March 30, 2012

Position Watch: Burkland vs. France at Left Tackle

EAST LANSING - At this time last year, Mark Dantonio and his staff did everything they could think of to avert a crisis on the depth chart along the offensive line.

The Spartans began by signing junior college offensive tackle Fou Fonoti. They fast tracked the development of then redshirt freshman Skyler Burkland. Michigan State also moved Dan France from defensive tackle to offensive tackle to compete with senior Jared McGaha for the starting left tackle spot.

Michigan State made similar moves at center between several candidates including then redshirt freshman Travis Jackson and Blake Treadwell, whom, like France had begun his career on the defensive line.
Injuries prevented each of the aforementioned players from starting all 14 of Michigan State's games at their respective positions.

But the experience each of those players gained during the 2011 season as a part-time starter has put each in a position to compete for a starting spot on the offensive line next fall. The challenge facing Michigan State coaches this spring is identifying the best five offensive linemen to put on the field from a large pool of candidates that possesses ability and experience.

"We've got seven starters back with Treadwell back and Skyler back, and our five starters," said Dantonio. "I think Jack Allen is a guy that we redshirted last year, and we were conveniently able to hang on to that red shirt. I think he had an outstanding fall camp.Ethan Ruhland has played. Then you have the guys that started like Fou Fonoti and Dan France, and Chris McDonald is back for his fourth year as a starter. Then the left guard right now, Treadwell and Travis Jackson. So we have guys in the hunt. Henry Conway is another guy we've mentioned that should be game ready as we move forward. So we've got experience there, and I think this is really the strongest offensive line group we've had since we've been here, and we've got numbers."

Michigan State opened spring football with first-string offensive line of France at left tackle, Blake Treadwell at left guard, Travis Jackson at center, McDonald at right guard, and Fou Fonoti at right tackle. But line-up could change pending competition at various positions.

"We've got seven or eight guys that started football games for us," said Spartan quarterback Andrew Maxwell. "With that being the case and only five spots there, there is going to be a lot of competition with a lot of experience and guys with a lot of talent. That is only going to bring out the best in those guys and force them to elevate their level of play. Again, it is going to force the coaches to make a choice and put the best five on the field. I think it is going to be the same at the receiver position and I think that is what you need. It is a good problem to have."

Left Tackle: Dan France vs. Skyler Burkland

One of the fiercest competitions for a starting job on the offensive line is at left tackle between France and Burkland.

France started 13 games at left tackle for the Spartans in 2011. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound junior-to-be struggled at times during the first half of the 2011 season. But the improved play of the converted defensive lineman during the second half of the 2011 season played a key role in Michigan State's run to a Legends Division Championship in Big Ten play.

"Dan played his butt off last year and he earned a starting spot," said Burkland, who started the first three games of the 2011 season at right tackle before fracturing his fibula during Michigan State's non-conference loss at Notre Dame. "I am on the left side right now. I am behind him, I am learning from him. He is teaching me a lot and I am going through everything. I feel weird going in there and taking his spot after he went the whole year and earned it. I am going to work for it, you've got to work for it out here."

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