September 7, 2010

Hammock's move to FB packs potential

EAST LANSING - As a result of Josh Rouse's season-ending neck injury, Michigan State has moved redshirt freshman TyQuan Hammock from linebacker to fullback.

Head coach Mark Dantonio announced the move during Tuesday's weekly press conference.

The 6-foot, 255-pound Hammock had been working with the scout team this fall, as the team's No. 4 Mike (middle) linebacker. The hard-hitting native of Fort Wayne, Ind. was behind senior Greg Jones, sophomore Mike Gardiner and true freshman Max Bullough on the depth chart.

Hammock is now listed as the No. 3 fullback, behind new starter Nick Bendzuck, (6-2, 240, Sr.) and transplanted sophomore wide receiver Fred Smith (6-2, 240, Soph.).

"We talked with him, we made that move today," Dantonio said of Hammock. "We will see how that all works out. It's an experiment."

Hammock was complimented by defensive coaches in August for his toughness at middle linebacker between the tackles. However, with his weight pushing up near 260 pounds, Hammock became a bit big and a tad slow for the position.

Reserve linebackers often move to defensive tackle or defensive end, but Michigan State already has a deep pool of candidates at those positions. Meanwhile, the Spartans are in need of a thumping type of fullback. Hammock fits the desired description.

"(Hammock) has become an active guy on special teams, a very noticeably guy there so it will be interesting to see how it works," Dantonio said.

Rouse sustained the injury when his helmet hit the ground in an awkward manner on Saturday during Michigan State's 38-14 victory over Western Michigan. Dantonio said Rouse had successful surgery on Sunday.

On Sunday night, Dantonio said former Spartan star cornerback Amp Campbell offered to speak with Rouse and offer support. Campbell sustained a broken neck while making a tackle early in the 1998 season, and returned to have an all-conference year in 1999. Dantonio said Campbell, who is now an assistant at Western Michigan and witnessed Rouse's injury, will likely speak with Rouse "when the time is right."

Dantonio indicated that it is unlikely that Rouse will seek a special sixth year of eligibility due to the injury, as Campbell did in 1999.

Bendzuck, a walk-on from Strongsville, became the primary fullback against Western Michigan.

"Bendzuck did a nice job in there," Dantonio said. "All I can tell you is he graded well. He graded well in knowing what to do. His technique grade was probability 70 pct or so."

Dantonio said news of Rouse's season-ending injury at halftime of Saturday's game created an emotional scene in the locker room.

On the first play of the second half, Bendzuck delivered a solid block on Western Michigan's right defensive end as part of an isolation play, helping running back Edwin Baker gain 5 yards.

A few snaps later, Bendzuck issued a fine block on the play-side linebacker in helping Keshawn Martin gain 31 yards on an end around.

"He made the plays," Dantonio said of Bendzuck. "He knows what to do and he is functional. He can go in and operate the system. He does it with enthusiasm and toughness."

Bendzuck made appearances in 10 games last year, primarily on special teams. Saturday's game was easily the biggest role he has ever played for Michigan State.

The Spartans were in need of a new lead-blocking fullback heading into the 2010 season, due to the graduation of two-year starter Andrew Hawken.

Rouse, a former linebacker, sat out last year as a redshirt but claimed the first-string job during August camp. A host of unproven players jockeyed for a role behind Rouse, including Bendzuck, Smith, walk-on Adam Setterbo, injured scholarship sophomore Drew Stevens and scholarship true freshman Nike Palazeti.
Bendzuck transferred to Michigan State in 2007 from Mercyhurst (Ohio) College. He had 10 sacks as a defensive end and 20 receptions at tight end as a senior at Strongsville High. He helped Strongsville win the state title in baseball while batting .410 as a senior. In basketball, he averaged a double-double and helped Strongsville defeat Delvon Roe's Lakewood St. Edward in the Regional Semifinals.

COMPARONI'S TAKE: This move makes complete sense for both Michigan State and Hammock. In his three-plus years at MSU, Dantonio hasn't had the type of bone-jarring, hard-blocking fullback that his balanced offense craves in the run portion of the scheme. Hawken was good. Before Hawken, former walk-on linebacker Bill McPherson was good. But neither of them delivered the type of headaches that Dantonio would like his fullback to administer on offense.

Rouse, who played quarterback in high school, was a solid guy with good hands and some skill. But he, too, wasn't the type of Excedrin fullback that the Spartans crave as a lead blocker.

Transplanted WR Fred Smith has some potential as a mismatch skill guy as a fullback, and is beginning to show some nastiness at the position. And Palazeti is an interesting prospect as a true freshman.

But none of the candidates have the big-boned DNA of Mr. Hammock. If Hammock completely buys into the idea of being a head-knocking fullback, he could become a good one, and potentially the first great lead blocker Dantonio has had at MSU. He has four years of eligibility remaining and it will be interesting to chart his progress.

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