July 29, 2014
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
CHICAGO - Michigan State head strength and conditioning coach Ken Mannie gave the Spartans their reward for winning the Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships this summer.
The toughest offseason regimen ever.
"Coach Mannie understands," senior free safety and Jim Thorpe Award candidate Kurtis Drummond said Monday at the opening installment of Big Ten Football Media Days. "He's been around for a long time and he didn't want any complacency from day 1.
"The way he just added reps, added tempo - it's been crazy. On top of that, guys are making competitions by pushing each other. It's definitely been the hardest offseason workout since I've been here."
The sessions have trumped those of the summer of '13, which set the tone for MSU's unprecedented 13-1 record and No. 3 ranking in the final polls. Michigan State came back from a 24-20 fourth-quarter deficit against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game to win 34-24 and trailed 17-14 in the third quarter against Stanford in the Rose Bowl before winning, 24-20.
With their eyes on an even bigger achievement, winning the newly established national championship playoff, the Spartans have accepted being pushed even further beyond their limits.
"(Mannie) just wants to build up mental toughness," Drummond said. "That mental toughness is understanding the type of work you've put in when you're going through the season. It's understanding that you've outworked your opponents so when that fourth quarter comes, you're still ready to beat them up."
Of course, Mannie cut returning stars, such as quarterback Connor Cook, some slack, right?
"I know this offseason has been the hardest I've ever had at Michigan State," said the fourth-year junior. "Coach Mannie has really pushed us to the max, and I think this theme for this summer has been to go the extra mile, and I think we've done that."
Preseason All-America defensive end Shilique Calhoun said the objective has been to get the players ready for every scenario they may face in a game.
"I think the biggest thing they want is for us to go through the toughest hardships so when we get to those late-season games and quarters that feel like they're lasting forever, that's normal for us and we're used to it," Calhoun said. "It has been tough, but I feel like it's because they understand how hard we have to work to be even better.
"I'm willing to accept that challenge. That's for sure."
GoG NOTES & QUOTES: One of the most closely watched position battles in preseason camp will be for the middle linebacker spot played at an extremely high level by Max Bullough for the past few seasons. At 6-foot-3, 252 pounds senior Taiwan Jones is an imposing physical force with uncommon speed and agility. But, savvy junior Darien Harris helped make up for Bullough's absence in the Rose Bowl, sophomore Riley Bullough is a willing bruiser and heady Jon Reschke is ready to challenge after redshirting last season as a freshman.
"I think he's the No. 1 linebacker, but we're going to find that out," Dantonio said of Jones. "I think he's worked hard to do that. He's a phenomenal athlete who goes 250 and runs very well. He bench-presses 420-something and he's got three years of starting experience (as an outside linebacker), but it's different inside.
"We've got make sure he has knowledge and he plays on habit. We'll find that out in August and in September. I think Darien Harris can flop in there, Riley Bullough can flop in there and Jon Reschke's a guy that looks like he has ability but he's coming off his redshirt year. We've got players at that position but it's just a matter of who's going to take command of it.
"Max Bullough was a great football player, but he was so valuable because he got people lined up and he could adjust. In football today, especially with all the one-back sets and no-huddle offenses, it's so much about adjustments. Moving one foot here or one foot there makes all the difference. Getting the guy in the right defensive alignment, changing the defensive call based on different scenarios - that's the thing we're going to miss."
Macgarrett Kings, who missed spring practice as punishment for violating team rules, has been reinstated in time for camp and is listed as the No. 2 flex receiver behind R.J. Shelton on the preseason depth chart.
"He's back for summer workouts," Dantonio said.
Back-up quarterback Damion Terry, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum sustained in the Green-White spring game will practice gingerly at first while vying with Tyler O'Connor for the No. 2 spot.
"We'll have to be careful early in fall camp, but he'll be ready to go," Dantonio said. "That (competition) will be something that (we watch) through August camp and early September. It's about game-management sometimes. There are certain things some individuals do better, they have unique abilities and you need to be able to capitalize on those as a coach.
"But at the end of the day, quarterback is a game-management position. You've got to be able to do that, so there's an experience factor with it."
MSU's incoming class of freshmen defensive linemen may be a year or two away from proving Dantonio right when he said, "this is the best defensive line group we've recruited," but that doesn't mean they won't get a chance to contribute immediately.
"Malik McDowell is a guy is very light on his feet and very quick," Dantonio said. "He's going about 280. Enoch Smith looks like a very good athlete, tough. Then you've got Craig Evans, we had him in (summer) camp and he looks like he can play. I think those guys have an opportunity to get involved."
New NCAA rules, allowing athletes to have unrestricted access to food and snacks, should make sure that no Spartan goes to bed hungry this season.
"I think nutrition is really the next frontier in sports," Dantonio said. "You're seeing that transcend from the NFL and down through. It's what you put in your body that's going to fuel your body and how you do it. It's an advantage to do those things at this level and we're going to do everything we can to make sure our players are healthy."
Calhoun feels the new rule is going to put his self-control to the test. "I'm becoming a big boy," he joked. "I don't know if they should pass that one just yet."