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Putting together MSU’s depth chart after offseason nightmare

With attrition hitting the Spartans hard, we take a look at what has happened to the depth chart at every position.

There’s no doubt that the 2017 offseason is one that the Michigan State Spartans would like to have back. Multiple sexual assault cases, player injuries and transfers out of the program were the lowlights to a brutal offseason.

But, the coaching staff and players left in the wake of all of it have a task ahead — getting this team ready to compete in the 2017 season. Add that to the mix of a 3-9 season out of nowhere last year and the task for Mark Dantonio and Co. seems pretty difficult to say the least.

Given a close spring practice and all the players involved in alleged sexual assault cases finally known, it’s also time to start figuring out what this team will actually look like when fall camp opens up. So, here is a look at the Spartans Depth Chart as we see it.

Quarterback

Starter: Brian Lewerke
Backup: Messiah deWeaver

One thing was abundantly clear about the Spartans offense last season — it was at its best with Brian Lewerke behind center. He looked like the starter in the spring game and Mark Dantonio did all but officially name him the starter for this season after said spring game. When you get that kind of endorsement, let’s just call it a day. As for his backup? That appears to be more up in the air, but it appears senior Damion Terry and Messiah deWeaver are finally healthy enough to give Lewerke a competition in fall camp. Will it be too little, too late though? It certainly appears as if Lewerke is comfortable and growing as the starter and messing with that could be dangerous.

Running Back

Starter: LJ Scott
Backup: Gerald Holmes/Madre London

If there is a group that could be a leadership one for a changing offense, it is running back, where all three of the top rushers return. Dare we say this is the most loaded position group on the Spartans? Yes, yes we do. That said, Scott is the clear starter, with Holmes and London mixing in for plenty of carries to catch defenses off guard. Look for this group to help the Spartans adjust to the changing nature of the roster.

Offensive Line

Starters: LT Cole Chewins; LG Tyler Higby; C Brian Allen; RG David Beedle; RT Luke Campbell
Backups: LT Dennis Finley; LG Chase Gianacakos; C Matthew Allen; RG Casey Schreiner; RT A.J. Arcuri

Change was going to happen with this group no matter what, but there was a huge blow to this group that few expected. That came in the form of expected starter, Thiyo Lukusa, calling it quits on the game of football back in February. While we are likely to see this group enter fall camp the way we present it, expect competition to happen given the lack of experience this group has. Perhaps the biggest competition is at the guard positions, so keep a keen eye on how this all fits together at those positions.

Wide Receiver

Starters: Thriston Jackson, Felton Davis
Backups: Hunter Rison, Cam Chambers

Few positions were hit by offseason attrition as hard as wide receiver…and that was before all the craziness of this offseason kicked in to high gear. Donnie Corley is one of three players accused of sexual assault from a January 16th incident and his loss on the field is huge, as he was expected to be a starter and star for this team. Instead, he’s facing serious charges in the legal system and is kicked off the team. That leaves Felton Davis, who grabbed just 12 receptions for 150 yards and one touchdown, as the leading returning receiver. The good news is that this has been a position MSU has recruited well, and Hunter Rison appears to be the real deal early on.

Tight End

Starters: Matt Sokol; Noah Davis
Backup: Matt Dotson; Matt Seybert

Losing Josiah Price hurts this offense in more ways than most will realize. So will the loss of Jamal Lyles as a blocking tight end. Sokol, a junior now, caught just two passes for 26 yards last season. Nothing really surprising has happened at this position group this offseason, so it will still be a mix and match group trying to prove who deserves more snaps come this fall.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Kenny Willekes; DT Mike Panasiuk; DT Raequan Williams; DE Robert Bowers
Backups: DE Justice Alexander; DT Gerald Owens; DT Naqaun Jones; DE Jacub Panasiuk

One name you aren’t seeing on this list? Demetrious Cooper. That’s because the guy seemingly can’t stay out of trouble. He spat on a parking officer back in November and apparently decided to violate terms of his probation for that charge. A decision on his future is pending, but it is seriously hard to see how Cooper stays on this team in the climate we are under. He can likely thank fellow defensive end Josh King for that, as King was also one of three players charged in the January sexual assault case.

That means big changes for this group on the field, as Cooper is/was one of the best players on the team and King was a likely starter as well. Look for Kenny Willekes to get the first look at starting, but don’t sleep on names like Justice Alexander and incoming freshmen Jacub Panasiuk and Lashawn Paulino-Bell to get a look. The younger Panasiuk had the name, while Paulino-Bell comes from the famed St. Thomas Aquinas program in Ft. Lauderdale.

Linebacker

Starters: Andrew Dowell; Chris Frey; Joe Bachie
Backups: Shane Jones; T.J. Terrell; Tyriq Thompson

Once again, we find a position hit by a major offseason loss. Once again, it was a self-inflicted wound that caused the loss, as middle linebacker Jon Reschke left the team following some apparently horrific remarks made to fellow teammates. That leaves a hole, likely to be filled by Joe Bachie up the middle, but more likely to be made up by the fact that two starters return on the outside. There’s some intrigue behind the starters, but this group is about as thin on experience as we’ve seen it under Dantonio.

Secondary

Starters: CB Justin Layne; CB Josiah Scott; FS Grayson Miller; BS Khari Willis
Backups: CB Tyson Smith; FS Matt Morrissey;

Just yesterday the final (hopefully for MSU’s sake) piece of attrition happened, as it was announced that cornerback Vayante Copeland won’t come back to the team. The reasons for that weren’t said, other than that Copeland wasn’t thrown off the team. Add that in the mix and you have the position that was hit the hardest by what took place this offseason. Six of the 12 players gone from the team were defensive backs…SIX. Oh, and one of the backups listed on this list, Tyson Smith, also is still recovering from a stroke suffered in 2016.

Let’s just say we are guessing and guessing a lot at this position thanks to attrition and the complete lack of experience. This position group is going to be one of the most scrutinized during fall camp, and rightfully so.

Specialists

Starters: P Jake Hartbarger; K Matt Coghlin; LS Collin Caflisch
Backups: P Brett Scanlon; K Cole Hahn; LS Ryan Amour

This is one of the few positions that went unscathed by the idiocy of this offseason in East Lansing. Instead, we’ll see a potentially interesting kicking battle take place this fall with freshman kicker Cole Hahn one of the more intriguing prospects at this position. Coghlin hasn’t kicked in a college game, but also came in to the program as one of the most highly regarded players at kicker in the 2015 class. We’ll see what happens in the fall, but nothing happened to this group in the offseason, so that’s a blessing for the coaching staff.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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