The Michigan State roster was already set in place when Mel Tucker arrived in East Lansing in February 2020. The national signing day was quickly approaching and then the pandemic came and shut down all efforts to try to improve the roster immediately.
Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker coached through his first season with a roster full of guys he did not recruit. He coached with former Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio’s guys in the 2020-21 season, going 2-5 overall with improbable victories against Michigan and Northwestern but routinely getting blown out by Big Ten Opponents.
Tucker was not happy with the results and decided to revamp the roster entering his second season at the helm. He wanted the team to be faster and stronger; more athletes on the field that understand the coaching staff’s system and could compete at the highest level in the Big Ten.
With that, Tucker decided to invest heavily into the transfer portal. MSU began recruiting every big name in the portal while the iron was hot during an offseason unlike any other before as thousands of student-athletes entered the transfer portal.
The offseason aggression paid off for MSU as they secured 20 new players through the portal. Tucker has been adamant throughout the summer and fall camp that every position is open and every player, transfers included, will have a chance to start right away.
MSU’s openness about wanting to overhaul the roster this year led to 14 players from last year’s squad putting their name in the portal including starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi. The 20 new guys have the opportunity to put their imprint on the MSU team immediately and become contributing members of the rebuilding process.
The transfer portal players are coming in from across the country from various situations whether it is a key contributor from another power five school or a player that has not made an impact yet on the collegiate level. Here is a quick look at some of the new faces on the Spartans that could contribute immediately.
The new face that is getting the most attention is the former Temple Owls quarterback. Russo transferred to MSU in January and has firmly planted himself as a candidate for the starting quarterback position alongside Payton Thorne.
Russo was the starter for Temple for the past three years, leading the team to a 16-9 record in games that he started. He threw for 6,287 yards and 44 touchdowns but also threw 32 interceptions for the Owls.
Tucker has remained tight-lipped about the quarterback battle throughout the summer and fall camp. Russo and Thorne both have experience and the battle has worn on and entered the final week of the preseason. The rest of the coaching staff has not given an indication on who will be under center at Northwestern on Sept. 3, but there’s a chance that it is the Temple transfer.
Kenneth Walker III
Another new addition that could have a massive impact on offense is running back Kenneth Walker III, who transferred from Wake Forest to MSU in January following the 2020 season. Walker was a standout for his first two years at Wake Forest, rushing for 1,158 yards and 17 touchdowns in 20 games and averaging just over five yards a carry.
He has a chance to have an immediate impact in the Spartan backfield after the Spartans had one of the worst rushing seasons in school history by only rushing for 640 yards on the season and with no running back scoring a touchdown all season. Walker’s knack for big plays could provide an immediate jolt to the MSU offense and add an explosive element that was sorely missed in 2020.
Walker will be joining a crowded backfield that is returning three players that have each started at some point for MSU in Connor Heyward, Elijah Collins and Jordon Simmons. Walker has a great opportunity to claim the starting position if he can translate the success from Wake Forest to MSU given the struggles of the other running backs last year.
The other transfer that could have an immediate impact on Michigan State’s rushing game is offensive tackle Jarrett Horst. The 6-foot 6-inches, 305-pound transfer from Arkansas State will provide instant size and aggressiveness that Tucker has craved from his front five since taking over. Horst was named to the All-Sun Belt third team in 2019 and played in 20 games over two seasons.
Horst, much like Walker, can provide an instant upgrade to MSU’s offense right away. AJ Arcuri was the starting left tackle for all seven games last season, but struggled along with the rest of the offensive line. Horst and Arcuri both have the size that offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic and Tucker want on the line and both could see time if the starter struggles.
On the defensive side of the ball, MSU added transfers that can compete for a starting position at all three levels, trying to improve on a lackluster defense in 2020 (396.7 YAPG, 54th in the country). A name amongst the group of defensive transfers to watch for is Tennessee transfer Quavaris Crouch. Crouch is competing for a starting linebacker position to replace Antjuan Simmons, the focal point and leading tackler of MSU’s defense last year.
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Crouch appeared in 23 games and started 11 in two seasons for Tennessee. He racked up 85 tackles and two forced fumbles as the middle linebacker for the Volunteers. Crouch also played some running back and scored a rushing touchdown against Indiana in the 2020 Gator bowl.
Crouch has been mentioned by the coaching staff a lot during fall camp and could slide into the hole left by Simmons’ departure. Noah Harvey will return and is expected to be starting again and the other linebacker position is up for grabs between Crouch, Chase Kline, Michigan transfer Ben VanSumeren and Minnesota transfer Itayvion Brown.
Drew Jordan is a graduate transfer defensive end from Duke. Jordan appeared in 48 games for the Blue Devils, compiling 102 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in four years. Jordan enrolled in Michigan State in January and participated in spring practice.
Jordan will be joining team captain Drew Beesley as defensive ends with over four years of college experience for MSU. He will be featured in MSU’s rotation on the defensive line, whether he is out there for the first snap as the starter or not, joining Beesley, Michael Fletcher, Jacub Panasiuk and Jack Camper at defensive end.
These are only five of the 20 players that transferred to MSU this offseason and the other 15 could become key contributors this year for MSU as well. Other transfers like Alabama transfer Ronald Williams at cornerback could be starting or playing a significant amount at Northwestern on Sept. 3 and throughout the season.
Complete List of Transfers:
Anthony Russo, QB - Temple
Kenneth Walker III, RB - Wake Forest
Harold Joiner, RB - Auburn
Christian Fitzpatrick, WR - Louisville
Maliq Carr, WR/TE - Purdue
Powers Warren, TE - Mississippi State
Jarrett Horst, OT - Arkansas State
Brandon Baldwin, OT - Independence Community College
Drew Jordan, DE- Duke
Quavaris Crouch, LB - Tennessee
Ben VanSumeren, LB - Michigan
Itayvion Brown, LB - Minnesota
Samih Beydoun, LB - Army
Ronald Williams, CB - Alabama
Chester Kimbrough, CB - Florida
Kendell Brooks, CB - North Greenville
Marqui Lowery Jr., CB - Louisville
Khary Crump, CB - Arizona
Spencer Rowland, CB - Wheaton College
Cory Waddell, Punter - Texas Tech
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