EAST LANSING – Elijah Collins was a bright spot for an otherwise putrid Michigan State offense in 2019.
As a redshirt freshman, he broke out for 988 yards and five touchdowns while earning third-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and Pro Football Focus.
Under new head coach Mel Tucker, Collins seemed poise to repeat his stellar performances, which included rushing for 100 yards in three contests. However, the success he experienced didn't hold up.
The 6-foot-1 tailback carried the ball 41 times for just 90 yards and zero scores in 2020. He appeared in all seven games but never returned to form, nor did Collins start.
Instead, Jordon Simmons led the Spartans with 219 yards, and Connor Heyward backed him up on 65 carries for 200 yards.
Even so, Tucker has been impressed with Collins through four weeks of spring practice.
"I like what Elijah's doing. He's gained weight, he's gotten stronger, he looks more explosive, he's hitting the hole with velocity, he's keeping his feet moving on contact, and he's falling forward for two," said Tucker. "He's running with authority."
Entering his fourth year with MSU, Collins has plenty of competition for the starting job.
After the staff moved Brandon Wright to defensive end, Michigan State features five running backs in Heyward, Collins, Simmons, Donovan Eaglin, and Kenneth Walker III, a transfer from Wake Forest who ran for 1,158 yards and 17 scores in 20 games.
The room is scheduled to get even more crowded during fall camp when Auburn transfer Harold Joiner and 2021 signee Davion Primm join the program.
Michigan State is predominantly known for its stable of backs, but in recent years, including last season, the Spartans haven't been able to run the ball effectively.
The Spartans finished 122nd in the nation at 91.4 yards per game, the school's lowest output since 1947. Walker, Joiner, and even Collins have an opportunity to turn it around this fall.
"I like the way he's trending; he's improving. He and I have sat down and had conversations about it," Tucker said. "He's very focused, and he knows that his best football is ahead of him."
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