CHICAGO -- Michigan State football participated in the annual Big Ten Football Media Days on Monday, July 24 at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place and McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago.
The following is a transcript from Monday's Coach Dantonio press conference:
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio.
Mark Dantonio: Great to see everybody today. First off, we're extremely excited about 2017 as we move forward with our program. Obviously 2016 presented some challenges for us. Last year I remember I stood up here talking about our culture, graduation, championships, those type of things. Now we talk about commitment, change, learning from the past.
I'll take questions.
Q. How has this freshman class assimilated into your group already? I've heard a lot of great comments from your veterans about them. Could you maybe discuss that, please?
Mark Dantonio: First, they came forward, we had basically sort of a mini camp for them as they came in for a one-week time period, and then we came back for a second session of summer school. But very impressed with their, I would say their maturity, their attention to detail, their athletic ability. Certainly I've had an opportunity to watch a lot of the workouts, obviously a little bit different setup this summer.
But you've got some guys -- I'm not going to go into particular individual guys -- but I think we have a lot of players that have potential getting on our football field early in their career. So it's a larger group than we've had, but I think I'm very impressed, as I've said -- maturity, discipline.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about Brian Allen and his brother. It's kind of a unique situation to have three brothers in the same program. How does Brian compare with his brothers and what does he bring that's a little bit different from his brothers?
Mark Dantonio: We've had probably three to five sets of brothers along the course of our time here at Michigan State, all come to Michigan State. So the Allen brothers are at the top of the list right now. Jack Allen came first and Jack is currently with the Saints. He was an All-American player.
Brian played as a true freshman. Really when I think back in my coaching career, I'm talking about as an assistant as well, probably about three or four, maybe five players have played as a true freshman on the offensive line for us. He's one of those guys. He's a 4-time -- 4-year starter for us, basically, and he's grown as a leader extensively.
Matt, his younger brother, is a guy who looks to play this year as a redshirt freshman, very athletic as well. All of them bring toughness, a sense of a wrestling mentality to our offensive line, based on their background. And all of them have been extremely successful wrestlers going to the state championship, every one of them.
So, we're thrilled to have all of the Allen brothers and the last two are here. So they've been sort of a foundation for our offensive line, really going back to, I guess, the 2012 season. So looking forward to what Brian can do this year, and he's one of the guys we brought today.
Q. At Mike linebacker, looks like you have a little bit of a passing of the torch with Joe Bachie. Can you compare him a little bit to guys you've had in the past -- Riley Bullough, Max Bullough, Greg Jones. And also, as a young player at that important position, how does he blend with what you said earlier about learning from the past, especially at middle linebacker?
Mark Dantonio: We're not a senior-dominated team this year. We have about nine seniors on scholarship. So with that being said, we have a lot of young players that are able to take their step forward in a leadership path situation.
Joe Bachie is one of those guys. Joe Bachie came out of Berea-Midpark High School. The guy is almost 230-plus pounds, he runs a 4.5 40, bench presses over 400 pounds, he's a 3.3/3.4 student. He was an all-conference point guard, returned punts in high school, was a tailback, shortstop. He's one of those guys.
I think he has star rating in every aspect. He's a guy that studies the game and just got through meeting with A.J. Hawk a little bit, and he reminds me a lot of A.J. Hawk in a lot of ways. Is he exactly like our Mike linebackers that we've had in the past? Probably has a little bit of elements of all those guys, all great players.
But I think Joe will have an outstanding future in front of him. Forced into playing early a little bit last year, and he made an impact, but he didn't start for us the entire season. But very excited to watch him in 2017 and beyond.
Q. Your most successful team the cornerstones were leadership and quarterback position, Connor Cook, last year probably not the year that Tyler O'Connor. What's it been like for Brian Lewerke as far as explaining to him the expectations? What has the summer been like and how has he received that, knowing that the quarterback kind of has to be a leader?
Mark Dantonio: Brian Lewerke compares favorably with Kirk Cousins in a lot of ways, and really Connor Cook. They both played in their third seasons, they both started playing in their third season, so they had an opportunity to be redshirted, had an opportunity to be a redshirt freshman, play a little bit and then come on down as a redshirt sophomore.
