March 27, 2012
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio met with the media on Tuesday before the official start of spring practice in the afternoon. Among various topics, Dantonio talked about position changes, the depth of the offensive line, and why he feels comfortable about Andrew Maxwell taking over as the starting quarterback.
After Michigan State's first spring practice, several players visited with reporters, including junior linebacker Max Bullough, red-shirt freshman quarterback Connor Cook, sophomore free safety Kurtis Drummond, senior defensive tackle Tyler Hoover, sophomore wide receiver Tony Lippett and junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell.
Below is the complete transcript from Tuesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: In spring practice, I think every year we go about this, this is our sixth season here. It's amazing how fast things go. But to me, it's sort of the second phase of what we're doing right now in terms of getting ready for 2012. Winter conditioning is finished up. We went through 12 of those and I think had great success. Guys worked extremely hard.
Coming off 2011, we had a great football season, a bowl win, guys have done well in getting ready for the pro game. We had some guys play in the Super Bowl. Now it's on to 2012.
Really what we've got to do is try to build on what we've accomplished thus far, and I don't think that ever stops. I think you have a vision for where you want to go, a vision for the future, and you're trying to get there. Really, you continue to build. That's what we'll always do here.
I think we've laid a great foundation. We've won more maybe in the past couple years than maybe ever before. But with that being said, we're still not to where we need to go and we still have different things we need to be challenged with.
I think our football team right now, when you look at it, we've got a blend of experience coming back, but we also have youth. So when you look at our football team, if you want to look at it position by position, we've got a quarterback situation where we have a guy that will be a fourth year player for us. He'll be a red-shirt junior in Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook, a red-shirt freshman. But a lot in terms of he's been in the system. He's game ready. What he hasn't been able to do right now is be in front of a media situation as much, be in front of a live situation as much. But he's gotten the reps and I think he'll be an outstanding quarterback, Connor Cook as well.
Offensive line, more experience than we've ever had before. Seven starters back, tight end Dion Sims is back again, and we've got to find some answers there at the second, third, fourth guys that we play a lot of different tight ends. Our tailback situation is solid. Le'Veon Bell is back with Larry Caper in his fourth season, and Nick Hill in his second. I think Jeremy Langford is a guy with outstanding winter conditioning and looks poised going into his third year to be a real factor, I think, on this football team.
Wide receiver is a position we've lost a lot of players. When you really look at the guys we've lost, the majority maybe or two thirds of what we've got from our running attack back, but our wide receiver position and the yards and catches really has been sort of depleted in that area. The tight end with Linthicum, or whether it's with Keshawn Martin, and B.J. Cunningham, and Keith Nichol. So we're looking to replace those guys, obviously. So that's a position where we've addressed those needs in recruiting, and we're addressing those needs with position moves or different situations we're trying to deal with.
Defensively, we're back with a strong front seven, very strong front seven. Lose no linebackers. Lose two players on the defensive front, and return quite a few players. In the secondary we lose one. So we should be well off on the defensive side of the ball.
Then from a special teams standpoint, really get everybody back. We'll obviously look for another punt returner, and Nick Hill will fill that void. Our goals will always be to teach fundamentals in the spring and teach situations as well, so not just do we want to get fundamentally better, but better at handling the different situations that you have to handle in a football season.
We want to try to get 3 percent better every practice. That's something my head coach, my position coach really talked about in spring practice going way back in the 1970s. I think I still try to hold that to be true. So you're going to remain 97% of what you do will remain the same. If you can just change that 3% every day, you're going to become a more effective football player in the end. So that's what we're trying to do.
Develop new concepts, new ideas, new position changes and experiment with those different things. We also need to stay healthy, but guard against complacency, I would say. Regardless of where you're at, if you're the head coach here, position coach, position player, you need to look forward to the next thing and really guard in terms of being complacent in everything that we do.
We want to build for a championship and continue to develop confidence, develop experience, teach our young players, which is so critical at this time. We've got a lot of players who are red shirt freshmen. Should be tremendous players.
