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Big Ten Kickoff Coverage - Day 1

Aug. 2, 2010

Press Conference Coverage:
Podcast | Video

CHICAGO - The annual Big Ten Football Kickoff began Monday at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago. Fourth-year head coach Mark Dantonio, senior punter Aaron Bates, junior quarterback Kirk Cousins and senior linebacker Greg Jones performed several interviews throughout the first day of the event.

Bates, Cousins and Jones began the day by meeting with television crews from ESPN, CBS and the Big Ten Network for one-on-one interviews. During the player interviews, Dantonio held a 15-minute press conference to preview the upcoming season before opening the floor to questions. The press conference was covered by ESPNEWS and the Big Ten Network.

Following Dantonio's formal press conference, he met up with the three players and proceeded on to an hour-long session for television stations, rotating through four tables and taking questions from local reporters in other Big Ten media markets. The players completed their day by doing one-on-one interviews with local television stations, while Dantonio met with the Big Ten Network, CBS and ESPN.

Day two of the kickoff continues Tuesday morning with roundtable interviews with newspaper reporters, followed by an hour-long autograph session with fans. The event concludes with the 39th-annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon at 12:30 p.m. ET.

A complete transcript of Dantonio's press conference is below:

THE MODERATOR: Next up is Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio.

COACH DANTONIO: It's great to be back here in Chicago. We're very, very excited as we enter our fourth season as a staff at Michigan State. Very, very excited, especially about really the leadership, the chemistry, and the attitude that's been displayed by our football team throughout winter conditioning, spring ball and summer conditioning.

And it starts with our players certainly at the ground level, when you look at some of our seniors that are returning, some of the captains that are returning such as Greg Jones and Kirk Cousins, very, very excited about that aspect.

As we move forward, we hope to lay a foundation on our past three years, all of which resulted in bowl games as we compete for a Big Ten Championship.

I think, first of all, when you look at our football team you have to look at our defense because it starts with Greg Jones. Greg Jones returns for his senior year. He's a returning captain.

I think not only from a physical standpoint but from a psychological standpoint, it talks about his maturity as a person and talks about our overall program, in terms of where we're at as a football program that he would decide to come back.

He has a great physical presence on the field. He's a firstteam AllBig Ten player, first-team AllAmerican player, and certainly through the middle of our defense gives us a guy who can make plays throughout our entire defense and all over the field.

Look at the rest of our linebacker group, Eric Gordon comes back as a fourthyear starter. Chris Norman is a guy that has played as a true freshman. Jon Misch has starting experience. So you've really got four linebackers at that linebacker position with starting experience.

You move into the secondary, our secondary returns four guys with starting experience as well with Trent Robinson, Marcus Hyde, Chris L. Rucker beginning his fourth year as a starter, and Johnny Adams, who was out with a shoulder last year but started as a true freshman.

When you look at our defensive line situation, we're solid up the middle with Jerel Worthy, who comes off a redshirt freshman year where he was Freshman AllAmerican, and Blake Treadwell, who played as a true freshman.

Our defensive ends, Tyler Hoover, Corey Freeman, Todd Anderson, Johnathan Strayhorn, and an assortment of others will also play very, very important roles throughout the entire season.

We feel good about our defense right now. Got to come up with more turnovers. If you had to say one thing we have to improve on, that would be turnovers. Sometimes those come in bunches, but we're working extremely hard on that.

We've got great players in the secondary right now with great ball skills. And when I look at our secondary, right now you see guys that can catch the ball very, very well in terms of deep ball judgment and things of that nature.

So we're extremely happy about that. So offensively, obviously it always starts at quarterback. I think when you have an experienced quarterback, good things can happen for you. Kirk Cousins returns as a secondyear starter and, again, as a possible captain, I guess, is what you would say with Greg Jones. They have to be voted in. But he (Kirk) was voted as captain last year as a redshirt sophomore.

Keith Nichol returns as an Xfactor guy. He played two games as a quarterback, Cousins (starting) 12. And Kirk had a great sophomore season.

Andrew Maxwell provides a guy in the wings that really has performed very well, and he'll be a redshirt freshman this next year.

I think when you look at it from a quarterback perspective, I try to parallel everything. You look back at 2007 compared to 2008 and Brian Hoyer's arrival, he played very well that second year and was able to take us to nine wins and have an opportunity to play for the championship at the end of the season.

So that's a very good situation there for us. At the wide receiver position, we bring back four guys with a lot of game experience. Keshawn Martin is a guy that every time he touches a ball he averages about 18 yards of play. Whether it's kick returns, punt returns or touching the ball on a sweep or down the field with the pass. So he will be very dangerous for us.

Mark Dell returns in his fourth season having a junior season where he was a little bit banged up, and B.J. Cunningham returns. And Keith Nichol returns to a wide receiver position. He gives us an Xfactor in that position. Tremendous athlete. We have to find ways to get him on the field and get him the ball and allow him to do things. Very interesting how he develops, but he certainly has a great future ahead of him in that area.

