EAST LANSING — Jarek Broussard slid under the tent, shuffled his feet around his trainer and pads on the turf and through the tunnel.
In Michigan State football drills on the first day of practice Thursday, he looked like one of the guys. In the coming weeks, coach Mel Tucker hopes to have a better idea if the former Colorado running back can be the one to replace and follow in Kenneth Walker III’s footsteps as an immediate impact transfer to lead the precipitous attack of the Spartans.
“The biggest challenge is what to do in this program,” Tucker said of Broussard, who only arrived at MSU in May. “What we ask him to do is know the games and the terminology and things like that. And he was familiar with that, but it was a little.
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Walker proved to be a key portal addition for Tucker as he helped MSU go 11-2 and finish No. 8 in the nation.
After splitting his time at Wake Forest his first two years, Walker became one of the country’s best and easily most impactful transfers last season, winning both the Walter Camp National Player of the Year award and the Doak Walker award as the nation’s leading running back. The consensus first-team All-American finished first among Power Five players with 1,636 rushing yards (the fourth-best season in school history) on 263 carries and averaging 136.3 yards per game. Walker produced 1,168 of his yards after contact. He also finished tied for eighth nationally with 18 rushing touchdowns, which is tied for fifth most in a season by a Spartan.
It also turned Walker into a unique new phenomenon in the transfer era, heading to Seattle in the second round of the NFL Draft as the 41st overall pick. And his December entry into the draft left a huge void for the Spartans.
Without Walker in the Peach Bowl win over Pitt, MSU only had 46 rushing yards on 24 carries from Jordon Simmons, Elijah Collins and Harold Joiner. In late November, the Spartans added Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger, who signed up in January and attended spring training.
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Then in late January, Broussard — the 2020 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year — announced his intention to reunite with Tucker. He arrived at MSU this summer with two seasons of eligibility remaining.
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Dallas native suffered ACL injuries in his first two seasons at Colorado, redshirting like a proper freshman in 2018, then sitting out Tucker’s only season at Boulder in 2019 after a second knee operation.
“It’s been a few years since we’ve had him, but you can see he’s just more mature,” Tucker said. “These guys are growing up. … And that’s what you see these guys And then obviously from a physical standpoint he’s just taller.
In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Broussard rushed for 895 yards in six games, an average of 162.6 per game that ranked third in the Football Bowl Subdivision. He added five touchdown points to earn first-team All-Pac-12 honors and an honorable mention All-American.
“He’s an explosive player. He’s an explosive athlete. You can kind of see the way he’s built,” Tucker said. “He runs with power and he’s got quickness and he’s got speed. He busted in traffic, he has a very good conscience and good instincts, and he’s a credible receiver out of the backfield.
“He’s just generally a football player. He loves to play football.
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Starting 10 of his 11 games last season, Broussard rushed for 661 rushing yards on 142 carries with two touchdowns to earn an All-Pac-12 honorable mention, but he missed the season finale against the eventual champion. of the Utah league due to non-COVID illness. .
“He has the tools. … I think he’s got good vision in the backfield and he’s got good hands. So I think we’re going to do a lot with him,” MSU quarterback Payton Thorne said of Broussard. “And it’ll be interesting to see what kind of player he can be here, because obviously we know what Ken was and all. You saw Ken last year in summer training, and you knew that guy was going to to be a stallion.
Broussard arrives and joins a crowded competition with the Spartans.
Simmons was Walker’s main backup last season and over two seasons he had 497 yards on 126 carries without a touchdown. Collins rushed for nearly 1,000 yards as a redshirt rookie in 2019 but has struggled with illness and injury the past two seasons.
Joiner arrived last season as a transfer from Auburn, finishing with 43 yards on 13 carries. Berger has rushed for 389 yards on 84 attempts with three touchdowns in seven games over the past two seasons at Wisconsin.
And by adding Broussard as the fourth running back transfer in the past two seasons, Tucker has shown he plans to remain aggressive in leveling positions if needed.
“Players know we’re going to add guys to the team every year, whether they’re coming from high school or transferring,” Tucker said. “And it’s always been that way.”
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Offensive lineman Matt Carrick is back in uniform for drills after leg surgery cut short his 2021 season and forced him to miss spring training.
Tucker said he plans to slowly bring the senior up as he returns to the field and battles for the starting spot at right guard.
“We’re trying to give it some (repeat),” Tucker said, “and then we’re going to give it some more and then build it.”
The offensive line was decimated by injuries in the spring, forcing MSU to modify its spring work on offense and move two defensive linemen for healthy bodies. In Thursday’s 15-minute open game practice, there were no red jerseys or offensive linemen sitting on the side.
“We had so many injuries in the spring it was hard to even see who the hell we had,” Thorne said of the big guys ahead of him.
Only a few players during drills wore red jerseys, signifying injuries: cornerback Ronald Williams, wide receiver Terry Lockett Jr. and defensive end Avery Dunn. Chester Kimbrough did not wear a red shirt but did not work with cornerbacks, instead going through individual work on the side of the pitch.
Tucker said one of the biggest positional battles he was watching was at kicker, where he said rookie Jack Stone and second walker Stephen Rusnak were battling to replace six-year prop Matt Coghlin.
“At the end of practice, we scored PAT field goals,” Tucker said, “so I had a really close eye on our kicking situation with Rusty and Jack Stone.”