Really the last thing, and I would say probably the most important thing of all is we need to earn our jerseys, whether you're a coach here, whether you're some part of our staff. I don't care what element that is whether you're a manager, trainer, whatever it is. Whether you're the quarterback or tailback, every day you go out there you need to earn what you get. You need to earn the jersey that you're wearing and make a big deal about that as we move forward.
I'll take some questions and we'll go from there.
Q. On the offensive line, you have Conway and Burkland back. Those are two guys projected to be starters. Are you expecting the offensive line to be the biggest place of competition this spring?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we've got seven starters back with (Blake) Treadwell back and Skyler (Burkland) back, and our five starters. I think Jack Allen's a guy that we red shirted last year, and we were conveniently able to hang on to that red shirt. I think he had an outstanding fall camp. Ethan Ruhland has played. Then you have the guys that started like (Fou) Fonoti and Dan France, and Chris is back for Chris McDonald is back for his (third) year as a starter. Then the left guard right now, Treadwell, and Travis Jackson. So we have guys in the hunt.
Henry Conway is another guy we've mentioned that should be game ready as we move forward. So we've got experience there, and I think this is really the strongest offensive line group we've had since we've been here, and we've got numbers.
I look around the conference right now and people are having a hard time with their numbers in terms of having a spring football game, we've got numbers on both the offensive line and defensive line which will enable us to do that really throughout the entire spring.
Q. I noticed (Chris) Norman (not on the spring depth chart). I assumed there was an injury there. I was wondering about the other guys coming back from injuries. How is (Skyler) Burkland doing?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Skyler will be full go. A little limited in some things, maybe. Same with (Tyler) Hoover. So we're looking forward to getting both those guys back out there. Treadwell's full go. The guys that are limited...Bennie Fowler will probably be a guy that will miss maybe the first two weeks or so. But he should be able to by the end of the spring hopefully he's going full go. He had a screw put in his foot 11 or 12 weeks ago, so he should be about game ready. We have a couple surgeries at the end of the season. So Chris Norman will miss the majority of spring ball. He could go out there through 7 on 7 and those type of things. But the majority of it will be no contact. So you have a couple other guys maybe like that. LT's (Lawrence Thomas) same situation. Same situation. We'll be able to run around toward the end of spring ball, but we do not want him to have contact in spring. That's unfortunate, because we have big plans for LT as well. So those are the three guys. Drew Stevens would enter into that phase as well.
Q. Will Tony Lippett just stay on offense, or will you still see him working both sides of the ball?
COACH DANTONIO: Tony will go exclusively to offense. He's a guy we moved over there on the defensive side of the ball. Really along with Langford last year because we felt like we had depth in those positions, and those are two good athletes just to stand there and watch. Both those guys will be able to come over on defense in an emergency situation, but both those guys work exclusively on the offensive side of the ball.
Langford may see time out there, wide receivers as well. But both those guys are very good athletes, catch the ball very, very well, and good run after catch.
Q. What do you tell Andrew about trying to replace a guy like Cousins? Not just replacing him on the field, but the larger than life tangibles? What are your expectations in that way?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Andrew is very much like Kirk in a lot of ways. Their personalities, very faith driven, intelligent players, hard workers. Very good teammates and good leaders as well.
With that being said, you have to be your own person too. You can't try to simulate somebody. You have to be your own person. But we're very fortunate to have him be as patient, really, as he's been throughout this process.
He came here as a highly recruited young man, and from day one when he came in here he impressed. So it wasn't the type of thing where we had to sort of sit there and say well, hopefully he gets good enough. He's come here with an idea that he can be the guy, and this is his time. It's going to be very exciting to watch him.
Q. I was wondering where Arnett was with the NCAA and whether that's been applied for. Also, how you feel about the depth at the receiver position overall with a lot of inexperienced guys there?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Arnett comes after a very successful freshman year at the University of Tennessee. That petition has gone in. So we'll wait to see where the NCAA is on that. But he's involved in winter conditioning. He's involved in spring practice. We'll work him as if he's going to be game ready, and it should be a very exciting player, based on high school and how he ran around in winter conditioning. A very fluid athlete, very quick, explosive. He'll pay us great dividends, I think, as a person and player moving forward. I think it's important to recognize that without question he came home because of a situation within his family, and hopefully the NCAA sees that and makes decisions based on that. But that's their decision, not ours. We just petition it.