Brian's got game experience. He's almost up to 220 pounds, he's got a great arm, he's very cool under pressure. I think he understands our players. He knows our players very well, knows things schematically. I think he's a very quick learner.
He has all the attributes that we need to be an outstanding, championship-type quarterback. And like Joe Bachie, an interesting guy to watch this season. But we'll see. We've got four good quarterbacks. Four guys that are big, four guys that have Big Ten abilities.
I think a lot is how they come through camp and remain healthy, those type of things. I've been impressed with all of them at one point in time. But right now I think Brian Lewerke, I think is a little bit of a cut above and we're looking forward to his progress.
Q. With everything this team went through on the field last year, everything in the offseason, how eager is this group? And I know in the spring you didn't want to focus too much on football, but how eager is this group to focus on football and what they have to do on the field?
Mark Dantonio: I think we're prepared for the next phase of our lives. I think you're always challenged. You're always going to go through challenges. The more turmoil sometimes you have, maybe if you take it in the right vein maybe the stronger you get as you moved forward.
So I sense the togetherness on our football team. I sense a sense of responsibility. We've had an outstanding summer bottom-line conditioning program is what we call it, the bottom line, and I think we're poised for the next challenge.
There will be challenges along the way. I don't think there's any question about that. But we established ourselves as a championship program inch by inch. There was nothing ever given to us. And that's how we've handled it. That's how we've taken it. We have to go back to that mindset, understand that things don't come easy.
Last year you could look at our football season, if you look at it and say why did it happen, you have to look at the turnover ratio. I think we're 34-2 when we're plus-2 turnover ratio past 10 years. We didn't win the turnover margin. We lacked pressure, things like that, three quarterbacks playing. So there's a lot of reasons you can point to. So we have to eliminate those reasons and concentrate on the positives and move forward, and that's what we'll do.
But I sense a sense of maturity. And we have leadership, three outstanding people here today with us -- Chris Frey, Brian Allen, Gerald Holmes -- and we have other guys back home that are eager to get started and we'll start next Sunday.
Q. What's been your message to the team this offseason?
Mark Dantonio: I think as a leader of the football program you're sitting there trying to figure out what's the next step for your program, and obviously I sat there for quite a while trying to figure out, okay, what is that next step, how do we reunite ourselves.
So we have recentered ourselves. The education component is there in every aspect we deal with off the field. We've reestablished ourselves in terms of who we are as a program and what we're trying to do as people right now.
But we've had a lot of success here. As I said a minute ago, we took a step back. Now it's very, very important that we plant our foot in the ground and drive forward. That's been our message.
Eleven years ago I was hired here to reform a culture. And our mission was to win championships and graduate players and do things right. We'll re-establish ourselves in all three of those areas. And that's why President Simon hired me. And sometimes you're maybe -- it's about identifying problems, finding the solutions.
Sometimes you're measured a little bit by how you handle the problems, not just in all the good times. We've had some good times and those are easy to stand up there and sing the fight song and put a hat on. Not as easy when you are going through these type of things, but at the end of the day that's why I was hired. I was hired to solve problems and that's what we're going to do.
Q. Last year during the season you battled a lot of injuries that managed to get a lot of young players on the field. How much do you use that as a blueprint in case, you mentioned the senior class being thin -- how you may have to use some of those younger guys.
Mark Dantonio: I don't think there's any question, last year we played nine true freshmen and we played another redshirt freshman, so we were young. Some of those positions were positions of control, I would say, the Mike linebacker when Riley Bullough went down, our quarterback situation, Brian Lewerke was a redshirt freshman as well. Those were very, very critical positions that you needed to have guys with more experience.
Now those individuals have gotten experience even though they're still young. I compare this very much to our 2013 season in a lot of ways. We didn't have a tailback coming in, then we have a strong contingent of tailbacks. Our quarterback situation was changing a little bit, Connor Cook was coming, a void was there and we had to fill that void. So a lot of those type of things are happening now.
But the most important thing is that we go forward with conviction and I sense a sense of responsibility with our young players. Just because you're young does not mean that you don't have the opportunities to lead. In fact, sometimes things need to be cleared away for the young players to take root and lead.
And that's what will happen and that's what has happened and very encouraged by the attitude of our players and what they've been able to do this summer and it starts with day one and we continue from there.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.