the apprehension comes on offense.

It’s not hard to see why, with Connor Cook, the winningest quarterback in program history, off to the NFL. Along with him went All-American offensive linemen Jack Conklin and Jack Allen and Big Ten receiver of the year Aaron Burbridge.

As No. 12 Michigan State prepares to open the season Friday against Furman, the most experienced receiver — senior R.J. Shelton — is hoping the offense quickly silences the doubters.

“The tone will be set in this game,” Shelton said. “We’ve got to come out and play how we play — tough, grinding, run the ball. Just play Michigan State football — pound, green, pound — and that will be the statement game for us.”

How Shelton moves into the role as the team’s go-to receiver could have a lot to say how the season goes. He had 43 catches a year ago, and with his ability to run, the Spartans hope to get him the ball often.

“I think R.J. sort of feels like he can be that next guy for us to make plays,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said.

He won’t be the only guy counted on to produce. Plenty is expected of senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor in his first season as the starter.

But add in the deep running back group and some impressive young talent at receiver, and the offensive players feel they’re ready to prove they can produce points.

“I think that goes to us overall as an offense,” Warner said. “You’ve got some linemen stepping in there, obviously a new quarterback. So there are a lot of new guys that have waited their turn, paid the price and I think they’re anxious to get out there and show people what they’re capable of.”

Unique options at fullback

Fullback is another spot Michigan State is filling a hole, and it has a couple unique options — former tailback Delton Williams and Prescott Line, who is an Oxford native and SMU graduate transfer.

Williams has played strictly tailback the previous three seasons for the Spartans.

“His running ability, his pass catching ability provides something for us,” Warner said. “We’ve had good fullbacks, but I think Delton maybe raises the bar a little bit there.”

Line is intriguing, as well. He started 22 games at SMU and had 774 yards and eight touchdowns.

“He is a guy that really will shock you in our blocking scheme,” Warner said. “He’s able to move people, and he’s got some decent running ability, too.”

Extra points

Co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett talked about a few players who didn’t show up on the Week 1 depth chart, including cornerback Drake Martinez, linebacker T.J. Harrell and freshman defensive back Demetric Vance (Detroit Cass Tech).

Martinez has bounced around positions and dealt with an injury last season while Harrell has been moving around as well, also playing cornerback during camp.

“That tells you the athleticism,” Barnett said. “Those guys can run. ... Just trying to find a spot for them so we can get them out on the field.”

As for Vance, he’s battling in a deep secondary.

“He can play corner and safety,” Barnett said. “He’s a good tackler, good ball skills.”

... Michigan State sophomore Enoch Smith Jr., No. 3 on the depth chart at nose tackle, announced on social media he is transferring.

He is the second defensive lineman to transfer in the last week, joining Cassius Peat, who didn’t take part in camp.

Furman at Michigan State

Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV: BTN/WJR

Series: First meeting