Michigan State's Devontae Dobbs, Xavier Henderson, Cody White and Brian Lewerke talk about preparations for the season-opener. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — A 6-foot-4 and nearly 300 pounds, it’s not like Devontae Dobbs has missed many meals.
Of course, to be an offensive lineman in the Big Ten it takes every advantage you can get.
So, as the highly touted freshman takes part in his first preseason camp at Michigan State, he’s making sure he doesn’t push too soon away from the dinner table these days as he battles for playing time as a true freshman with the Spartans.
“The main thing I like to go in and get is the chicken and tuna salad sandwich,” Dobbs said after practice on Monday. “That’s my main thing. I get a couple of those.”
“I put down about four or five," he said, "but there’s definitely some other stuff around the sandwiches, too.”
In other words, Dobbs is making sure he’s packing in plenty of protein along with extra calories in order to be playing at a weight that will allow him to be the difference-maker many believe he can be along Michigan State’s offensive line.
“It’s not that hard but with practice you lose some weight,” Dobbs said. “So once you get to lunch and dinner you’ve got to make sure you maintain your weight, watch your weight and get with the nutritionist.”
That’s just one small step for Dobbs, who came to Michigan State out of Belleville with as many accolades as almost any player recruited by coach Mark Dantonio. Nearly every program in the country was after him with scholarship offers coming from all the big boys — Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State.
ESPN gave him five stars and named him the No. 5 offensive tackle in the nation. Rivals.com had Dobbs as the sixth-ranked tackle in the nation while 247Sports rated Dobbs as the best guard in the country. He was also the highest-rated offensive lineman signed by Dantonio and was Michigan State’s first five-star recruit since defensive lineman Malik McDowell in 2014.
None of that, though, is allowing Dobbs to feel like he doesn’t have to prove himself.
“I always want to play with a chip on my shoulder,” Dobbs said. “I’m gonna come in and work relentlessly every day and just let the chips fall where they may.”
Whether that means Dobbs is headed for a redshirt season or playing time as a true freshman is something that will likely be determined over the next couple of weeks as the Spartans prepare for the season opener on Aug. 30 against Tulsa.
Dobbs said he has been working primarily at left tackle, a spot that is anything but nailed down considering the injury history for fifth-year senior Cole Chewins, who has started 25 games at left tackle. He struggled to stay in the lineup last season after missing spring practice in 2018. He sat out this past spring and whether he’s actually 100 percent is something that has never been addressed.
“Cole's got to be healthy, and you're going to make sure that he has every opportunity to do that throughout the camp,” Dantonio said last week. “So we'll take it easy on him and sort of nurture him along.”
As he’s nurtured along, that could leave an opening at left tackle.
Junior Jordan Reid, who started all 13 games last season at right tackle, has gotten some work on the left side. Versatile junior Luke Campbell has started at least one game at every position other than center while 6-6, 326-pound freshman Spencer Brown should get a shot.
That leaves Dobbs, who could see the field as a true freshman. It’s not as easy for an offensive lineman to do so, but the Spartans have shown the willingness to play freshmen lineman. Reid played in all 13 games as a freshman in 2017 and current right guard Kevin Jarvis started 10 of 13 games as a true freshman in 2017.
Dobbs said whether he redshirts or not is up to the coaches, but he’ll do his part to be in position to play.
“The biggest thing right now is to be eager to learn,” he said. “Be ready when your number is called and be ready to play.”
Dobbs isn’t the only true freshman pushing for playing time on the offensive line. Nick Samac enrolled early, went through spring practice and is already establishing himself on the interior of the line while J.D. Duplain is looking to make an immediate impact. Duplain enrolled early also but played defensive line in spring practice and moved back to offense this week.
Dantonio said all three stood out in the spring game, and while Dobbs admitted Samac and Duplain have the advantage of taking part in spring practice, he’s still making strides each day.
“Really, every day I’ve been going up on a steady slope,” Dobbs said. “There’s not a day where it’s like I’ve got everything. I’m learning every day.”
If that progress continues, Dobbs could be part of the rotation that offensive line coach Jim Bollman hopes goes at least eight players deep. And as the daily growth continues, Dobbs will likely get closer and closer to that rotation.
“With the speed and strength of everything you’ve got to be on your P's and Q’s every snap,” Dobbs said. “You can’t take a play off or you’re gonna get embarrassed or you’re gonna do something wrong.”
So far, Dobbs hasn’t gotten embarrassed.