March 28, 2009
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-40s, third-year Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio sent his team through a 2 1/2-hour workout in full pads on Saturday, March 28, as the Spartans completed their third of 15 allotted spring practices.
"The guys have to get accustomed to carrying their pads again, but I was really pleased with the energy level at practice," Dantonio said. "I saw a lot of guys flying around the football and playing with great effort.
"The spring is a time for position experiments, so we're trying to give everybody an opportunity to show what they can do. Some of the younger players at new positions made mistakes, but overall, it was a very good practice. The experienced players have really performed well in these first three practices.
"Next week is an important one, with four practices scheduled. By the end of next week, we'll almost be at the halfway point of spring ball. We'll evaluate where we stand seven practices into the spring and continue to build things over the last eight practices. Like most teams around the country, our numbers are a little thin this spring, but that's all part of the growing process."
Junior linebacker Greg Jones (6-1, 222), who has led the Spartans in tackles each of the last two seasons, also was impressed by what he saw during the first practice in full pads.
"There was a lot of energy on the field," Jones said. "The guys wanted to be put in more live scrimmage situations because everybody has a point they want to prove. The attitude and effort are promising signs.
"In my opinion, (red-shirt freshman defensive end) Cameron Jude (6-3, 244) is one player who has come a long way since the end of last season. Cameron has a chance to become a force off the edge because he's real strong and he's willing to work hard. With his frame, I really believe he could become a presence on the field next fall."
Freshman Donald Spencer (6-4, 198), one of the early enrollees from the 2009 recruiting class, also caught the All-Big Ten linebacker's attention on Saturday.
"Donald Spencer spent the first two practices at wide receiver but moved over to safety for the first padded practice," Jones said. "He had an impressive first day on the defensive side of the football. If he sticks on defense, Donald would bring some size to the safety position."
Fifth-year senior Joel Nitchman (6-3, 296), who enters his third season as Michigan State's starting center, anchors an offensive line that returns three starters. Like Jones, Nitchman walked off the practice field Saturday with a positive impression.
"I honestly think things couldn't have gone better in practice," Nitchman said. "Some of the guys made similar comments in the locker room after practice. The entire team worked extremely hard during the off-season and that effort is paying off."
One of the most difficult tasks on offense will be retooling the right side of the offensive line that lost guard Roland Martin and tackle Jesse Miller, who combined to start 72 games over the last three years. Despite the personnel losses, Nitchman has been encouraged by what he has seen early in spring practice.
"Both (right guard) Jared McGaha (6-6, 289, So.) and (right tackle) J'Michael Deane (6-5, 297, Jr.) have worked extremely hard to improve their games," Nitchman said. "Those guys have really improved their fundamentals and footwork. Jared and J'Michael have been in the offensive system long enough now that they know the playbook, so they can play with confidence and at a fast pace.
"I've been impressed by the play of the entire group, and despite some of the inexperience, I don't anticipate any drop off in the play of the offensive line from a year ago."
Michigan State concludes its 15 spring practices with the Green-White intrasquad game on Saturday, April 25 at 1:30 p.m. in Spartan Stadium. Admission is free.