July 25, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
CHICAGO - The time-honored hypothetical scenario that typically precedes the start of the college football season by six weeks went like this for Michigan State during first installment of the Big Ten Kickoff Media Days.
If the Spartans were playing Western Michigan today, Andrew Maxwell would start at quarterback, Riley Bullough would be the No. 1 running back, former safety Jairus Jones might line up first at one outside linebacker position and Fou Fonoti could play offensive tackle, guard or center.
Competition in preseason camp, which opens when players report on Aug. 2, has a way of rendering such questions irrelevant, so stay tuned. Nevertheless, even though everything is subject to change, Coach Mark Dantonio provided some of the rationale behind his pre-preseason depth chart on Wednesday.
Maxwell, who started all 13 games last season but was replaced in the second half of MSU's come-from-behind win against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl by Connor Cook, will be challenged by Cook, Tyler O'Connor and incoming freshman Damion Terry.
"Our quarterback position is much stronger than it was last year," Dantonio said. "We had a true freshman coming in, Tyler O'Connor. He had a lot of reps in spring. We had Connor Cook coming in at that particular time with one year under his belt. Now, he has experience. We had Andrew Maxwell as our starter, but he had limited experience. Now,
he has 13 games of starting experience.
"Damion Terry comes in as a true freshman -- outstanding athlete and big body, 230-pound guy. What they do collectively in August will really determine as we move forward. Right now, Andrew is our No. 1 quarterback. He's got a great deal of experience and a lot of confidence right now. With that said, Connor Cook has played as everybody knows, and I think that's a big positive for us."
Jairus Jones (6-foot1, 213 pounds) and Taiwan Jones (6-3, 250) are both listed as starting STAR linebackers.
"You can't relax, you can't assume that you're the guy," Dantonio said. "Taiwan had a great season last year, but this is 2013, and Jairus did a great job in the spring. Taiwan is bigger and faster and he's going to play a lot of football for us, but I don't care who starts. That's their job (to determine)."
Fonoti (tackle), Dan France (tackle), Blake Treadwell (guard), Travis Jackson (center), Jack Allen (guard) and Skyler Burkland all have significant to extensive starting experience on the offense line, and many are interchangeable. France, for example, could move inside to guard and Fonoti could flip to left tackle.
"I think we have guys that can play a lot of different positions," Dantonio said. Jack Allen can play center or guard. Blake can play center or guard. Dan France can pop into tackle or guard. We're going to play the best five.
"The main thing is, getting those five guys on the same page, allowing the competition to take place and not naming our starters, and letting it happen. I think (France) just wants to be a starter. We have unselfish players up there. Everybody's taking the attitude of what do you need me to do, and that's what having an edge does."
Treadwell expects the linemen to wage heated battles for playing time and starting positions.
"There's a lot of competition this year, so if one guy isn't doing his job (offensive line coach Mark) Staten won't be hesitant to put another guy in," Treadwell said. "It puts pressure on us older guys to perform as well as the younger guys. It's really good overall to have great depth. Any guy can play any spot."
Bullough, a red-shirt freshman, is the leading candidate to replace Le'Veon Bell at tailback despite his lack of experience at that position.
"I think it's a statement that he came in and made plays and did a nice job," Dantonio said. "We need a guy that can get the tough yards. I don't think there's any question about that. With that being said, I don't see him carrying it 390 times, so that position is open. We've got some freshmen in there (Gerald Holmes, R.J. Shelton, Delton Williams), we've got some returning guys like Nick Hill and Jeremy Langford and Nick Tompkins, but I think the nod goes to Riley right now."
GoG Notes & Quotes: With a wealth of talent and experience at linebacker, Dantonio can expect demands he switch from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4 at the first sign of trouble. But, he won't be prodded into making any rash decisions.
"You can't just say you're going to play a 3-4," Dantonio said. "You have to commit yourself. As opposed to just having an outside linebacker standing on the line of scrimmage, you have to have other players that can 2-gap and do some different things against the offensive tackle. We have (the 3-4) in place, and we can do it, but we are who we are, and I can stand up there and talk about our defense all day.
"We have one of the premier defenses in the country and we do what we do. We're good because our players know what we're talking about and (assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Pat) Narduzzi has a great feel for how to fix something that's broken and the timing of what's being called on the field, so I don't see us changing that much on defense."
Defensive nose tackle James Kittredge underwent surgery to repair a hernia in June, but should rejoin the team during camp.
"He finished the spring, but it was something that hampered him," Dantonio said. "He'll miss a couple days, but he'll be OK."
Fifth-year senior long-snapper Steve Moore is hoping to rejoin the team after sitting out all of last season with what was believed to be a career-ending neck injury.
"Steve came to me and as he said, he wants to complete his circles," Dantonio said. "He has to pass his physical and be cleared to play, and Taybor Pepper is our snapper and does a great job. So, we'll see how it all plays out for Steve, but I think what he wants is to be a part of this and not be ruled out. So, we're going to try to create that opportunity."