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Michigan State Football: Post-spring depth chart projections for 2023

Will this team be able to turn it around?

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Michigan State football
© Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Spring ball is in the books and we now have a better idea of what the Michigan State football depth chart may look like for 2023.

With spring ball in the rearview mirror, and the transfer portal window officially closed, we’ve reached a quiet period in the football calendar. After having a chance to reset, let’s take a look at some depth chart projections for 2023 Michigan State football.

Similar to Mel Tucker, I reserve the right to modify these projections between now and Sept. 1.

We’ll go by position group outlining the starters and key reserve players. Let’s get started with the most important position group on the field.

Special Teams

Starters: Hank Pepper (long snapper), Stephen Rusnak (kicker), Ryan Eckley (punter)
Reserves: Jonathan Kim (Kicker)

Everyone is focused on the quarterback battle, but my eyes will be glued to the special teams warmup before the Western Michigan game. I’m joking. But this unit cannot be overlooked when we talk about “improvement” in 2023.

Punting will undoubtedly take a step back with Bryce Baringer on to the NFL. Ryan Eckley did kick once last year against Akron for 41 yards. He wins the competition by being the only punter I could find on the roster. But kicking has to be better. Michigan State was just 6-of-12 on field goals last year and passed up many more opportunities due to a lack of trust at the position. Rusnak made his only kick last year and wins the job for me because that’s one more kick than Jonathan Kim made at North Carolina (0-for-1). Kim worked primarily as a kickoff specialist for the Tar Heels, and that could be his role at MSU as well. This still feels like it is very much up in the air. Keep an eye out for a late addition via transfer or walk-on.

Defensive Line

Starters: Tunmise Adeleye, Avery Dunn, Simeon Barrow, Derrick Harmon
Reserves: Khris Bogle, Zion Young, Maverick Hansen, Dre Butler, Alex VanSumeren, Bai Jobe

Starters and reserves matter the least along the defensive line. There are likely guys that I’m leaving out that will see plenty of meaningful snaps. Michigan State has a ton of bodies at the position, and they’ll likely be looking for some players to emerge throughout camp.

I feel pretty good about penciling in Adeleye, Barrow, and Harmon. Barrow is arguably MSU’s best defensive player and has legitimate all-conference upside. Harmon played in all 12 games last season as a redshirt freshman and should continue to improve. Adeleye was the prize acquisition for Mel Tucker in the transfer portal via Texas A&M. The surprise here for many might be Avery Dunn. He came on late last year and took advantage of increased playing time after the suspensions from the Michigan game. He plays with a high motor and shows an ability to get to the quarterback. I just have the feeling his energy and effort will be tough to keep on the sidelines.

Bogle, Hansen, and Liberty grad transfer Dre Butler should provide support as depth pieces with experience. Michigan State will hope to see a big step forward from Young and VanSumeren in their sophomore seasons. Jobe is a very talented freshman that could see snaps in situational pass-rush situations.

Linebackers

Starters: Cal Haladay, Jacoby Windmon, Darius Snow (if he’s healthy, he’ll be a starter)
Reserves: Aaron Brule, Ma’a Gaoteote

This feels like Michigan State’s most settled unit on defense. Whether you want to consider Darius Snow a linebacker or a hybrid safety is kind of irrelevant because if he’s healthy, he’s going to be on the field regardless of position. I’m grouping him here because he fits well with two other guys that we know will see a lot of snaps.

Cal Haladay returns as a redshirt junior after leading the team in tackles a year ago. While Jacoby Windmon had a big impact early in the season as an edge rusher, he moved back to a more traditional linebacker role against Wisconsin and had a career day. If I had to guess, I’d wager that he plays more snaps as a true linebacker this year. MSU can use his athleticism to its advantage as a standup linebacker with plenty of blitz combinations where he can still be an effective pass rusher.

Brule and Gaoteote will fill in here and there, but I’d guess these three players lead MSU in snaps played this season.

Secondary

Starters: Chester Kimbrough, Dillon Tatum, Jaden Mangham, Angelo Grose
Reserves: Marqui Lowery, Charles Brantley, Semar Melvin, Kee’yon Stewart, Malik Spencer, Justin White, Caleb Coley

Similar to the defensive line, starters and reserves are fairly irrelevant here because all of these guys are going to play. I included four starters assuming Darius Snow plays a hybrid role. When it’s all said and done, any of these players could emerge as MSU’s best player in the secondary.

Mangham and Tatum are two sophomores that came on really strong down the stretch last year. To me, they have to be on the field even though they’re inexperienced because they’re just too talented. Grose is a very physical Swiss army knife that’s going to line up at safety and corner (or nickel). I went with Kimbrough as the starting corner opposite Tatum because I do feel like early in the season, coaches lean on experience. Truthfully, though, I think we’re looking at an old-fashioned competition in fall camp.

Lowery played a lot in 2021 at corner and can’t be counted out despite not playing as much in 2022 due to injuries. Brantley withdrew his name from the transfer portal, perhaps indicating that he was further down the depth chart than he’d like. But his playmaking ability will be hard to keep on the sidelines. Melvin and Stewart are transfers that bring experience playing at the Power Five level. Spencer is another sophomore that saw increased playing time as the season progressed and should be in line to see some reps at safety. Justin White will be sprinkled in here and there to do what he does best – blitz from the corner spot.

