MSU Must Count On Youth to Replenish Receiving Production

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MSU has a daunting task ahead of them this spring. A year ago the country looked at the Michigan State roster and wondered if MSU had any playmakers outside of Javon Ringer. A year later the national media and MSU football look to find a way to replace their future first round draft choice Devin Thomas.

Thomas was virtually unknown in his first season with MSU in the John L. Smith system. It seems hard to believe that Devin was overlooked in the spread offense as the old system had a pass-first mentality. Thomas went to work last year and became one of the biggest playmakers for his Spartan team. His numbers at the NFL combine have proven that his junior season was no fluke at MSU, as many analysts believe he will be the first WR taken in the 2008 draft.

Devin possesses a rare combination of Charles Rogers like speed, a Mushin Muhammad physique and hands like Derrick Mason. He will continue the MSU tradition of big-time receivers that go on the first day of the NFL draft. He has the work ethic and desire to be successful at the next level. He certainly doesn’t shy away from contact as his game film clearly shows his downfield blocking ability.

So the question on every Spartan’s mind this spring is who is going to replace all of those big plays and mammoth yards that “DT” provided the Spartans. The answer could come in a variety of packages. MSU returns Mark Dell who was highly touted coming out of high school. Dell would have had more catches last season had MSU looked for him more often. Dell has excellent hands and break away speed. He is largely unknown at this point in his young career.

B.J. Cunningham is the player that every MSU coach finds it hard not to talk about. Rumor has it that B.J. was talented enough to see the field last season, but an early season injury made it that much easier to find him a redshirt. Cunningham is listed at 6’2” and about 200 pounds. The word around “The Duff” is that he makes crisp cuts and has a knack at pulling the ball out of the air. He is an all around athlete that can beat opposing DB’s in a variety of ways. Cunningham and Dell could provide MSU with a more balanced receiving corp that absorbs Devin’s gaudy statistics. Deon Curry will certainly see the field as he showed promise toward the season’s end and has good blocking skills to help free the Spartan rushing attack.

That brings us to the biggest unknown heading into summer camp. Fred Smith maybe the best receiving talent to come out of the state of Michigan since Charles Rogers. He is 6’3”, has excellent leaping ability and is physically mature for a high school player. Smith will likely see the field right away for MSU and will be a factor the moment he sets foot on campus. Fred’s ability to learn the MSU offense and adjust to the game speed of Big Ten competition will be the determining factors. Make no mistake about it; MSU’s receiving corp took a huge hit when Devin declared early for the draft. It is the one position I believe that that Michigan State can absorb the loss and ultimately become more balanced. It should force Hoyer to look for multiple options sooner in his check-offs and could even make MSU’s offense harder to defend.

Teams knew by midseason that MSU was going to go to “DT” when they needed a big play. This fall, MSU might have a more balanced attack that could leave defenses guessing more than they did in 2007. Don’t look for any single Spartan to have a Devin Thomas type of year. If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t be surprised to see three receivers on the Spartan roster with more than 600 yards receiving. Look for Michigan State’s offense to be equally potent this fall with Dell, Cunningham and Smith streaking the field. It is just food for thought while your sitting around the living room with your buddies preparing for a Friday night NCAA match-up between the Spartans and the Tigers.

So turn on the big screen, grab a cold beverage, order up a bucket of Buffalo wings and talk spring football during timeouts. There is nothing but excitement these days in East Lansing. On that note… GO GREEN!!!