April 4, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - When a coach says something in reference to a particular player, sometimes the message is intended for someone else or the team at large.
A reporter asked Dantonio where Bell stood as the Spartans "No. 1 running back?"
"I think it's important that we're not complacent," Dantonio said in a matter-of-fact tone. "That's my answer. He'll be challenged as well."
It was Dantonio's shortest answer of the session and it was clear he picked that opportunity to send a we're-not-going-to-rest-on-our-laurels proclamation. Nevertheless, the terse statement left much to the imagination.
Was Dantonio unhappy with Bell's attitude, approach, work ethic during winter conditioning? Was he trying to say that just because Edwin Baker gave up his final year of eligibility to try his hand at professional ball, Bell better not adopt a sense of entitlement?
Or was Dantonio using Bell to serve notice to everyone on the team that just because it won a Big Ten divisional championship and beat Georgia the Outback Bowl, there are still bigger goals to achieve? And that the higher you go, the steeper and more difficult the climb becomes?
After all, if Dantonio is taking Bell - by far MSU's most accomplished returning offensive player - to task, what are his expectations for the rest of the Spartans?
Bell said that after speaking with Dantonio, he realized there was no reason to take the comment personally.
"Yeah, I saw it," Bell said Tuesday after practice. "Coach D told me it's not really directed toward me, it's directed to everybody - for the running backs, quarterbacks, defensive ends, offensive line, whoever it may be.
"Me too. I can't get complacent about my spot, (because) there are no (guaranteed) spots here. I've got to go out there and earn my right to play. Once I see the complacency issue, I just go out there and strive to get better and just stay hungry."
Bell, a junior-to-be, led Michigan State in rushing last season with 948 yards and 13 touchdowns on 182 carries, finishing eighth in the Big Ten. He had a healthy 5.2 yards per carry, good for fifth among the league's Top-10 ground-gainers, but the Spartans failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for only the second time in Dantonio's first five seasons.
Meantime, red-shirt freshman Jeremy Langford ranks among the fastest players on the team, Dantonio said, and could burst onto the scene in his first active season just as Bell did with 605 yards, eight touchdowns and a 5.7 average in '09.
"I feel like I have a bigger role, but at the same time I have to still compete," Bell said. "They're all capable of running the ball. The offensive line is doing a great job, so any back can run the ball in between those holes."
Bell said the carries during practice are evenly distributed and each back takes turns with the first and second offenses.
Dantonio "is probably just using me as an example because everybody's talking about how I'm the No. 1 guy, but I'm not the No. 1 guy," Bell said. "There are no spots given. Everybody knows they have to earn their spot.
"I feel like I had a good offseason. I got a lot stronger and a lot faster. I'm still getting my health up, and getting treatment (for a mild ankle sprain). I've still got a lot to learn and I'm just competing every day."