MSU offensive coordinator Dave Warner on his unit's progress this season The Detroit News
East Lansing — One thing is certain when it comes to Cole Chewins — he hasn’t quite been 100 percent since Michigan State’s season started.
Actually, it goes back further than that for the junior left tackle, all the way to spring practice. What is certain is that whatever ails the 6-foot-8, 290-pounder he isn’t saying. Instead, he is simply pointing out that slowly getting back to the point where he started 16 straight games over the course of the previous two seasons is where he’s focused.
“I’m just happy be back,” Chewins said after practice on Tuesday. “I’m not really gonna comment on (the injury). I’m just doing the best I can for my team and getting back in action and doing everything I can.”
The left tackle position is an important one on any offensive line, especially one that protects the blindside of a right-handed quarterback, as is the case for No. 20 Michigan State and junior signal-caller Brian Lewerke. So, having Chewins out for an extended period has been difficult for the Spartans.
Chewins didn’t play at all in the opener against Utah State and saw just one snap against Arizona State. He was replaced by sophomore Luke Campbell, the starter last season at right tackle in those two games. In the last two weeks against Indiana and Central Michigan, Chewins has seen a few more plays but it came behind new starter Tyler Higby, who moved over from center.
Combined with other injuries to Campbell and guards David Beedle and Kevin Jarvis, the offensive line has been slow to come together, and missing Chewins hasn’t helped.
“The thing with Cole, he’s still trying to regain the strength that he lost from being out the spring and then the majority of the fall,” offensive line coach Mark Staten said last week. “He’s just trying to get that back. (We’re) trying to ease him back out there and not make anything that’s too harmful for him or too harmful for the team. With him not being out there, that’s our bell cow.”
MSU defensive coordinator Mike Tressel on his unit's progress this season The Detroit News
The key for Chewins and the rest of the offensive line is getting healthy and finding the right combination that will spark an offense that currently ranks 90th in the nation in total offense and just 104th in rushing offense at 129.8 yards a game.
“It takes a little bit of time, but we pride ourselves on being able to play multiple positions and just getting guys in there, getting reps,” Chewins said. “We have a lot of new experience and just as we have seen in past years, as guys get a little bit of reps and get comfortable you start to get some cohesion. That's what we're trying to do.”
While he’s been limited, Chewins has been doing whatever he can to help out his teammates along the offensive line.
But the Spartans need him on the field, and this week at home against Northwestern could prove to be the best opportunity yet for Chewins to stay on the field.
“Cole was sort of a leader from a knowledge standpoint, knew everybody’s job, what everybody was doing and would communicate that,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “Him being in there helps that from that standpoint, he’s the most experienced. Now that he’s coming back, he’s been playing for us, so hopefully he’s able to play a little bit more this week and can sort of be that glue that holds us together up front.”
Chewins, for his part, is doing everything he can to get back to 100 percent.
“It’s a mental mindset, to push through it,” Chewins said. “But at the same time you gotta do the extra things during the week, get that extra treatment or the extra ice bag or the extra lift to build up strength. But it’s definitely a mindset that you’ve got to be tough and play through and to do what you can four your team.”
Backfield banged up
The offensive line is not the only aspect of the running game that is less than healthy. Senior running back LJ Scott has missed the last two games with an ankle injury and his return is still up in the air.
Warner said the Spartans will be careful about pushing him back too fast.
“He’s a running back, and it’s different if he’s not able to be close to 100 percent, it’s tough for him to be LJ Scott,” said Warner, who is also the running backs coach. “So when we feel like he is able to perform at a level that LJ is wanting to perform at, you’ll see him.”
Freshmen in the mix
Only four true freshmen have played this season, including wide receiver Jalen Nailor, running back La’Darius Jefferson, safety Xavier Henderson and defensive lineman Jacob Slade.
According to defensive coordinator Mike Tressel, a couple more players could see action soon, including defensive backs Michael Dowell and Kalon Gervin.
“Most of the guys that you’ve seen are going to be the guys who will you see,” Tressel said. “However, there will be some guys that we are going to try to get their four games in since the rules now allow you to get four games in, it’s just a matter of when.”
Northwestern at Michigan State
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
TV/radio: FS1/760 AM
Records: Northwestern 1-3, 1-1 Big Ten; Michigan State 3-1, 1-0
Line: Michigan State by 11