Three Months Before Kickoff, Spartan Nation Asks Who Will Make a Freshman Impact?

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With 2010 recruiting in a lull before summer camp season swings into full gear, and 89 days away from kickoff against Montana State, there's no better time to contemplate which of the 2009 recruits might have a chance to step in and make an impact right away for the Michigan State football program.

In total, 23 players were signed, ranging from offensive linemen (David Barrent) participating in national all star games to kickers hoping to find the field in some capacity as a freshman (Kevin Muma).

While the hogs on the O-line typically need a year of seasoning to build their core, for specialists like Muma, playing right away just might be in the cards. Coach Mark Dantonio has a veteran kicker to turn to in Brett Swenson, but divvying up the kicking game responsibilities is nothing new to this staff, who had three players handling kickoffs, punting and place kicking respectively last season. Muma did all three at Troy High School, not to mention quarterbacking duties.

At MSU, though, especially in his first season, Muma might have a chance to see the field as a kickoff specialist. In his high school career, Muma booted 70 percent (91 of 130) of his kickoffs through the endzone for touchbacks. Like a wide receiver, kickers can practice their skill throughout the offseason without much difficulty, so with attention to consistency, Muma will have a chance to step in and make Brett Swenson's job easier right away. He will not only have to beat out Swenson for the kicker duties, but don’t forget the sure-footed Dan Conroy who had a great spring if he wants to handle those duties in the fall. If nothing else, he'll be insurance, for both kickoffs and field goals, should injuries befall MSU's ranks of kickers.

The versatile Patrick White might also have a chance to contribute on special teams. The four year starter at the high school level is an early enrollee and has been on campus since January. In addition to playing outstanding ball as a wide receiver and cornerback, White was also a three year letterman in track. With the status of Glen Winston still up in the air, the Spartan special teams have taken a hit in the depth chart. White may be the player to help fill that void. If nothing else, the young man has the ability to be slotted in reserve roles on both offense and defense, so his value as an immediate contributor could be substantial.

Chris Norman is just a freak. The 6-foot-2, 222 pound linebacker from Detroit Renaissance, and first MSU commit last year, should immediately bolster the linebacker corps. With two entrenched starters in Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, Norman may find the field as either a spot starter or as fresh legs from the depth chart. Consistently rated as one of the top linebackers in the country, Norman may have slipped under the radar on signing day, eschewing the limelight of making a last second decision like he did with a commitment months prior. But that doesn't mean he's not one of the biggest studs MSU has pulled into its program in the last five years, because Norman's potential is sky high.

Finally, two more incoming freshmen are expected to bring competitiveness to the offensive depth chart. While many say running back Edwin Baker is the more likely candidate to fill the shoes of departed senior and MSU stalwart Javon Ringer right away, Larry Caper will have the best chance to make an early impact at an important position.

Coach Dantonio says both young men will have a chance to bring their skills to the gridiron as freshmen, and that looks even more so now, after the spring game, where an already muddled running back depth chart seems to have gotten even thicker with uncertainty. Nobody separated from the pack, and Caulton Ray, a redshirt freshman, seemingly made the logjam even bigger.

So, come this fall, Baker and Caper will get their shots. Baker is a chiseled athlete who runs with precision, if not a little upright. Struggling through injuries late last season, though, Baker has been developing uphill. But, when healthy, Baker runs a 10.5 in the 100 meter dash, so his ability to see the field and hit seams will be happily tested by a coaching staff looking for answers after losing Ringer to the NFL.

While Caper might not have been as thoroughly heralded as Baker, the slight was only a matter of small degree. Caper comes in with plenty accomplishments under his belt and a body and attitude that both say, “Put me in coach, I'm ready to play.” Grounded in family (he brought his divorced parents together to share his commitment moment) Caper has the maturity of an upperclassman already. But it's his abilities that make coaches drool. Caper long-jumps over 23-feet to give some idea of his natural athleticism. And he logged over 100 yards rushing nine times as a senior at Battle Creek Central, finishing the season with 1,726 yards on 261 carries, so the young man is clearly ready for some work.

Either way, with Baker or Caper, the running game will benefit from an infusion of talent sprinting onto campus this fall. And with the likes of White, Norman and Sims, freshmen on the playing field, not a rarity under the watchful eye of Mark Dantonio, should be a familiar sight by November.

There will be more than this that play and contribute that is for sure. These are only a few, but the prospects of such a good class make the future brighter in the Spartan Nation.