Michigan State offensive coordinator Dan Roushar talks about how several position battles played out and more heading into the season opener.
Friday will give Michigan State fans a chance to see the defending Big Ten Champions take the field for the first time during the 2011 season in a home opener against Youngstown State.
One of the biggest questions all summer long has been focused on the play of the offensive line.
How does Roushar feel about the work done by the Spartans big men up front?
"I think that certainly through practice that we have had an opportunity to work together on a more consistent basis,” said Roushar. “Through repetition, I think they start to find themselves communicating better and working together better in double-team situations and sliding together in protection. But there is no substitute for playing. I think going through the first game they are going to learn a lot about themselves and learn a lot about themselves as a group."
While there were jobs open on the offensive line, Roushar knows early playing time by several players could be a key later in the season.
"I think the biggest thing is we want the best five on the field,” said Roushar. “That is important. We recognize that it is a long season and you are going to need depth and you are going to need guys to get game-like experience. It will be very valuable later in the season or whenever they are called upon. In an ideal setting you have five guys who have played an awful lot together; there is a lot of cohesion there, a lot of experience to draw on. We are not in that setting right now. So I think there will be some guys coming in and out, much like we did a year ago to start the season."
One player who brought his lunch pail to the practice field during camp was senior offensive lineman Jared McGaha. How has the Tennessee native progressed throughout camp?
"He really has just been very solid every day in his approach to the way he has played,” said Roushar. “He has been very good from a standpoint of executing assignments and he has continued to improve. I feel like he has had a camp that is certainly worth his opportunity to go start as a senior."
Because of his work during camp and the fact he’s got some game time experience he’ll get the early nod to be the starting left tackle. However, Roushar also feels Dan France will get his chances as well.
"It was actually quite close as the fall started,” said Roushar on the battle at left tackle. “I think it has gone back and forth each and every day and I think right now we just feel like Jared has had some game-like experience. He played in most games last year and he just has a little edge so we are going to give him the opportunity to start. And certainly Dan France will have a lot of opportunities to go in there and play."
Another battle also played out at right tackle. How has junior college transfer Fou Fonoti done since his arrival?
"I think right now we have got him working primarily on the right side,” said Roushar. “But you know in our situation you are a couple of injuries away from having to take a guy from the right side and moving him to the left. So he will be prepared that way, he has been prepared in the meeting room. He just hasn't had a lot of physical reps there yet, but we are working on that and we have been throughout this week."
As for Friday night’s season and home opener, Roushar knows there are some uncertainties in their opponent.
"Like any opener you're really not certain what the opponent is going to bring,” said Roushar. “They've had changes this offseason; they've made coaching adjustments, and probably looked at what they did a year ago so there is some uncertainty that way. But knowing their defensive coordinator, having seen him work throughout the years, he is certainly going to try to stop the run, we feel like. Depending on the personnel groupings we have out there, I think we will see a football team, in terms of the defense that is going to stay consistent with what they did philosophically a year ago with all their newcomers, just do it better than they did a season ago."
As for a quick look at a few of the defensive standouts from Youngstown State, Roushar says a few stand out.
"Their mike linebacker, (John) Sasson number 53, he was their leading tackler and he returns,” said Roushar. “Got a couple of guys inside that have played a lot, number 44 (Andrew Johnson) is a product from Detroit, I believe he is from Southeastern and he was named captain, so he is a good interior player. And then a couple of others who have had some limited experience, but they don't have a lot of starters returning so it is really unchartered territory for us. We don't see them on film and we don't really know a whole lot about them."
As for the offensive game plan against the Penguins?
"I think we've approached this like all openers,” said Roushar. “It is really about us. It is about us going out and executing. We will deal with what they do differently and go from there. It is truly about us this week."
As for the vantage point Roushar will take on Friday night, there is no plan set in stone, however, he’s going to give the coaches box a try first.
"I think I'm going to start up in the box,” said Roushar. “I'm going to start there and see if I can do a good job from that position. We have great guys on the field and we're going to try to start like we did a year ago with Coach Treadwell in that setting. You can certainly see coverage; you can see the other side of the field. When you're on the field, just from experience as an offensive line coach, when the ball gets to the other hash, it's difficult to see what is happening on the backside, where you can do that from up top."
As the Spartans new offensive coordinator fans are not sure what to expect on Friday night. However, do not be surprised if the Spartans still use their power running game and add a few passing wrinkles in the process.