Overall, I think MSU has a good foundation with Mangham, Tatum, Coley, and potentially Spencer. But there’s also a reason we’ve seen so much of the rest of these guys. Nobody has been able to hold down a spot. Pushing the right buttons on a weekly basis will be a challenge for Scottie Hazelton.

Offensive Line

Starters: Nick Samac (Center), J.D. Duplain (Guard), Geno VanDeMark (Guard), Spencer Brown (Tackle), Brandon Baldwin (Tackle)
Reserves: Keyshawn Blackstock, Gavin Broscious, Kevin Wigenton, Dallas Fincher, Ethan Boyd

If the starting five up front are based on experience, Michigan State’s starting five feels pretty set. Nobody else on the roster played a significant number of snaps on offense last season. Samac, Duplain, and Brown are all redshirt seniors that have played a lot of football. Barring an injury, they also feel like almost certainties as starters. Baldwin and VanDeMark are two guys that asserted themselves a little later last season. Both saw significant action in games against Indiana, Rutgers, and Penn State.

Keyshawn Blackstock is the most intriguing reserve. He comes to MSU as the top-rated junior college offensive lineman. At 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, he should be given every opportunity to compete for playing time.

Behind those six, there are a lot of unknowns. The offensive line is probably the most difficult position to project in terms of high school to college. Michigan State football has eight redshirt freshmen on their roster. It’s not at all impossible to think that a name that isn’t on this list surprises us and cracks the rotation after a strong offseason.

Tight End

Starter: Maliq Carr
Reserves: Tyneil Hopper, Jaylan Franklin, Ademola Falaye, Jack Nickel

Tight end should be a very interesting position to watch. While Maliq Carr should be the starter based on experience, his playing time will be something to monitor. The Spartans clearly felt as if they had to get better blocking production out of the position. They went out and signed three transfers, but none of them with overly impressive receiving numbers.

We all see the potential with Carr. Physically, with Keon Coleman gone, he may be MSU’s most imposing red zone threat. But can he stay on the field enough as a blocker? Will MSU try to utilize him exclusively as a receiver? Regardless, it’s now or never for Carr if he wants to have a career in the NFL.

Franklin and Hopper are both sixth-year senior transfers that figure to play most of their snaps in a blocking role. Falaye is really interesting because of his massive frame. At 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds, he’ll be hard to miss on the field. That size essentially creates a sixth offensive lineman if he’s out there.

Wide Receiver

Starters: Tre Mosley, Montorie Foster, Christian Fitzpatrick
Reserves: Tyrell Henry, Jaron Glover, Antonio Gates, Jr

This doesn’t feel like a finished product yet. Michigan State has been rumored to be in contact with a couple of receivers in the transfer portal. I suspect they’ll add at least one.

Keon Coleman’s departure leaves a massive hole at this position. Mosley and Foster are the only two players that have received any sort of extended playing time, but neither is a replacement for Coleman. Mosley is a really solid slot and underneath receiver. Foster is a speedster that works behind the line of scrimmage or deep. Christian Fitzpatrick is a big target, but we just haven’t seen much of him. He was working his way into the offense last season before suffering a season-ending injury.

Behind those three are more questions. The Spartans clearly liked Tyrell Henry’s athleticism, because they put him in to return kicks late last season. Glover is a promising youngster that should have every chance to compete for reps. Gates Jr. showed some nice moments in the spring game but remains nothing more than an intriguing prospect.

Running Back

Starter: Jalen Berger
Reserves: Nathan Carter, Jordon Simmons, Jaren Mangham

Michigan State gets its leading rusher back from last season in Jalen Berger. After a strong start, Berger fell out of the rotation when MSU got behind and was forced to abandon the run. In games later in the season though, Berger reemerged as the preferred option between the tackles. He’ll have to fend off the Connecticut transfer Nathan Carter.

After leading the Huskies in rushing over the first month of the season, Carter suffered a shoulder injury and did not return. He possesses great speed and provides a different look than Berger.

Jordon Simmons completely fell out of the rotation last season but should be in the mix this year for situational work alongside South Florida transfer Jaren Mangham.

Quarterback

Starter: Noah Kim
Reserve: Katin Houser

Saving the juiciest battle for last. I’ve got Noah Kim edging out Katin Houser. I’m going full “read between the lines” with my reasoning because we have almost nothing else to go off.

For starters, I think it’s notable that Kim is still here to begin with. A Dantonio recruit in 2020, he redshirted and served as a backup each of the past two seasons. That’s almost unheard of in this day and age of college football. I also don’t think the Payton Thorne transfer happens if there wasn’t at least a chance that he was beaten out. Lastly, I don’t think we can discard the fact that Kim was QB2 last season. In that position, you practice and prepare as if you’re the starter because you’re just one play away from going in. Put those three things together, and I think it’s clear the staff really likes him. I think it’s clear that they’ve told him he’ll have a chance to be the starter.

Now, that’s not to say that the staff doesn’t feel the same way about Katin Houser. Make no mistake. This should be a battle all the way through the last rep of camp. But when I think about this Michigan State team, I think about their low margin for error. I think about the inexperience at the receiver position. And I’ll go back to my comment from earlier about coaches leaning on experience early in the year.

I fully expect to see both guys this season. I hope we see both quarterbacks. On Sept. 1, though, I think Kim takes the first snap of the season.

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