MSU’s OL makeover starts in the middle

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Kodi Kieler

East Lansing – When an All-American center who started 47 games heads off to the NFL, it creates quite the void in an offensive line.

That’s why Michigan State offensive line coach Mark Staten is spending plenty of time this spring tinkering will all of his parts, coming up with the best combination, after the loss of Jack Allen. That might even mean fifth-year senior Kodi Kieler, who has started 19 games at tackle, moving to the middle.

“He’s snapping every day,” Staten said. “That's a legit deal because his knowledge of the entire defensive scheme is tremendous. With that, just like Jack Allen's was, you set everything up, you set the table for everybody else. Your right guard is correct because you made the right call. Your right tackle is correct, your tight ends are correct because you made the right call at the center position, and he is very, very good at that.

“He’s been doing it since his freshman year, he just hasn’t been out there in the game to do it yet.”

Indeed, the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Kieler spent the better part of his first two seasons working at center before moving out to right tackle as a sophomore in 2014 and starting eight games. He started 11 last year as he battled a knee injury suffered early in the season.

He’s easing his way back to full-go this spring, making certain he has no setbacks heading into preseason camp in August.

“I’m working back at it,” Kieler said. “I’m limited right now but I’m out here practicing, doing drill work with the guys and I’m feeling good about that. I’d rather get healthy for the season then get banged up now and not be ready.”

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Whether Kieler actually plays center remains to be seen.

Junior Brian Allen is also working at center and fifth-year senior Benny McGowan has experience there, as well. But Michigan State’s offensive line is a set of moving parts, something Staten began out of necessity with injuries and has stuck with over the past few years.

Finding the right fit for everyone is one of the keys this spring.

“If you’re one of the top 10 players but you’re the third-team right tackle, well guess what, you may now be the second-team right guard,” Staten said. “We’ll get it fixed and figured out because we need eight guys. It’s been proven. We need nine guys if we can, 10 guys sometimes.”

It was easier when Staten had the likes of Jack Allen, Jack Conklin and Donavon Clark. There were 113 career starts between the three, but they’re now off to the NFL.

That leaves Kieler as the most seasoned player up front and puts him in a leadership role that is vital to the offensive line.

“Those guys have to now step up,” Staten said. “That’s where we’re at. We lost (113) starts. That’s (almost) two full years. … We lost a lot of that leadership that everybody else leaned upon. So these guys now need to say, ‘OK, I can’t get behind Jack Allen’s words. I can’t get behind Conklin’s actions or Donavon’s actions. I’ve got to step up.’ And there is a process. There is a period of time where they are learning how to do that.”

Kieler understands that as well as anyone and is happy to jump into a larger role.

He fits the mold for Michigan State’s offensive lineman, even calling himself the “grumpy old man.”

But he does it jokingly, knowing Michigan State’s success could very well hinge on the play of the offensive line.

“We know who can play where,” Kieler said. “Brian’s gonna play somewhere inside. (Dennis) Finley or Cole (Chewins) is gonna be outside at tackle. In that respect it’s not that hard to find players it’s just finding the right mesh of people to make the starting line.”