Depth at receiver, we addressed the depth by recruiting five players, really six because I think we've got six or seven, because I think we have a couple guys that could go play wide receiver. A couple defensive backs were wide receivers in high school. Really three of them were. Then a tailback could also move into that position, and Nick Tompkins. We recruited five guys.
With that being said, we've got guys here, I think, that could be game ready as well. We've got to get (Juwan) Caesar back healthy. He should be on a limited basis out there. He's probably 80 percent right now with his foot, so it would be exciting to watch how he transitions through the spring. Bennie Fowler we've got to get back. He's a guy that played for us a lot in 2010, very good player.
We've got John Jakubik who is a walk on that's shown different things. A.J. Sims, a guy we red shirted last year, very exciting player that can get north, south quick. So we've got guys. But we don't have the experience and catches in games that these other guys who have left us have.
All three of those guys along with Linthicum and Celek, those guys are all in the hunt to play at the next level. So we'll miss those guys. It's going to be important to work extremely hard. It will be important for our guys to work on their own after spring ball, throughout the summer and in August and the first couple games in fall camp will be important for them to get game experience as well. But I think they're very, very capable of giving us explosiveness out there in big plays.
Q. You had such clear cut leadership last year. Cousins was kind of the poster boy for the program. But you also had strong personalities in (Joel) Foreman, and Trenton Robinson, even (Jerel) Worthy who wasn't a senior. As coaches, do you delegate leadership in spring ball, or do you sit back and wait for people to take over this team, if that makes any sense?
COACH DANTONIO: I think when you ask our football players, and I'll do it again today, if you've been a captain on your high school football team, stand up. We probably have 80 to 85 percent of our guys that stand up. There is no lack of leadership. But when a group of people come together, somebody's going to assume that position of leadership, and that's ongoing.
We have our (unity) council that we elect periodically. Maxwell, and Chris Norman, and Max Bullough are guys that over and above seem to get the most votes in terms of leaders. I would think those are guys that people are looking to right now. But you also have people that are so called bell cows within their position. Who are the leaders within your position group? They sort of carry that group.
So those are things. The leadership aspect are things that people work on daily whether you're at Michigan State or somewhere else. You're always looking for who are going to be those leaders for you, and who is going to be those guys that you look to in crunch time. But those things naturally tend to happen. We'll push it a little as coaches, but I think the players have to take ownership, and we'll go as far as they want to go.
It's easy to stick your hand in there and say Big Ten Championship or National Championship or whatever you're going to say as a callout, but it becomes a little bit more real when you step back and have to make decisions and have to push people in different directions as a player.
Q. You have a couple linebackers sitting out of contact for the spring. But as a position group, it seems this is probably as deep a group of linebackers that you have. Any thought of three four?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, in terms of the three four, we can mess around with that and look at it, but the reality is we have just as many defensive linemen as we do linebackers. When you start throwing in guys we red shirted last year, Joel Heath is 6-6, 275 pounds right now, he looks just like Will Gholston.
You have William back. You have (Shilique) Calhoun on the other side who is going to be a phenomenal player here. He backs up Marcus Rush who is a red-shirt freshman. You have Tyler Hoover moved inside, he's 297, 300 pounds. Rashad looks to come back. Rashad White is in shape. You have Damon Knox in there at 280. Scarpinato at 280. So we're built for the four three. But our linebackers, three guys are red-shirt freshmen. LT (Lawrence Thomas) will not go through spring, and he's 280 pounds, so who knows where he's going to end up. He'll find his way on to the field somewhere.
So we've addressed those concerns. Conversely this year we've converted 10 skill guys. So we're so we're formulated to be a four three team, we can experiment with the three four. We use it in certain situations. I think it's important that we adapt and have answers for everything. But you're best when you know exactly what you're doing, especially game time when you have to fix problems. We were ranked in the Top 5 defensively, I think in four categories, maybe five nationally this year. Some people could point to us having the best defense in the Big Ten Conference, at least statistically.
