Michigan State mailbag: Mel Tucker eyes the long haul; where's Devontae Dobbs?

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

No game this week? No problem.

That won’t stop the questions rolling in for this week’s installment of the Michigan State mailbag.

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker says everyone on the roster is being evaluated.

There was plenty of attention paid to coach Mel Tucker’s comments this week about players needing to “compete to play, compete to stay.”

In other words, he’s looking for players who are in for the long haul while those that aren’t know where the door is. We get into whether that’s wise and how this season’s results might affect recruiting.

We also hit the weekly question regarding the absence of offensive lineman Devontae Dobbs while taking a guess at who on Michigan State’s roster might end up getting drafted next spring.

Question. With Coach Tuckers comment’s (this week) do you think IF they play Maryland or the next week that he could empty the bench so to speak and everyone be on a short leash? — @Chocolatebabyd1

Answer. We now know Michigan State won’t be playing Maryland, so we’ll have to start looking ahead to Northwestern on Nov. 28. I don’t know about “emptying the bench.” He’s made it clear, that even though there is evaluation happening, the goal is still to give the team the best chance to win. I’m not sure that means running a bunch of inexperienced guys out there all at the same time. I do think you’ll continue to see more new faces each week. There hasn’t been a game yet where there hasn’t been at least one player, even if it’s just on special teams, make his debut. That seems almost certain to continue.

Q. Devontae Dobbs. What are you hearing? — @NateBreen

A. This continues to be the hot topic for most folks, outside of maybe Elijah Collins, though that has seemed to die down. Look, there’s been no clear answer on Dobbs. The best we can gather is that he is not hurt and there’s no COVID issue. When Tucker was asked about him early in the season, he said Dobbs is “working hard” and that he hoped to get him some playing time soon. That was three weeks ago and nothing has changed. Sounds to me like he’s not getting it done in practice.

Q. I understand the need to stock your team with your guys, but is thinning the group out during a pandemic the best course of action? Since Coach D never tried it, any guess on the success Coach will have with the portal, Juco, etc.? —  @matthewdyer97

A. I’m not sure two guys in the transfer portal qualifies as “thinning the herd,” but I understand your point. Tucker has made it clear he expects certain things from the players and if it’s not working out then they don’t need to stick around. Honestly, this is pretty standard stuff for a first-year coach, especially one who didn’t have any input on the roster he inherited. I’d say the amount they focus on the portal and junior college route has a lot to do with how they close out the first recruiting class. If the momentum builds, there might not be reason to look too hard at other avenues. That said, I’d expect Tucker and his staff to be open to looking at anyone.

Q. With 2020 being so odd, how much will their record effect recruiting? -—@matthewdyer97

A. Good question. It’s hard to say, but I do know the win over Michigan combined with the Wolverines’ struggles has affected at least some recruits. My feeling is the record won’t be quite the deterrent it would be if it was a coaching staff that had been around a long time. I think most people, even recruits, understand there is a rebuild happening. If anything, it could open more doors considering playing time will be up for grabs, something recruits love to see.

Q. In retrospect, doesn’t this season so far feel like a 2016-2019 Mark Dantonio team, plus some added sloppiness of a short offseason? Bad offense, solid but not elite defense, inconsistent special teams. — @SandPCarl

A. I’d agree, it does not feel a whole lot different. But why should it? The entire roster, after all, is one that Dantonio recruited and brought to East Lansing, so it stands to reason it would look a lot like one of his teams. There’s only so much a coaching change can alter things in the first season, especially starting so late like Tucker did. Let a recruiting class or two come in and then we’ll see how much things have, or have not, changed.

Q. Matt, I need something to get emotionally over-invested in, something trivial on Saturday. Any advice? — @CVBagel

A. Well, as of now I’ll be watching my daughter play softball, so I could give you updates on the 14-and-under division of the tournament she’s playing. Any investment from you there would definitely qualify as “over-investing.” Of course, there’s college football. That’s always there. Maybe get the leaves raked, organize the garage, put up Christmas decorations WAY too early. It’s your call, but whatever it is, make sure you’re all in.

Michigan State defensive tackle Naquan Jones (93) could be selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Q. Who has the best chance to keep the football draft streak alive? How likely is it to be broken this year? — @AC_DChris910

A. Oh boy, that is a tough call. Let’s start by throwing out some names that could get drafted, understanding that every single player could come back since this season won’t count against their eligibility, though, it would seem likely every senior would take advantage of that rule. Anyway, linebacker Antjuan Simmons, defensive tackle Naquan Jones and defensive end Jacub Panasiuk would seem the most likely while you could add in some underclassmen like safety Xavier Henderson, cornerback Shakur Brown and even wide receiver Jayden Reed, who would be eligible for the draft. Of the seniors, I’d say Jones and Simmons have the best shot, but I’m not sure it’s 50% right now. I feel like the underclassmen might have a better shot, but who knows if it’s this year. So I’d say it’s a toss-up as to whether the streak continues.

Q. Who finishes with more losses for 2020-2021; MSU Football, or MSU Hoops? — @Colin_Dilworth

A. I’ll take the safe bet and pick basketball. The football team will only play, at best, four more games. So that’s seven losses, at the most. You’d have to expect the basketball team, one that has to replace Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman, will have its share of ups and downs. Of course, you’d also be surprised if the Spartans played their entire schedule, so that makes it tougher. I’ll stick with basketball as my answer, but it could be close.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau