EAST LANSING, Mich. – Kodi Kieler is going to start at left tackle for Michigan State on Saturday afternoon against Brigham Young. The senior was the starting right tackle last Saturday at Indiana after starting at center the first three games of the season. He’s played multiple positions along the offensive line each game.
Got that straight?
Kieler does. Flipping positions hasn’t been much of a problem for junior Brian Allen, who began the season at left guard but is now predominantly playing center.
While Kieler and Allen have handled playing different spots during games, not all has gone smoothly this season for the offensive line. The group had a dominant game against Notre Dame, paving the way for 260 yards rushing, but inconsistent play in losses against Wisconsin and Indiana has mirrored the entire team’s performance the last two games.
Don’t blame the shuffling of players and positions, says Kieler. Blame the player.
“I think it’s just guys not knowing exactly what they’re doing every play,” Kieler said. “I think if you’re out there playing any position – wide receiver, quarterback or offensive line – you need to know exactly what you’re doing.”
Conventional wisdom about offensive lines for many years has been to find your five best guys and stick with them at one given position. That will allow them to gel as group, an important ingredient for any offensive line.
That’s not the philosophy offensive line coach Mark Staten employs.
The same five players – David Beedle at left tackle, Allen at left guard, Kieler at center, Brandon Clemons at right guard and Miguel Machado – started the first three games but there was shuffling of positions galore. Senior Benny McGowan has played both guard spots, including starting at left guard against Indiana. Staten is trying to work freshman Thiyo Lukusa into the mix. Redshirt freshman Tyler Higby saw his most significant playing time of the season at Indiana and may get the first start of his career this week.
An injury to Raequan Williams and the loss of Malik McDowell for the first half against BYU after being called for targeting at Indiana have forced Clemons to be moved to the defensive line.
Clemons, a sixth-year senior, was recruited to Michigan State as a defensive lineman and played well there for his first couple of seasons before being moved to the offensive line. He has seen action on both sides of the ball already this season but his main focus for the next few weeks will be on defense. He will still be used on offense in short-yardage situations.
“We’re all pretty confident,” said Clemons. “Injuries happen. All of the shuffling has given the young guys more experience. They’re able to trust each other. The older guys, we’ve all been there. We’re used to being next to each other. But with the shuffling around, we can all play any position.”
Staten said he started shuffling players four or five years ago. It keeps them sharp and allows them to develop versatility. That’s not just a benefit for their own future playing careers but it becomes easier to handle injuries or unforeseen circumstances that arise in a game. Kieler is going to start at left tackle against BYU but Beedle will be used there as well in certain situations as well as at left guard, according to Staten.
“It’s all planned,” Staten said. “When somebody goes out with a ding, you’ve got to throw somebody else out there, or somebody’s not performing and you pull them out, that’s not planned. You expect guys to perform and you don’t want a guy to get dinged. But otherwise, it’s as the week goes, as the structure and the scheme of the defense, how they’re grasping, because every week is different.”
One of those unplanned moments happened on the final possession of regulation against Indiana. Allen left the game with a hand injury. Kieler slid back to the center position without a hitch and the Spartans finished off the drive with a touchdown to send the game into overtime.
Don’t blame the shuffling. Blame the player.
“I don’t think it’s because of all of the different positions,” Kieler said. “I think on one drive in this last game I played in three different positions. It’s your own preparation. You yourself has to get yourself ready for each game and know what to do. I don’t think it’s having too much responsibility. There’s never enough responsibility you can have.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo