East Lansing — Michigan State just wrapped up its 2019 recruiting class on Wednesday by signing wide receiver Tre’Von Morgan, and now the focus turns to getting ready for the start of spring practice next month.
The Spartans are coming off a disappointing 7-6 season when one of the top defenses in the nation couldn’t make up for an offense that rated among the worst in the nation at scoring points. A shuffling of the coaching staff followed in the offseason in an effort to rekindle the program and return Michigan State to contending status in the Big Ten East.
Here’s a look at five players who could help the Spartans do that by taking on more significant roles in 2019.
Trenton Gillison, TE
The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder saw action in two games last season as a true freshman, hardly enough time to get much of a glimpse as to why the coaching staff is so high on him. But it did give an indication that they expect Gillison to step in and make an impact in 2019. With Matt Sokol graduating, the only returning tight end with any real experience as a pass-catcher is junior Matt Dotson, leaving an opening for someone like Gillison to step in. One of the top tight end prospects in the nation coming out of Pickerington (Ohio) Central last season, Gillison is big enough to hold his own run blocking, but athletic enough to cause matchup problems in the passing game.
Elijah Collins, RB
Another of a handful of players that got a taste of Big Ten action as a true freshman, Collins played in three games to preserve his redshirt and had two carries for eight yards against Rutgers. Collins is part of a crowded backfield, even with the departure of LJ Scott; however, it seems the competition for carries will be wide open heading into spring. Junior-to-be Connor Heyward has been solid but not spectacular, while La’Darius Jefferson had a solid freshman season, but is still adjusting to being a running back after playing quarterback in high school. The Spartans also signed two running backs to the 2019 class, but Collins was ranked the No. 25 back in the nation coming out of UD Jesuit and could be the one who starts to stand out by the fall.
Devontae Dobbs, OL
The first five-star recruit under Mark Dantonio since Malik McDowell in 2014 brings with him not only plenty of accolades and expectations, but he also brings versatility. Dobbs was ranked the No. 1 guard in the nation by 247Sports Composite while also ranking as the No. 5 tackle in the country by ESPN and No. 6 tackle by Rivals. Joining an offensive line that had its share of problems last season would seem to point to Dobbs, at least, having an opportunity to contribute in his first season. What spot that is in remains to be see, but at 6-foot-4 and 304 pounds, the Belleville grad should be ready physically to step in, much like current juniors Kevin Jarvis and Jordan Reid did two seasons ago as true freshmen.
Xavier Henderson, S
The top cornerback in the state of Ohio as a senior at Pickerington Central, Henderson enrolled early last season and quickly established himself at safety, primarily when Michigan State went with five defensive backs. He appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2018 and played 141 snaps. He recorded 15 tackles and led the team with five tackles on kickoffs and ranked tied for second overall on special teams with seven. He played a season-high 23 snaps in the victory over Indiana and with former captain Khari Willis off to the NFL, Henderson appears to be the logical choice to become a starter in 2019, a season that could be a breakout.
Julian Barnett, DB
One of the top recruits in the 2019 class, Barnett might not be limited to the defensive backfield, though that’s likely where he’ll get his first crack. Coming out of Belleville, he was rated the No. 5 athlete in the nation by ESPN and No. 13 by Rivals.com while also ranking as the top cornerback in the state and No. 10 in the nation by 247Sports. In December, Dantonio anticipated Barnett could be used “all over the place” and quickly drew comparisons to former Spartan Tony Lippett, who was the Big Ten’s receiver of the year in 2014 and also started his final two games at cornerback. Barnett could become that, but the early departure of Justin Layne to the NFL means Barnett will likely get a shot to jump into what should be a tight battle to be the next standout corner for the Spartans.