Here's how Michigan State football plans to replace the departed 72% of its passing game

EAST LANSING — It isn’t just the departures of Payton Thorne, Keon Coleman and Jayden Reed that will impact Michigan State football’s passing offense this fall.
Yes, Thorne delivered historic numbers over the past two seasons at quarterback. Yes, Coleman and Reed showed game-breaking ability and a knack for clutch catches.
But while Coleman (now at Florida State) and Reed (now in the NFL) formed the bulk of what the Spartans will need to replace in the receiving game, they aren’t the only ones whose absence will be felt.
MSU lost eight players at wide receiver, tight end and running back from last year’s 5-7 team; they caught 177 passes combined for 2,071 yards and 16 touchdowns. Or, put another way, 66.7% of the Spartans’ TDs, 68.9% of their receptions and nearly 72% of the overall passing production.
That's on top of trading a 26-game starter who threw for nearly 6,500 yards as a Spartan for two returning quarterbacks who own a combined 44 collegiate snaps between them.
But those who remain are hungry for their chance to see more balls come their way, Montorie Foster said after Thursday’s first practice of preseason camp.
“All of our guys, we already got a chip on our shoulder to shoulder this year,” the veteran wide receiver said. “We just can't wait to show you guys when it's game time.”
Foster appears primed to join fellow senior Tre Mosley as one of the starting wideouts, with plenty of competition for the third starting spot.
Mosley is the only established commodity, coming off a season as the No. 3 option behind Reed and Coleman, as well as being the third choice behind Reed and Jalen Nailor two years ago. He started 21 of his 36 games in his first four years as a Spartan and became the 48th receiver in school history to eclipse 1,000 yards for his career last fall.
The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Pontiac native caught 35 passes for 530 yards and three touchdowns in 2021. Last season, Mosley equaled those 35 grabs and snagged a career-high four touchdowns, though he finished with only 359 yards and saw his yards per catch drop from 15.1 two years ago to 10.3 in 2022.
“Whenever you lose good players, it's hard. But that's when you have the next guy,” he said at last month's Big Ten media days in Indianapolis. “You got other guys on the team who are capable. They just have been waiting patiently for the opportunity. It's not always one guy feels in the shoes for someone who departs. But if everyone elevates your game, then we'll be fine. I'm very, very confident that the team's gonna step up and elevate.”
Foster enters his fourth season in the program, coming off a foot injury that required screws and limited him to just seven catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns over 10 games last season. The former high school basketball star started once as a true freshman in 2020 and made three starts in 2021, when he caught 12 passes for 164 yards and a TD.
Foster and Mosley have become mentors for the rest of the receiving room.
“I see Montorie Foster, he's been working hard,” said junior quarterback Noah Kim, who is battling redshirt freshman Katin Houser to replace Thorne. “He's been a little bit more vocal now, he's showing the young guys basically the ropes on how they need to do things, how they need to practice, how they need to run their routes, being very technical with everything. And so I think that's one of the things coach Hawk and coach Johnson and all them want to see out of Montorie and some of the other receivers in there.”
The Spartans finished 57th nationally with 240 yards passing per game last season but ranked just 98th at 11.16 yards per completion.
Kim took a page out of Thorne’s playbook this offseason to try and connect with his wide receivers. Mosley, Foster and junior Christian Fitzpatrick trekked to Kim’s Northern Virginia home for a boot camp of sort, staying with him and his parents. It was similar to how Thorne (now at Auburn) invited anyone who wanted to go to his home town just outside of Chicago to work out with him, Reed and Cade McDonald (now at Miami, Ohio) — all high school teammates — the past few summers.
“We worked really hard this offseason, through the winter, the spring and the summer, meeting with the guys,” said Kim, who went 14-for-17 for 174 yards with three touchdowns in limited reps over four games last season. “We were on the field doing seven-on-sevens, just doing stuff after workouts, running routes on air and stuff like that. All those things got us to where we are now. And we have a lot of work to do, but I feel confident in them.”
Said Mosley, “Guys are buying in. Whenever you get your guys to buy in, it makes the process so much easier. There's no pushback, there's no rebuttal from anybody. I appreciate that from the guys, because we're all in this together. And we go as far as we do as a team.”
Behind the experienced returnees, it will be a battle between veteran transfers and up-and-coming youngsters for the No. 3 spot.
Fitzpatrick, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound Southfield product, enters his third season at MSU after transferring from Louisville. He caught just two passes for 17 yards last season. The Spartans also added senior transfer Alante Brown from Nebraska, where he caught 16 passes for 191 yards a year ago after producing just six catches for 71 yards in his first two seasons.
MSU lost former four-star recruit Germie Bernard after his one season, though it will see him again when Washington visits East Lansing on Sept. 16. Despite that, the rest of last year’s recruiting haul — including sophomore Tyrell Henry and redshirt freshmen Antonio Gates Jr. and Jaron Glover — look ready to step in as significant contributors. So could freshmen Jaelen Smith and Aziah Johnson.
The second-year receivers are the ones who pique Tucker’s curiosity most after watching them in practice last season.
“The key to it is consistency in performance, doing it day in and day out,” Tucker said Thursday. “They all can run, they got good ball skills, they can catch, they're smart, they're competitive, they're willing blockers. I just think with really good practice habits and really good competition, and coach (Courtney Hawkins) coaching those guys up, I think they will become more consistent. But that's the next step, because there's no doubt that they have the talent to be able to do it.”
Two newcomers at running back arrived via the transfer portal — Nathan Carter and Jaren Mangham — but Jalen Berger is the lone returnee with meaningful receiving stats out of the backfield from a year ago: 19 catches for 128 yards. MSU lost 28 catches and 146 yards from Elijah Collins (now at Oklahoma State) and Jarek Broussard (turned pro).
And at tight end, junior Malik Carr is the lone returnee with any receiving stats of significance as a Spartan after catching 16 passes for 209 yards with two touchdowns and finishing strong in the final few games. MSU lost veterans Daniel Barker (21 catches, 239 yards, two TDs) and Tyler Hunt (15 catches, 98 yards).
Tucker brought in transfers Tyneil Hopper from Boise State, Jaylan Franklin from Wisconsin and Ademola Faleye from Norfolk State to help add experience, with four-star freshman Brennan Paracheck and redshirt freshmen Jack Nickel and Michael Masaunus awaiting their first action.
And as is often the case for inexperienced starting quarterbacks, their tight ends can be the most important aid in getting them settled into passing as the defenses are faster and more aggressive than what they experienced in high school.
“All those guys are receiving threats,” Tucker said in Indianapolis. “Tight end is a big part of our offense. We don't have a scheme where where a tight end is not on the field. … Those are talented guys that had good springs, and they can help them to passing game as well. So we're not going to leave it up to one guy.”

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