I think we had 45 sacks, were number one in pass defense efficiency, et cetera, et cetera. So there is a part of us that if we can continue doing exactly what we did, we'll be successful. A big part of it says that.
Q. With Chris Norman out, obviously that's going to initially give (Taiwan) Jones more reps. With how he was last year, is it going to be more of that role for him, just some spot play, special teams play? Or with his skillset will it be more of a concerted effort to get him on the field?
COACH DANTONIO: He's more like Chris Norman as a freshman. He was on special teams, played a little bit. Tried to find a place for him, but there was a lot to learn. I think Taiwan will be an outstanding player for us here, and I think he'll compete for playing time.
I think he'll have a tremendous spring. He pulls the pin, he's got as much power and explosiveness as any linebacker out there. He's big. He's quick, but he has to learn to play fast at all times. He can't second guess himself. But that's part of the experience and what spring is for.
If you look at it, he'll probably have another thousand snaps sometimes this spring. A little different than most. Some people rush through spring. But we'll take our time and go five weeks with this. So there is going to be a lot of practice, evaluation of practice, practice, evaluation of practice. So there are going to be a lot of reps and situations he'll see as well as the other guys.
But with Chris Norman out, he'll have his opportunity to play at the number one. Darien Harris is another guy that is an active player, and Ed Davis is another instinctive young player. Then you have the other guys who have been there.
Q. This seems the first time in a couple years you have a clear cut number one running back. Obviously Larry will still be a part of it and want to get Nick Hill in. Where Le'Veon Bell stand as your number one running back?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's important that we're not complacent. That's my answer. He'll be challenged as well.
Q. How did you arrive to the decision to put (Denzel) Drone at tight end, and will he practice only on offense?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, he's going into his fourth season, so he can be a pretty good defensive player. He was a co starter for us on defense.
But with our youth right now on defense at certain positions at the number two, and the ability to get those guys reps has to warrant moving people around and doing some different things. So that's going to afford Joel Heath the reps, Taylor Calero reps, Shilique Calhoun reps. We've got Corey Freeman coming back. So the opportunity to move him over there, this is the right time.
He can move back into the defense and not miss a beat really, whether it's two weeks or three weeks from now. He was a good player in high school. He was a tight end in high school. He's 260 pounds. We have a need at that position, so we can walk over there and be in an immediate situation where he can play either an F or a move tight end or a stationary tight end. He's 265 pounds. He benches almost 400 pounds.
We've had a tradition here of making guys. Whether it was (Josh) Rouse, or Devin Pritchett in '07. I can't think of some other guys that were in that situation as well. I think we've taken four different guys and moved them from defense and they've become starters for us. I just think the situation warrants that, so we'll give it a shot right now and see what happens.
Q. Can you describe Maxwell's abilities as a quarterback, and how is he maybe similar and different than Kirk? What are some of the main challenges effaces in taking over this job?
COACH DANTONIO: I think intangibles you can compare him to Kirk. Extremely hard worker, great attention to detail. Has a great feel in the huddle in terms of being able to lead people. He does a lot of things at the line of scrimmage and has a great understanding of things conceptually.
So all those things are positive over here. Physically, tangibly, he's got good size and strength. He's a 6-7 high jumper in high school, so he has some explosiveness to him. He's got a great arm. What he needs is game experience, I feel.
He's had some experience early in the season every year or he's had experience maybe when games have gotten out of hand. But I don't think he's had as much experience when the game's been on the line, and that's what he has to get. He has to get that down in, down out type of situation where he's in a situation where he has to make plays in critical situations. I think that's what he's missing right now. But he's going to get that.
I think Connor Cook is 6-3, 215 pounds. He runs very well. He's got a live arm and a lot of the same type of things. He just needs to come in terms of maturity. He's still a true freshman, so there is a big difference in terms of maturity and knowing the system right now.
