March 3, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS - While the focus of the NFL Scouting Combine is on the rookie class for the upcoming NFL Draft in May, msuspartans.com also had a chance to visit with several media members from around the country last week in Indianapolis about the state of the Spartan football program after its historic 2013 season in which MSU finished No. 3 in the national polls, won a school-record 13 games and defeated Stanford in the 100th Rose Bowl Game.
Here's what the media had to say about Michigan State:
Bill Polian, ESPN analyst and former Indianapolis Colts president/general manager
On the staff at Michigan State...
"When you talk about the top coaches in America, Mark Dantonio is in that group. From the NFL standpoint, Michigan State is a place that you like to get kids from because: A) they're disciplined; B) they've been in a program that is as demanding as the NFL; and C) their training is so good, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, that they're ready to play when they come right in because they're used to NFL techniques. They play press coverage; they play multiple coverages; they pattern match; and their techniques and fundamentals are so sound. There's a reason why they've won as many games as they have, and there's a reason why they turn out as many NFL players as they do because Mark and his staff do such a great job of running a program that's about as close to the NFL as you can find at the college level."
On Michigan State's ability to develop NFL talent...
"It says two things. First, they're tracking the right kids. They have good personnel judgment. It doesn't matter what we say in the media. It's what you see in the player, so they're getting players who have the ability to play in the NFL. It's just that they're not recognized by the recruiting services. So good for them, that's to their benefit.
"And secondly, they get them ready to play in the NFL. They take the raw talent that they get - perhaps, not highly visible when they first come to Michigan State - and then they develop them into guys who are ready to play the minute they step into the National Football League. But the most important part is that they're recognizing that talent. If you translated that to the NFL, they've got one of the best personnel departments in all of college football because that's what causes you to win all of these games. Getting those collegiate free agents, getting those low draft choices that's the equivalent of what they're recruiting at the college level, and they're hitting on virtually every one of them."
Mike Mayock, NFL Network
On the Spartan football program...
"(Michigan State is) a top-level team. They're a top-level program, and the facilities are fantastic. Coach (Mark Dantonio) has done a great job.
"One of my favorite games of the year was Michigan State-Stanford. That was two well-coached, tough teams that got after each other. It was a testament to Coach Dantonio and his staff how well they played and how tough they were. I always know when I put a Michigan State tape in I'm going to see a well-coached, disciplined group of kids. I like putting Michigan State tapes on to compare other Big Ten players when I'm getting ready for the draft. I purposely put Michigan State film in there because I want to see how they hang in there for 60 minutes after being grinded on by Michigan State."
Bruce Feldman, senior college football columnist for CBSSports.com
On winning the last two games of the season against No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Stanford...
"That was a big statement for (Michigan State). Everybody was watching Ohio State to see what they did and there was the Auburn dynamic playing into it. The way Michigan State closed out that (Big Ten Championship Game) was really impressive. Being at the Rose Bowl and the way they finished out (the Stanford game), I think it elevated the brand a lot. Michigan State was a very well respected Big Ten program, but after last year, I feel like it pushed the brand national to a large degree because of Ohio State game and the performance in the Rose Bowl."
On Michigan State's defense...
"People know the names change on defense, but they play great football. They shut people down; they shut the run down; and they've got a unique scheme. What's a little different here now is the quarterback situation and I know Kirk Cousins was a terrific quarterback, but I felt like after Kirk it was like `hey, what's going on here.' Once Connor (Cook) got settled, the team took off. It's going to be interesting to see what he's going to do moving forward."
On if Michigan State become a regular contender for a Big Ten West Division title?
"I think so. You know they're going to be really good on defense, and they're going to be really physical. You lose some starters on the offensive line, but there's so much experience and depth back across the board. That's a big key. Getting more of an identity at quarterback on offense helps. And if you play great defense, you're going to be in a lot of games."
On the player development at Michigan State...
"What is helping now is kids are seeing that they can go to Michigan State and know they're going to be developed. We're here (at the NFL Scouting Combine) and Darqueze Dennard is a great story, not only for Michigan State fans, but he's a great story for under-the-radar recruits. He was the 2-star guy and that 2-star guy was the best defensive back in college football (last season). There are other guys like that.
"A few years ago, you lose a great middle linebacker and four or five of your top tacklers and somehow the defense gets better. The Shilique Calhoun story is another example kids see. It helps when people know your head coach is just a really good football guy. He's not flashy. He's not a slick-salesman type; he's just a real football guy. That seems like the brand of Michigan State. We've seen it in other programs, like Stanford. Physical football is in their DNA physical football and kids eventually buy into. That's now what's going on with Michigan State."
