Michigan State Football: Replacing Kenneth Walker III Not As Important As Developing Offensive Line
This time last year, practically no one in the Michigan State fanbase was familiar with the name Kenneth Walker III. Now, many are wondering who will step up and try to take his place for the Spartans.
But that's missing the real issue.
Walker was spectacular for MSU last season, to say the least. He rushed for 1,636 yards in 12 games, averaged 6.2 yards per carry, and scored 19 touchdowns, all but one of which came on the ground. It was so much production that Walker earned Heisman Trophy consideration, especially after his "Heisman moment" in the Spartans' 37-33 win in a Top 10 clash with arch-rival Michigan. That victory was keyed by Walker's electric playmaking as he ran for 197 yards on 23 carries for five touchdowns against a good, stingy Michigan defense.
But perhaps most impressive was that Walker put up dazzling numbers with a mediocre, inconsistent offensive line in front of him. That's obviously not something just anyone can do. And given the state of MSU's offensive line heading into the 2022 season, Spartan fans should be more focused on that unit instead of fixating on whether Mel Tucker can reprise the transfer portal magic he worked a year go with MSU's newcomer backs, Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard.
MSU returns four offensive lineman with significant playing experience from last year's group — Matt Carrick, J.D. Duplain, Jarrett Horst, and Nick Samac — which started strong but had shaky moments against strong front-sevens, like Michigan and Ohio State. Tucker also added a veteran center/guard in Washington State transfer Brian Greene. Tackle Spencer Brown made his first start in the Peach Bowl.
The Spartans have even less offensive-line depth this year than they did in 2021, making it their obvious No. 1 issue to address in fall camp. Walker was a bonafide NFL talent, the kind that will be hard to replace and/or recreate. A safer and surer route to success for State is through a retooled but reliable offensive line.
If Michigan State wants to replicate its magical 2021 campaign, it will need its offensive line to take a step forward, both in making life easier on Walker's replacement(s) and in giving quarterback Payton Thorne a better chance against strong pass rushes.
If the Spartans' O-Line develops and is able to consistently push around defensive fronts, it won't matter who's carrying the rock for Michigan State — they'll be an effective, productive offense.