April 19, 2011

France, Jackson emerge as new first-string o-linemen

EAST LANSING - The open competitions at three offensive line positions have resulted in surprising developments for Michigan State's spring football season.

Recent defensive line transplant Dan France has emerged as the No. 1 left tackle, head coach Mark Dantonio said during Tuesday's media briefing. Also, redshirt freshman Travis Jackson has edged ahead of Blake Treadwell and Ethan Ruhland to become the No. 1 center.

As for right tackle, current No. 1 man Skyler Schofner missed Tuesday's practice with a minor upper body injury. In his place was junior Zach Hueter, who had been slowed by injuries earlier in his career.

"I think Dan France right now is the left tackle, he's playing very well," Dantonio said. "He's got a feel for it."

France moved ahead of senior Jared McGaha, who served as the No. 1 left tackle for the first three weeks of spring. McGaha worked as the No. 1 left guard on Tuesday, with Joel Foreman out for the spring with a wrist injury.

"McGaha is having a good spring, Travis Jackson and Treadwell are playing at the offensive center position and both guys do some very, very good things," Dantonio said. "I think Travis right now may be there. Chris McDonald, he has been status quo (at right guard), very, very good."

France saw action in seven games as a reserve defensive tackle in 2010, and registered three tackles. He moved to offensive guard as an experiment during bowl practice, and showed immediate promise.

France began the spring as the No. 2 right tackle, and then moved to No. 2 left tackle, which is the cornerstone position of the offensive line, responsible for protecting the blind side of a right-handed quarterback.

"He (France) is number one right now," Dantonio said. "He is very athletic. Initially when we recruited him he was playing outside backer at 240. I mean he is a 305-pound guy. So he is a guy that has grown. He is very intelligent, he's got toughness. You see him grow every single day as a player, and he is blocking a lot of different fronts and a lot of different pressures, so those things add up on a person. He is a very good athlete in there. He's still young."

France will continue to be pushed by McGaha. Meanwhile, junior college transfer Fou Fonoti will enroll at mid-summer.

"Obviously we have some guys coming in like Fou Fonoti, who will be a guy who will immediately contest for a starting position there," Dantonio said. "So it's not the end game, but Dan France has had an outstanding spring."

Jackson began the spring in a four-way battle with Treadwell, Ruhland and Nate Klatt at center. Klatt was lost to a foot injury during the first week of spring. Treadwell and Jackson graded out ahead of Ruhland during the Jersey Scrimmage on April 8.

Jackson's progress has been consistent.

"He is very athletic," Dantonio said. "He is a guy who was defensive player of the year in the state of Ohio. He is very intelligent. He has been made into a center. He has had a year to evolve into that. He is getting his weight up there. But when you come out and you watch him a little bit, you see why he has been so successful to this point.

"We have three guys that I think can play and be functional at center. The way we measure players right now is: Do we have functionality with that player or not? And then after that, if the guy is functional, can we win with that guy? And then can we win a Big Ten championship with that guy? I would say he (Jackson) is playing winning football right now."

At right tackle, Hueter has been healthy for a solid month for basically the first time in his career.

"Zach Hueter is a guy who is finally healthy," Dantonio said. "He's a big 324-pound guy that can move, and Skyler Schofner is another guy that is going to be a tremendous football player for us. Ethan Ruhland plays in there a little bit and John Deyo and I'm sure I'm missing somebody but the thing that is so positive about our offensive line is right now we've got numbers. Even though we have some guys that are banged up and may be out today, we've got numbers at that position and those are positives things for us and it is an athletic offensive line."

Sophomore offensive tackle David Barrent is out with continued back soreness.

"David Barrent's backs situation is a factor," Dantonio said. "So we have to work our way through that."

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