Charles Davis, NFL Network and FOX Sports
On Michigan State's 2013 season...
"It's hard to believe anyone was (playing better football than Michigan State at the end of last season). You'd have to say Florida State because they won the National Championship and the way Auburn finished the year, but Michigan State would not have backed down from anyone. Michigan State would have gleefully accepted any challenge and it would have been fun. A Michigan State-Florida State match-up would have been a blast because the teams play similar styles in a lot of ways. You know both want to be physical and both run.
"Michigan State runs better than what people give them credit for. Getting into that type of a game when you get into the fourth quarter and make the other team sweat, that would have been a fun one because Michigan State is very comfortable in that type of a situation."
On the state of the MSU program...
"What Mark Dantonio and his staff have done with that program, they're at the level now that it's a surprise if they're not contending (for a championship), as witnessed two seasons ago when the team finished 7-6. You're like what happened to Michigan State? And then they came back this season and all of a sudden, it was pound Green pound again and off they went.
"The beauty of it is Mark Dantonio had a vision. He has a formula for what he wants done. He believes in it and doesn't deviate from it. A lot of guys after a 7-6 year go `oh, we've got to change everything. This has to go and this didn't work.' No, they took a step back and took a deep breath. Okay, this didn't happen here, and this didn't happen here. And by the way, out of our losses, most of them were pretty close. So we're just missing a little bit of a piece.
"Then the way he managed the quarterback situation last year where kids still felt valuable even though they weren't getting the job. That was masterful because you know as well as I know when a quarterback doesn't get a job now what does he do? I'm outta here. I'm going to transfer. I'm gone because I can't play here. They're all hanging around, trying to do their best. He's built the program for the long haul by building it on his principles, on his character, and on his integrity. Phenomenal job."
Jim Miller, Sirius/XM NFL analyst
On the Michigan State program...
"No. 1, (I'm impressed with) how they go to work every week. Every week is a big challenge and Mark Dantonio and his staff do a great job getting the team focused. Early in the season, it looked like there was a lot of uncertainty. The team could have fractured and gone in a different direction, but they got close-knit, tightened it up. They focused on the task at hand, and they got it done. So I was extremely proud of the Michigan State Spartans last year."
On the end of the 2013 season...
"Obviously when you knock off a team that's undefeated (Ohio State), Michigan State showed a lot of backbone; a lot of grit. I think they were a tougher team, but the bottom line is they earned it. They knew what they were working for and it was something bigger. Ohio State was in the way, and they got it done. That was a big challenge but even after taking care of Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, there was no let down. The team stayed focused; they stayed on a high and got their energies focused toward Stanford in the Rose Bowl. It was a goal that was accomplished, but make no mistake about it, Michigan State earned it every bit of the way."
On MSU's defense...
"It says a lot about their coaching style. No. 1, they run a great scheme. Pat Narduzzi is one of the better defensive coordinators in all of college football and that's why he's been getting a lot interest whether it's through pro teams or other college programs. It's about being able to communicate to the players each week the game plan - what needs to be executed to win a game. And for 14 weeks of the season, Michigan State's defense was ranked No. 1. That says it all about the job the coaches have done at Michigan State and for the players for going out and getting it done."
On MSU's recruiting...
"The coaches do a great job of recruiting players around the country. No. 1, they don't look for stars. You always hear about these five-star and four-star recruits, but you recruit the individual. You recruit the kid that's going to fit your program the best and represent Michigan State football the best. It's hard to identify heart. It's hard to identify toughness. Those are intangibles that are sometimes unscoutable. Michigan State does a great job identifying the type of player that they want to represent its program."
On MSU's player development...
"It says a lot about the coaching staff because they maximize the talent since Mark Dantonio has been there. I go back to Kellen Davis when he played both defensive end and tight end. Here's Jeremy Langford: they're trying to find him a position. Is he a receiver? Is he a cornerback? They have some depth issues at running back, and what does Jeremy Langford do, he takes off and has a great season. He had a couple of great 100-yard rushing games. He ran tough; he ran with grit and again he earned it. You have to give the kid a lot of credit because he's a great athlete and he finally found a home as the starting running back. So again, you credit the coaches for identifying talent and you credit Jeremy Langford for not giving up, not quitting when he really didn't have a position to settle in at."