Spartan Tailgate staff member Sean Scherer contributed to this report.
MSU's No. 1 receiver in 2011, B.J. Cunningham is just 10 catches shy of surpassing Matt Trannon as the Spartans' all-time receptions leader.
EAST LANSING, Mich. – While Michigan State football is done playing games for now, they will wage some internal battles in the weeks and months to come. Playing time at this level is precious and players work year-round in order to get their opportunity.
A spring two-deep roster will be released before MSU’s annual Green and White game at Spartan Stadium and will likely be littered with “OR’s”. The general consensus is that most positions are up for grabs in fall practice, but a complete body of work beginning in the spring will go a long way in most coaches’ minds.
The Spartans have some holes to fill up front, particularly on the line. MSU returns five starters on offense from 2010 and looks most steady at wide receiver and running back.
With that in mind, Spartan Tailgate compiled a list of next year’s two-deep based on various opinion, analysis and predictions. Here is what we believe the two-deep will look like when MSU hosts Youngstown State on September 3.
Starter: Kirk Cousins (Sr.)
Cousins’ job is more than safe as he enters his third season as a starter and team captain. Coming off a 2010 campaign where he had a school-record completion percentage at 68 percent, Cousins still made some costly errors. His decision making will dictate the offense in 2011.
Backup: Andrew Maxwell (So.)
This coaching staff has been high on Maxwell since he arrived in East Lansing and the Midland native is patiently waiting his turn. Maxwell completed 11 of 25 pass attempts last season and needs to get more reps early next season to prepare for 2012.
Starter: Edwin Baker (Jr.)
It took more than half the season, but Baker was able to secure the starting tailback job and will hold it entering 2011. The coaches love his intensity, as Baker finished third in the Big Ten averaging 98.9 yards per game.
Backup: Larry Caper (Jr.)
In what will likely be a hotly contested spot between Caper and sophomore Le’Veon Bell, Caper should return to form following a season mostly lost to injury. With another successful offseason in the weight-room, Caper could be the Spartans go-to back on the goal line.
Starter: TyQuan Hammock (So.)
Coach Mark Dantonio and staff light up when talking about Hammock, who was all over the field on special teams this season. His 16 tackles in 12 games aren’t exactly gaudy numbers, but Hammock’s physicality on special times likely earned him a starting spot next fall.
Backup: Adam Setterbo (Sr.)
The fourth-year walk-on from Spring Lake could surprise a few people next season and will give Hammock a good competition this spring. Aside from playing time, Setterbo could be playing for a scholarship in the fall if he’s able to prove himself.
Starter: B.J. Cunningham (Sr.)
The clear No. 1 receiver on next year’s team, Cunningham will be itching to go after missing the Capital One Bowl due to injury. He’s coming up on some milestones as well and, at 139 career catches, needs just 10 more to surpass Matt Trannon as MSU’s all-time receptions leader.
Backup: Bennie Fowler (So.)
The way in which MSU’s staff used Fowler this season proves how much they think of him. They drew up several offensive plays just for him and the similarities to Keshawn Martin are striking. We’ll likely see more of both in 2011.
Starter: Keith Nichol (Sr.)
He looked fine when back under center against Alabama, but I expect Nichol to have a big impact at receiver next season. He boasts excellent hands and blocking skills and was one of the most underrated players on MSU’s offense this season.
Backup: Keshawn Martin (Sr.)
Martin has the capabilities to be a top receiver, but his contributions have been most appreciated elsewhere. Martin ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten and 11th nationally in punt return yards and was named first team all-Big ten at that position. He’s a nice third or fourth option for Cousins who’s sure to make a few more head-turning plays next season.
Starter: Brian Linthicum (Sr.)
Linthicum will take on a different role in 2011 with the departure of Charlie Gantt. The staff used Linthicum primarily as an H-back in 2010 which played to his strengths. We know Linthicum has the receiving skills, but it will be interesting to watch him as an every-down blocker next season.
Backup: Garrett Celek (Sr.)
Celek has had terrible luck with injuries at MSU and missed all but two games in 2010 after having shoulder surgery. The kid can really play though and MSU needs him considering Dion Sims’ still uncertain status. If Celek stays healthy, he should play a major role in this offense.
Starter: David Barrent (So.)
Barrent was recruited as the prototypical left tackle out of Clive, Iowa at 6-foot-8, 308 pounds. Barrent wasn’t able to participate in last year’s spring practice following a back injury, so he should be much more prepared entering the 2011 season.
Backup: Skyler Schofner (R-Fr.)
Schofner generated some buzz for his play on scout team this season and was praised by teammates during bowl practices. A highly touted recruit out of Sunbury, Ohio, it sounds like it’s only a matter of time before Schofner makes an impact.
Starter: Joel Foreman (Sr.)
Foreman has already started 36 games as a Spartan, including a remarkable 22 in a row as the glue which holds the line together. The honorable mention all-Big Ten lineman was a huge reason for MSU’s success in the run game this season and should get a very good look from NFL scouts in 2011.
Backup: Travis Jackson (R-Fr.)
Another young lineman who was praised by teammates, Jackson entered MSU as one of the top-ranked offensive guards in the country. Any injuries up front this season and he may get a chance to prove himself quicker than expected.
Starter: Nate Klatt (So.)
This figures to be a fierce competition in camp, but Klatt held the edge all season as John Stipek’s backup. Fortunately MSU never needed him, but the consensus top-10 center in the country out of high school should get his shot this season.
Backup: Ethan Ruhland (Jr.)
Ruhland has played both guard and center sporadically the past two seasons and looks like he’s got enough ability to play either spot. The question is whether he can crack a starting lineup and it doesn’t look like that’s the case for 2011.
Starter: Chris McDonald (Jr.)
A big surprise for the Spartans this season, McDonald was extremely steady in his first year as a starter. With a full season under his belt, you won’t find a better guard tandem in the Big Ten than McDonald and Foreman.
Backup: Micajah Reynolds (So.)
Reynolds saw action against Illinois and looked good after entering MSU as a defensive lineman. The 6-foot-5, 295-pound Reynolds out of Sexton High figures to be a very serviceable backup this season.
Starter: Jared McGaha (Sr.)
McGaha has played here and there throughout the past two seasons at both guard and tackle, but can’t seem to stick anywhere. He lost out in a competition for the tackle spot last fall but figures to secure a starting role this time around.
Backup: Michael Dennis (R-Fr.)
Dennis has the frame to play in the Big Ten, it’s just a matter of getting him some reps at this point. As a backup he’ll gain valuable experience running MSU’s system each day and we’ll see if he’s got what it takes to beat out some of the more well-known young offensive linemen.