When I talk about maturity, I talk about leading and being in the college huddle and doing those type of things. But I think he has the ability as well. Then you have Tyler O'Connor who will come in as a true freshman. Have a couple other guys working as well, but that's the main focus.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Larry goes into his fourth year. Our running back situation has been a little unusual. When you look at it, Larry was our featured guy coming out of '09. He was the guy we've given the ball to, and he was the guy that I guess we'd be sitting here and we would have had this in 2010, he'd be the tailback we're talking about.
Then 2010 comes along, and Edwin Baker ends up being the guy. At the end of the season he was the guy getting all the carries. In 2011 it was Le'Veon Bell, and he's the guy that was sort of the lead guy and everybody's talking about now. So your guess is as good as mine.
What you've got to do is perform on the field, not be complacent, stay healthy, and you have to do the job. You have to be able to make yards, because I really don't care who plays. It could be 22, 24, doesn't make a difference to me. I look for production, and all those guys are productive players. They just need opportunities.
Nick Hill is a phenomenal running back as well, and he gives you that little bit of that Edwin Baker type of thing where he's in and out of cuts and hides behind people and extremely explosive. I've already talked about Langford. Langford may be one of the fastest players on our team...So we have some guys in that position, and it should be exciting to watch to see how they transition.
Q. Can you expand on (Shilique) Calhoun? He's up to 240. Does he have enough weight to compete next year? Also, is Micajah Reynolds probably going to stick on that side of the ball?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, Shilique is a guy that probably could have begun playing for us mid-season last year on, and he was a guy much like R.J. Williamson where we said can we hold off and not play him? Can we hold off and not play Jack Allen because they're good enough to play right now. So we were able to do that with all three of those guys which for the future it will be extremely exciting.
But Shilique has Julian Peterson type ability. I was here when Julian was here. I recruited Julian and saw him transition in his years here and become a dominant football player. He has the ability to make big plays. He's extremely quick off the edge, and he's got power.
He's a guy that can be a great football player here. We'll press to play...I shouldn't say press to play. He's going to play. Because of the nature of our defense, we keep people fresh and play a lot of players. So there is a great future ahead of him in that respect.
As far as Micajah's concerned, he's sort of a guy that's been over here, over there (offensive line, defensive line). He's sort of fit the need wherever it's been. But that's up to him. The opportunity in front of him is up to him. He's got to keep his weight under control because he can't get up past 320. I think he's got it down a little bit, but he's still a big man. But he's got to play consistently.
What he's done is started fast out of the chutes and then he's got to remain consistent over the course of time. I think we'll play him wherever he can be used best.
I don't really have an answer to that question other than he has value and brings value to our football program and he's a guy that we're trying to put in position to play. He's going into, I believe, his fourth year as well. So it's now becoming his time.
Q. Can you talk about the battle for playing time at free safety, and where does Jones fit in the mix?
COACH DANTONIO: Kurtis Drummond, RJ Williamson, Jairus Jones, those are all four or three of those guys will have playing time, will have playing time and will be very important to our football season.
Obviously, you have Isaiah Lewis who is anchored at one safety. The other safety is up for grabs a little bit after Trent Robinson left. All those guys have been impressive at times. Right now we have Williamson and Drummond at the field safety position, but Jairus can play over there as well, and those guys can play the boundary safety as well.
They all have ball skills. They all can run and tackle very well. So it will be interesting to see what kind of spring they have. We have depth there, and I think it's exciting to watch Demetrious Cox when he comes in here who is a freshman. Mark Meyers, another freshman that's coming in, and Ezra Robinson, and those kinds of guys. So we have guys coming in at those positions as well.
We're building our program. When you build it, you've got interesting things going on position by position in terms of challenges. They've got to earn that jersey just like anybody else.
Q. In terms of rivalries, I know the Michigan game is one that is always going to be circled on the calendar. Do you sense more of a rivalry developing with Wisconsin because of the games you play with them, and with Ohio State with the new staff and the attention they're getting and so forth?
COACH DANTONIO: We play a great schedule. There is no question. With Notre Dame in there as well, we play a very tough schedule.
