By Adam Biggers
The early departure of running back Edwin Baker will force the Michigan State Spartans to look toward others for offensive production this fall—and so will the loss of three of their top receivers.
While Michigan State has will-be junior Le'Veon Bell—who rushed for a team-high 948 yards in 2011—returning, the backfield will miss Baker's contributions. His ability to break off a big run and bounce off tacklers for a gain can't be immediately replaced.
Bell showed he can both run and catch last season, but the Spartans need another threat.
Larry Caper can add to the offense with his versatility in the absence of Baker, who was in the same recruiting class. Being able to lean on Caper will cause defenses to emphasize him, while possibly freeing up Bell.
Having a capable two-back force is almost necessary in college football.
Caper had a respectable freshman year in which he scored the game-winning touchdown in Michigan State's 26-20 win over Michigan. That season, Caper demonstrated his ability to turn receptions into gains with three catches for 47 yards.
While not the first option, Caper can make catches. He had 10 for 86 yards last season (missed six games), and he could be more of a target for quarterback Andrew Maxwell come fall. Caper didn't see many carries while healthy in 2011 because Bell and Baker shouldered the load. He saw limited throws because B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin were two of Kirk Cousins' mainstays.
Caper will likely play more of a receiver's role in 2012, as his past two seasons' statistics suggest. He had 12 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore.
The Spartans offense is in a transition: It's ushering a new quarterback, grooming receivers, and most likely looking for a way to fill in the hole Baker left. Michigan State has the young talent to plug in those holes. But Caper, who will be a senior, will be have to be one of the most important producers.