EAST LANSING - There were questions surrounding the offensive line heading into training camp, and some late-stage shuffling of the depth chart in the final days leading up to the season opener. But the elder statesman of the line, senior Joel Foreman, is not concerned one bit.
"We've built a tradition around here where we've had great seasons, as far as running the ball. We had Edwin (Baker) get All-Big Ten last year,'' said Foreman. "The year before that we ran the ball very well and the year before that we had Javon Ringer in the Heisman race. Obviously, people are going to speculate that we are the weak link but we've all made the commitment and know what it takes to be a strong offensive line once again.''
If you go by the names listed atop the depth chart, MSU's starting o-line on Friday will consist of Blake Treadwell at center, Foreman and Chris McDonald at the guards and Jared McGaha and Skyler Burkland at the tackles.
"We've got young guys and we've got a lot of talent returning as well," Foreman said. "So our biggest thing is to go out there and bring those young guys along because your biggest improvement is going to come between Game 1 and 2.
"I feel great about our chemistry through the whole unit, 1s, 2s, 3s and down. The great offensive lines are able to have depth and I think that's something that we have. Even though we're inexperienced, we've got a lot of talent.''
McGaha's take on the o-line situation was much like Foreman's but with a little more punch and conviction.
"It's always been that way. C'mon, that's how it goes,'' McGaha said about the yearly scrutiny of MSU's offensive line. "Everybody wants to question the big nasties but we're going to come out this Friday and show them that we're big and we're nasty, and we're back again for round 2 of that Big Ten title this year.''
In The Spotlight
Kirk Cousins knows the deal.
He's the senior quarterback on a team that shared a Big Ten title and won a school-record 11 games last season.
Oh, and he's also the guy that made that rousing speech at the Big Ten luncheon that garnered a standing ovation.
It's those things and the 226 completions, 2,825 yards and 20 touchdowns that have analysts listing Cousins as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and a high NFL draft pick. It's those things that has Cousins making sure he sticks to the same routine that has helped him become more successful each season he's been here.
"You've got to stick to the process," Cousins said. "It's all about the way you carry yourself day-to-day, the enthusiasm and effort you bring to practice everyday. I try to just ignore the noise and not get caught up into anything going on outside of these walls because ultimately the people inside these walls are going to effect what goes on on gameday.
"Obviously, the speech did bring a little more attention than sometimes even games I've played in, so I think it's important that my play backs up a good speech. I hope I'm as good a quarterback as I've been called a speech giver. We'll see but there's no doubt there's been some increased expectations from the outside, more than there have been in the past. This is probably the first time in my life where people have really expected more out of me than I've been expected of in past years. It's new and different but again I don't focus on that too much. I just look in here to the guys in this building, my coaches, Coach Warner. Ultimately, I'm just trying to follow what the coaches are asking of me and what my teammates are asking of me and to this point, that's led to great success.''
Linthicum Could Surprise
Brian Linthicum thinks the perception that he was considered more of a pass catching tight end than a blocking one when he transferred from Clemson to MSU is kind of funny.
Especially since the main reason he left the Tigers' program was because he wasn't getting enough opportunities to catch the ball.
Maybe people were fooled by the 11 receptions for 76 yards and three touchdowns he had as a freshman, playing in 13 games and starting five for Clemson. But the truth is, the Tigers had enough offensive weapons, including two running backs (C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills; James Davis, Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins) and a wide receiver (Jacoby Ford, Oakland Raiders) that were all eventually drafted into the NFL.
"I came in as everyone thinking I'm that receiving tight end guy and that 'he doesn't like to block, or can't,' so that's what kind of inspired me to turn into more of an ass-kicking tight end, that's going to blow someone off the ball," Linthicum said. "I've gotten a lot better at it because of people like Coach Roushar and Coach Staten, who have just been constantly pushing me.''
Linthicum had 18 catches for 230 yards last year while battling injuries. A year earlier, he had 20 catches for 266 yards. He has been a good, reliable support player. This year, Linthicum is looking to take it up a notch, and he just might do it. He's bigger, stronger, healthier, more driven to become a complete blocker, while regaining the slipperiness he had as a young receiver.
This season, the 6-foot-5, 245 pound Linthicum, who will share tight end duties with fifth-year senior Garrett Celek and redshirt sophomore Dion Sims.
In recent years, as a complement to starting tight end Charlie Gantt, Linthicum was used most frequently as a motioning H-back, and not a down-and-low, point-of-attack blocking option.
This year, he will be getting back to the basics of his tight end position, especially in the run-oriented offensive sets of the Spartans.
"(Blocking) is definitely something I've worked on a lot this summer and in this (fall) camp, being on the line, rather than in the back field in motion like they've used me before," he said. "I'm good at that but I prefer to be an on-the-line tight end. So coming off the ball, staying low and using lower body strength, rather than just trying throw guys around up top, it's been an emphasis.''
As for that tag of being the one dimensional, finesse, pass-catching tight end, Linthicum offered what he thought was a logical explanation.
"I guess I was just skinny when I got here and I had great hands, so they just wrote me off as a blocker," he said.
Will that be the case this year? We will begin to find out on Friday.
The Road Traveled
Even though MSU's 2011 season, it's fifth under Mark Dantonio, won't begin until Friday night, fifth-year senior wide receiver Keith Nichol couldn't help but begin to reminisce about the four previous seasons that brought him to his final year of college football eligibility.
Nichol, who has been a competing quarterback, at both MSU and Oklahoma, before finding his niche as a wideout, was quick to call his college football experience, both interesting and strange. But with no regrets.
"It's been a tremendous journey, a tremendous ride and not one anyone would expect coming out of high school. It's not what you envision, switching positions. No one envisions that but to have the support I've had from my family, my dad, my mom, and my brother . . . actually having my brother (sophomore wideout Kyle Nichol) here with me has probably been the biggest blessing I've ever had in terms of playing football. So having the support I've had from them, my teammates, my coaches. I mean they're the reason I've been able to get through what it has (become), a tough ride. But at the same time, the tough road sometimes is a little more rewarding at the end. So looking back on it, I'm just so blessed and thankful for that.''
Nichol, who enters his final season sharing duties with fellow senior B.J. Cunningham at MSU's X-receiver spot, said now he couldn't have imagined things going any other way.
"It just turned out for my career that that bump was a little bigger than most but at the same time, it's made me the person I am today, the player I am today and I really don't know where I would be or what I would be doing if I hadn't of made that stride and pushed through.''
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