June 8, 2012

Bottom 40: Counting down from No. 99 Caesar

EAST LANSING - The latest in our summer series examining "The Bottom 40" on the Michigan State football roster:

First, we have to count down from No. 103 on the MSU roster to No. 85 in order to get to the actual Bottom 40.

We profiled No. 103, QB Peter Badovinac; No. 102, WR AJ Troup); No. 101, DB Chris Laneaux and No. 100, TE Paul Lang in the last installment.

Today, No.

99. Juwan Caesar: The 6-foot-4, 209-pound freshman made progress in the spring, just by getting on the field every day, taking some coaching and adding polish to his immense but raw talent.

Caesar, of Miami (Fla.) Coral Park High, missed last fall with a lower body injury. Spring practice marked some of his initial introductions to the MSU offense and assignments of wide receivers in the Spartan offense.

Caesar was the seventh WR selected in the Green-White Draft, behind walk-ons John Jakubik and AJ Troup.

He was held without a catch in the Green-White Game but had a shallow crossing route thrown incomplete in his direction. He also didn't crack the stat sheet in the two spring jersey scrimmages.

Caesar cuts a fascinating profile in practice. At 6-4, he is an intriguing target of long limbs. He has a high-stepping natural stride and very thin calves. It remains to be seen whether these uncommon physical attributes serve him well at this level. There simply haven't been a lot of guys through this program who look like him and run with his style of gait.

He put in some hard work in March and April in his first spring practice season as a Spartan, including extra work on the Juggs machine catching passes after practice.

"He's preparing himself," wide receivers coach Terry Samuel said of Caesar. "That means extra reps by a guy. When you're a wide receiver, you've got to know I have to be comfortable catching the ball at every angle.

"He's preparing himself to get reps in the game. That's what he tells me. And once he gets his legs ready, he'll be that much better. I don't care whatever injury you've got, you can still get your fingers ready.''

Caesar was a sleeper, late-offer guy in January for 2011. The three-star prospect committed to MSU over West Virginia, Illinois and Central Florida.

August Outlook: There will be three to five new names in the playing group at WR this fall, but don't look for Caesar to be one of them. He would do well to have four or five healthy, productive, progressive months on the scout team. If he sustains good health and develops as a player, he could become an important member of the demonstration team, impersonating big, mismatch targets.

98. Kyle Lints: The freshman walk-on moved from guard to center for spring practice. Lints (6-3, 278, Traverse City St. Francis) was one of five players to play center in the Green-White Game and is probably the No. 5 center in the program if he stays at that position for the fall.

Why move him to center? Well, MSU likes to work o-linemen at new positions each spring as a means of manufacturing depth and flexibility, while also getting a full evaluation of each player.

Secondly, MSU's top three centers (Travis Jackson, Jack Allen, Ethan Ruhland) will land spots in the two-deep in the fall at various positions. MSU needs a center or two leftover for the scout team. Finding a couple of guys who can snap and block for the scout team at a high level is not easy.

Junior Nate Klatt is a candidate for scout team duty at center. But Klatt has battled injury and inconsistency throughout his career. Klatt was listed as a guard for spring practice but missed most sessions due to nagging injuries. Klatt played center in the Green-White Game for the first time all spring and was unexpectedly excellent. If Klatt continues in that capacity he could at least be a plus player with the scout team. But MSU has to prepare for the possibility that Klatt won't always be available. That's where Lints could have some value with the scout team in the fall, based largely on the work and development he received at center in the spring.

In the Green-White Game, Lints played center for only one possession. He saw action for only a handful of snaps. He didn't have any bad plays or standout plays.

Lints was luxurious walk-on for MSU in 2011. He turned down scholarship offers from Ball State and Eastern Michigan in order to take a swing in East Lansing.

August Outlook: Based on his spring assignment, it's probable that he could continue to see work at center in fall camp for scout team purposes. He is projected to be third- or fourth-string at center or guard in August, with plenty of time to rise later in his career.

97. Matt Ramondo: Please note that we had Ramondo ranked at No. 97 for this feature prior to his announcement on Sunday that he has left MSU to transfer to New Mexico State.

Ramondo redshirted last season after reporting to August camp a couple dozen pounds overweight. In the spring, with various players getting auditions at nose guard, Ramondo was not a player who made a serious charge for a role.

He said he left MSU in part due to home sickness. Based on his first 10 months on campus, he was going to have an uphill climb in order to compete for a spot in the two-deep in the next couple of years, despite the fact that MSU doesn't have a wealth of depth at his position.

Perhaps Ramondo will chisel himself into a great shape and have a nice career at New Mexico State. It's rare to see a program advise a player to transfer after less than a year on campus and it's doubtful that MSU took this position with Ramondo. Under Dantonio, MSU has consistently lobbied to keep the few players who have sought a transfer, regardless of their spot on the depth chart. But MSU could come out ahead in the near and long term on the transaction of trading Ramondo for an extra scholarship slot.

Ramondo sat out the first half of the Green-White Game on April 28, but played most of the second half, logging 13 snaps at nose guard. He wasn't bad. He played with some enthusiasm and did not look slow or gassed. He had a tackle for loss while unblocked as part of a blitz against a tackle-pull run play. He showed a little bit of agility in ambling forward and tackling RB Jeremy Langford for a loss of 1; he slanted from a one tech to a three as part of the pressure scheme, found himself unblocked, made a slight change of direction and came forward to clean up the mess on a somewhat poorly-blocked play. If Ramondo had had more loud moments at nose guard over the last 10 months, MSU may have made a stronger play to keep him, and there might have been more powerful programs than New Mexico State after him.

Ramondo committed to MSU in January of 2011 after initially committing to Arizona State. He was a three-star recruit, ranked the No. 2 player in New Mexico, with offers from MSU, ASU and Arizona.

August Outlook: Ramondo leaves MSU with a strong chance to be a major contributor for a low-tier program in 2013. He needs to make drastic improvement in order to be a plus player for NMSU, but he has the capacity to do so for the Aggies.

For Michigan State, the Spartans won't miss Ramondo at nose guard in 2012. In 2013, MSU will have the following players to choose from at nose guard: Micajah Reynolds, James Kittredge, Damon Knox, Mark Scarpinato. One or two of those guys might end up being three-technique DTs. Ramondo was purely a nose candidate. There is a shortage of young, jumbo-sized nose guard candidates in the program. Ramondo may never have panned out for the job, but MSU is going to need a player or players to step forward in this area in the coming years. A hole could be developing if MSU doesn't address this area in the current recruiting class.

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