Grinz on Green Blog
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist | Grinz on Green Blog
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Larry Caper could revolutionize the fullback position at Michigan State as we know it.
A tailback by trade, Caper kicked off what could turn out to be a stunning new trend with a singular carry out of a three-point stance in front of tailback Le'Veon Bell in the I-formation.
What's significant about that otherwise routine 5-yard rush is that it came in the first half of last Friday's season-opening win against Boise State.
Last season, fullback Todd Anderson had one carry for 1 yard in 14 games. In 2010, Spartan fullbacks combined for zero rushes. Three years ago, starting fullback Andrew Hawken had one rush for minus-1 yard.
With the exception of an occasional pass thrown in his direction, the fullback at Michigan State has been used almost exclusively as a blocker in recent memory. From 2003-06, the Spartans didn't even have a fullback on the roster.
Caper, however, could reawaken a tradition that's been all but dormant since Levi Jackson rumbled 88 yards for the game-winning touchdown against No. 1 Ohio State in 1974.
"They're just trying to find opportunities to give me the ball or get me out in space to make blocks for Le'Veon," Caper said heading into Saturday's game at Central Michigan. "Anything they want me to do to make the team better, I'll do it.
"I'm ready for whatever, pretty much. I'll definitely give my body up."
Fullbacks weren't always glorified guards at MSU. Bob Apisa earned All-America honors as Clinton Jones' running mate in 1965-66 and Gerald Planutis led the Spartans in scoring while garnering All-America accolades in 1955.
Caper, a senior, fits the profile of former Michigan State great and All-American Sonny Grandelius, a halfback/fullback hybrid who became just the 17th 1,000-yard rusher in college football history with a then school-record 1,023 yards in 1950.
Against the Broncos, Caper lined up in front Bell on a few occasions and as the tailback when Bell was taking a breather. He finished with 11 yards on three carries.
Featuring Caper in such a way gives offensive coordinator Dan Roushar another proven weapon opposing defensive coordinators have to take into account while game-planning for the Spartans.
Caper rushed for a team-high 468 yards and six touchdowns on 120 carries in '09. For his career, he has 739 yards and nine touchdowns and 25 receptions for 266 yards and two touchdowns.
At 5-foot-11, 222 pounds, Caper isn't looking to replace 6-1, 250-pound Niko Palazeti at the point of attack on power runs.
However, Caper provides a new dimension that's been absent from the MSU offense.
"It definitely puts a hamper on defensive coordinators to have to game-plan for two guys coming out of the backfield, whether I'm blocking, carrying the ball or catching it," Caper said. "It's definitely a nightmare for defenses because if I do get the ball, it hits quick.
"If I'm going out to block a guy, I get there a little bit faster than our fullback or a lineman would. When (defenders) are looking at their keys, I'm already up on their toes so Le'Veon can get up in there. Niko is definitely athletic, and I don't want to take anything away from him, but I am a little bit faster."
GoG Notes & Quotes:
Caper and Nick Hill will continue to spell Bell, who had a career-high 44 carries against Boise State, at tailback.
Nevertheless, head coach Mark Dantonio said the Spartans will run with the "hot" back, regardless of who it is.
Bell remains motivated to keep his temperature up, but is also willing to share.
"If I feel like I'm in a nice rhythm, I definitely don't want to come out of the game," he said. "But at certain times I might need a breather and we've got backs to come in. Larry and Nick can carry the load, too. I just want to make sure I do everything the right way."
Although Bell appeared to be getting stronger as the night went on, he admitted to being a little sluggish and sore when he got out of bed Saturday morning. However, it was nothing compared to the shoulder problems he experienced a couple seasons ago.
"That really came down to working hard in the weight room," he said. "Me being a freshman, I didn't really take the weight room seriously. But after being hurt, I started taking it more seriously. I learned from my mistakes and now I can handle the banging.
"I feel like I'm conditioned enough to do it. I worked hard this summer and in practice to make sure my conditioning level is where it needs to be just in case I need to go a number of times, or if I have to be on special teams and like if we get to the fourth quarter and have to grind games out.
"I just need to run hard. The offensive line does a great job of opening holes, so once you see a hole, you have to make sure you take advantage of it, and when you get in the open field make guys miss. Whatever happens just happens after that."
Bell said his head isn't in the clouds from being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy contender after one game.
"It's a great feeling and everything, but I just put all those things aside," he said. "I don't pay too much attention to it. I just want to do whatever it takes for my team to win games."
Presumably, that includes more spectacular leaps over would-be tacklers the way he did against Boise State, much to the dismay of his mother, Lisa A. Bell, and Caper.
"I've been doing that for a long time now, and she always tells me to stop doing that," Bell said. "But, it just instinctively happens."
Said Caper, "I hate seeing him run in the air. It works for him and makes the crowd go `woo,' but I don't want to see him go in the air because anything could happen. I'm like his big brother and I don't want to see him get hit in the knees. That would hurt."
Some of the most treasured moments of bonding between a father and a son or daughter take place in a ballpark, stadium or arena.
Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell recalled how he experienced big-time college football for the first time with his dad, Mark, at Central Michigan University's Kelly/Shorts Stadium, not far from their home in Midland.
"Yeah, it's going to be a cool experience," Maxwell said. "I'm excited for it. Like you said, that's 35 minutes from my house. I grew up going to games there. My dad and I would go there almost every weekend that they had a game.
"A lot of my good friends go to Central, so they'll be in the student section, and that's going to be fun. It's going to be a cool atmosphere, and a lot of Michigan State fans will make the trip. I think that stadium will be about as full as it's ever been, so it will be a cool experience for both teams."
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