Michigan State Spartans tight ends Josiah Price and Jamal Lyles enter the 2014 season in situations that would have been hard to imagine just one year ago.
Price entered last season as a redshirt freshman without the big bucks potential that his name would suggest, having attracted most of his recruiting interest from MAC programs and a few of the Big Ten‘s struggling squads. Lyles, meanwhile, didn’t event start last season at tight end, converting to the position during week two of his own redshirt freshman campaign. Under the radar may not have adequately summed the duo’s status with the eventual Big Ten champion Spartans.
Today, a year removed from their first collegiate snaps, Price and Lyles are expected to be vital elements to the continued success of the MSU offense.
Following 2013’s rapid transformation into one of the conference’s most capable units, the Michigan State offensive attack is on the verge of becoming one feared enough to complement the team’s elite defensive group. While it may take a leap, a bound and maybe a hop for the MSU offense to get on par with the defense, the return of Rose Bowl Offensive MVP Connor Cook at QB, 1,000-plus yard rusher Jeremy Langford and various threats at wide receiver will certainly demand respect from opposing defensive coordinators. The final push that could put the Spartans over the top, however, lies with their improved, experienced and deep tight end unit.
Price should be one of the conference’s top receiving tight ends this season, with plenty of success in his first game experience (17 receptions for 210 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games) to suggest he can be counted on in 2014. Despite an abrupt switch during the season, Lyles also proved to be a reliable option for MSU, hauling in five passes for 58 yards in limited opportunities. Now that he “feels like a tight end”, the imposing 6-foot-4, 253-pound Lyles will in the very least be another option in Cook’s arsenal that defenses will need to keep an eye on.
The deep group will also provide opportunities to several other Spartans, including redshirt senior Andrew Gleichert and redshirt junior Paul Lang, who may not pose as playmakers but offer experience at the position that is always of value. There is also redshirt freshman Dylan Chmura, son of former Green Bay Packers tight end Mark Chmura, who has earned praise for his play during MSU’s spring practices.
Last season, with MSU reeling from the somewhat unexpected early departure of Dion Sims to the NFL, the Spartans’ tight ends only accounted for a combined 28 catches, 317 yards and five touchdowns after offering nearly 500 yards with Sims and company in 2012. The 2014 group, however, could offer even more production than the 2012 unit, as former Ohio State Buckeyes offensive coordinator and NFL tight ends coach Jim Bollman will have yet another season to tutor the young, but eager unit.
“Tight end is a very unique position,” Bollman said near the end of last season. “The good Lord did not put enough guys on the earth that can do all the different things you would like to do at that position.”
MSU might just have two of them.