Last year people were wondering how were they going to get through that middle of the season schedule? How were they going to do it? Somehow we found our way through it. So we're going to play everybody that comes. We haven't been beaten in two years here at this stadium.
It will be great to have people coming in here. We have to go away and play some tough games as well. But that goes back to earning the jersey. That's what we're here for. That's why you come to places like this to play in games like we have and be involved in the rivalries we have. So that is the exciting part of it. I don't look at any game and chalk that up as a win. We're going to be hard pressed there. We'll challenge everybody, and look forward to playing everybody on our schedule. So great conference. Great programs in our conference. So it will be exciting. Nebraska comes here this year, we'll have a great home schedule that should be attractive to people. We'll also have a great away schedule. We'll play in front of a lot of people and a lot of people will watch.
Q. You have good players and have always talked about wanting competition. Is this like a Christmas to you that you'll have a bunch of guys out there that are fighting every day for spots.
COACH DANTONIO: Want to look at recruiting and say we've got the number one class, the number 10 class, whatever it is. The bottom line is how many games you win at the end of the season. That is the bottom line. The second bottom line is how many guys you have returning. How many players do you have coming back?
As we said, we're depleted of wide receivers, statistically. Other people down the road somewhere else that have people coming back.
So what you have coming back is just as important as the recruiting aspect. When you look at our recruiting this past year, we have to address losing one defensive back. We have to address losing one defensive tackle, and another guy who played in our nickel situation. We have to address losing three wide receivers. After that we've got young players that we've been able to red shirt. We have a good defensive front that now we can add some players to that. I think Damon Knox is going to be a tremendous player. I look at Heath with a tremendous upside, and Shilique Calhoun, I mentioned. James Kittredge is a guy that will be very exciting for some players, for some people to watch. You've got Brandon Clemons in there.
So we go deep with defensive tackles right now. That's the exciting part of it. It all has to mesh together and become one football team. There are other players that have great football teams as well, and we'll be challenged.
That's the exciting part of football. It makes football a great sport. You have all these positions that have to marry up and become one at the end of the day. At the end of the day it's how we play with energy. We have to focus on that in every aspect I can, and talk about how we're going to play as a team and a program, because that's a day to day thing. You have to be up every single day. You can't afford a day where you're just going through the motions and being complacent, because if you are, somebody's catching you, no question.
Q. Wondering if you see Burkland more suited to play left tackle or either or?
COACH DANTONIO: I think he could be either or. It's important to remember that he was the starter coming into the fall or coming out of fall camp he was the starter. He's a tremendous football player. He's big. He's extremely physical, tough, very athletic. Again, the offensive line was a position of concern last year. Everybody was wondering what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. Somehow at the end of the season we made it through.
I think it's important to note that we weren't sacked very often. That's a great to Kirk Cousins and his quick release and getting the ball out of there. That's a credit to our offensive line coaches, and what we called and how we protected our quarterback. It's also a credit to our offensive line in terms of in our backs and our tight ends and our entire offense in terms of how we handled pressure and the different things we did.
Skyler's a very good player. He's going to end up playing some place. These guys will be challenged to play. Maybe we'll just put all seven of them in there at once and play like that.
Q. With Tyler Hoover moving inside, was this a long time coming? Remembering back to last year, there were certain downs in the Youngstown State game where he was on the inside. Is this a long time coming for you? Is this kind of picking up where you left off in terms of his transition?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, he's big. He's had to keep his weight down. He has to try to get down to 270, 265. If he lets himself just be what he is, he's probably 295, 300 pound guy. So I think Tyler has great ability. There is no question he has experience. He had the injury, so he was out for a year with that because it was a slow healing injury. But he's got tremendous upside. We'll see how he does in there. But he can also go out and play defensive end.
Again, the nature of the situation is that we want to put our best players on the field all at once. And I think he is one of our best 11, there is no question. This gives him an opportunity to put more speed on the field. He knows our defense. This is his fourth year in this, so he knows our defense, so he should be very capable. Actually, it's his fifth year. Go green.
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