Between the departures of running back Kenneth Walker III and wide receiver Jalen Nailor for the NFL Draft, and a continually revolving offensive line, Michigan State’s offense may elicit more questions than it did prior to last season.
The fact is we didn’t know what to expect going into the 2021 campaign. Now, a committee of running backs will attempt to fulfill a newfound expectation for the ground game while a plethora of wide receivers gun for the starting “Z” receiver job.
Earlier this week, The Only Colors provided several observations about the defensive side of the football following the spring game. Now, we will take a look at what we saw from the offense.
The top playmaker is no secret:
Redshirt senior receiver Jayden Reed:
Since sitting out the 2019 season after transferring from Western Michigan, Reed brought much of what was lacking from MSU’s offense. His speed produced results offensively and on special teams, tallying 92 receptions for 1,433 yards and 16 total touchdowns (13 receiving, two punt returns and one rushing) in 20 career games for the Spartans.
In his junior season last year, Reed eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving with 10 touchdown catches en route to earning Offensive MVP in the Spartans’ Peach Bowl victory over Pittsburgh.
His punt return for a crucial late-game touchdown against Nebraska became the first points the punt return unit posted since Keshawn Martin in 2011. It’s safe to say Reed brings an X-factor, or, as he terms it, “juice,” the Spartans have lacked in recent years.
He truly plays bigger than his 6-foot-even, 185-pound frame, too. See his late touchdown grab in the Peach Bowl and a critical two-point grab against Michigan, each of which he completed through tight coverage.
“Not many people know how banged up he was last year,” redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne said of Reed Saturday. “He played through injury all year last year pretty much. And so he’s gotten healthy or healthier through the spring, which has been great for him. I see more burst from him, which, you know, he was fast last year, but now he’s getting in and out of his cuts.”
This might mitigate some of the concerns about the offense that Walker’s departure inspired. In the Peach Bowl, Reed aptly shouldered the burden of being the offense’s focal point. This season, that will have to become the norm.
Backup quarterback competition
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Noah Kim seems to have a lead:
Kim turned some heads Saturday. Well, he got my attention, at least. Through warmups, it became clear No. 12 was the most capable quarterback behind No. 10, Thorne. Then as the Spartans got into the scrimmage, Kim capitalized on his opportunity to prove his value, putting the ball only where Reed could grab it on a one-handed touchdown catch.
He has undoubtedly separated himself from redshirt freshman Hamp Fay and true freshman Katin Houser in the competition for the backup spot. Of course, Tucker is always hesitant to acknowledge such a thing this early, but his comments spoke volumes.
“Noah (Kim)...has a lot of talent,” Tucker said after the spring game. “He’s grown tremendously since he’s been here. It’s a competitive situation. Out there, you see Katin (Houser) and Hamp (Fay) and Noah (Kim). They’re all very talented guys. Noah’s willing to compete. He can throw it and he knows the system.”
Tucker said he expects the backup quarterback competition to go into fall camp, but Kim seems to be in the best position.
Running back committee:
It seems the Spartans might attempt to fill Walker’s void by committee. The biggest question remains of who will headline it. Gauging by Saturday, redshirt sophomore and Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger seems to be in the lead after garnering the offense’s first snaps at halfback.
“Jalen ran the ball well today,” Thorne said. “It’ll be a little different. We’re putting new stuff in. We’re just trying to get better as an offense. But… you know, (Kenneth Walker III) is a player that you’re not gonna be able to replicate. So it’s gonna be a little different this year.”
Redshirt freshman Oak Park product Davion Primm flashed his hands out of the backfield on a couple of occasions and has gotten a lot of buzz this spring.
That still leaves three redshirt seniors: 2020 Pac-12 offensive player of the year Jarek Broussard, who will reunite with Tucker from Colorado when he joins the program in the summer, former four-star recruit Harold Joiner, and U of D Jesuit product Elijah Collins, who nearly broke 1,000 yards rushing as a redshirt freshman in Dantonio’s final season. Junior Jordan Simmons wil lalso be in the mix.
Assuming Reed and redshirt junior Tre Mosely have two spots secured, the third receiver position is up for grabs.
Junior Montorie Foster, an alumnus of Cleveland’s St. Edwards, following the Dowell trio, suited up for all 13 of the Spartans’ games last season, the most notable being the contest against Maryland in which he filled in for an injured Nailor and tallied 52 yards and a touchdown in a victory.
Redshirt sophomore Christian Fitzpatrick, a Louisville transfer and Southfield native, caught just two passes last year, but his name has been gaining traction for the starting spot.
Sophomore Keon Coleman might be the most accomplished yet still has the most potential. After posting a touchdown score and seven receptions in the fall, the Louisiana native showed his athletic capability, scoring a basket late against Michigan at the Breslin Center. He became the first player to score points for an AP top-10 football and basketball team in the same season since Charlie Ward at FSU in 1992-1993.
Fifth-year senior tackle Jarrett Horst did not participate Saturday as he and multiple other offensive linemen were “banged up.” Redshirt sophomore tight end Maliq Carr also sat out with an apparent injury. Each are expected to start again this year after transferring in early 2021 from Arkansas State and Purdue, respectively.
As mentioned, the offensive line position in particular was really thin for the spring game, with just eight players — including two converted defensive linemen — suited up. In addition to Horst, projected starting left guard J.D. Duplain and right guard Matt Carrick missed the game.
Given the injuries at offensive line and other positions, and the open practice format of the “spring game,” it was hard to glean too much else from the 2022 offense, but there are certainly a lot of things to pay attention to heading into fall camp come August.