Looking at our tight ends, again, four starters back, four guys back, which we would consider starters, with Charlie Gantt coming back. He had an outstanding year as a junior last year, one of the greatest tight ends in the conference or possibly the country, goes about 260 pounds, about 6-3 or 6-4.

Brian Linthicum returns as well as Garrett Celek, as well as Dion Sims. They played a lot for us last year, so it's a very good situation.

When you look at us as an offense, positions of strength would be quarterback, wide receiver and tight end.

At our running back situation...last year when I was sitting and talking to you, there was no tailback really who had sort of made his way into that position where he was considered a fulltime starter. He was going to have to battle. And we played five tailbacks last year because of it. The two guys that have emerged, Edwin Baker and Larry Caper, are guys that were true freshmen last year getting most of the carries for us. And (those) guys really had outstanding spring practices and are really poised for a great year.

So it should give us a great combination in terms of running and throwing the football, which I think you have to have great balance as an offense to be truly successful.

Josh Rouse returns at the F position, the fullback position, for his fifth year. He was injured last year and so he redshirted and will come back, but he will provide a great role in terms of leadership and development there and should be a great situation.

Our offensive line also returns three starters and then also two guys who have limited starting experience. D.J. Young has moved to left tackle. Joel Foreman won't move but will come back for his third year as a starter at left guard, and John Stipek has starting (experience) at center and played very well last year, and he returns for his senior season.

Among the others there on the right side, Chris McDonald, (Jared) McGaha has starting experience, J'Michael Deane. You've got young players like Henry Conway, David Barrent, Nate Klatt...A lot of guys are extremely athletic.

When you combine those guys with the recruiting class coming in, and what we've seen from our recruiting classes is about six guys getting on the field every year, it should be very, very exciting for us.

We've got a top 25 class last year and the year before. So this will be no different this year. Some of those guys will find their way on the field.

The last segment, special teams, is really headed up by Aaron Bates, who has already punted in more bowl games as a punter than any punter in the history of Michigan State. I think 37 percent of his punts drop inside the 20. He's our holder. He's done this for four years. He's a tremendous competitor and vital part to our football team.

Alex Shackleton returns as well, his fourth year as a snapper. And I think one of the biggest questions you have to ask yourself or we're asking ourselves as we move forward is the kicking situation, who will be our kicker, Kevin Muma or Dan Conroy. Both those guys will find their way in August, and it's been pretty much even after spring ball. So it will be interesting to see how that race takes place. But I feel very, very good about both those young men.

Special teams goes beyond...I think it goes beyond just the kickers the punters and such. We have some outstanding young players that will definitely make their mark. Denicos Allen, a young player not many have heard about, and Jairus Jones. But those young men will have a tremendous season for us in special teams, in role playing on defense as well.

We have a lot of young players. We are poised. I believe we'll have a very, very good football team this year and we look to continue to compete. This will be a very tough conference as always, and the margin of error is not very big.

So you've got to be right, you've got to be right 100 percent of the time.

With that I'll take questions.


Q. When you look at the kicker situation I know in the spring you said that Mike Sadler would get a look. People down in Alabama- Mike just got back from a kicking camp said he was consistently putting it in the end zone. Is he a little bit behind the eight ball, are you wanting to redshirt him? Or if he wins it, can he get it?

COACH DANTONIO: When we took Mike Sadler last year where he accepted the offer and it was right at this time last year, to me, it sort of solidified our kicking game for the next five years. He's an outstanding punter. Bates will punt for us.

We hope to redshirt him. But if he's the best, whether it's kicking field goals or kickoffs, he will be the guy. And Mike is a tremendous complement to our recruiting class and one of the most outstanding kickers in this country.

It will be interesting to watch.

Q. People have talked about the rivalries, keeping the rivalries intact already with the new conference divisions. What are your thoughts on keeping the games with Penn State at the end of the season and making sure those traditions stay?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think, every team has rivalries. I think it's good for college football. It's good for our fans. And I'm sure all those things will be taken into consideration when they're making these decisions.

But you may be in one conference one division of six and six, but you're going to play across that division. And inevitably you're going to play everybody. So I'm sure that will take place. But I think it's good for college football, obviously, and we always welcome the opportunity to play our rivals.

Q. How impressive is Ohio State's run, five straight championships either shared or outright been? Do you see this as a year they get knocked off? How do you see the thing, the sizing up there?

COACH DANTONIO: I think when you look at any conference, you look at the team that has won most consistently in that conference and you try and sort of set aim on that, try to get to a level to be able to play with that type of football team. We don't play them this year, so I may not be quite as qualified to talk about them as some others.

But certainly when you look at Ohio State through the past number of years, they have unprecedented success. And they have a program in place. They have a great recruiting area in the state of Ohio, and I think that just translates into great success. Coach (Jim) Tressel does an outstanding job, and I'm sure we all know that here.

Q. Could you talk a little bit more in detail about improving the past events from last season, what have you seen this spring and generating a pass rush coverage, et cetera?

COACH DANTONIO: When you look at our pass rush last year, we did come up with sacks. We had 36 sacks last year, which was second in the conference. But there's a lot of third down and passing situations where we were able to get those.

What we have to get better at is transitioning from those run-pass downs, those first, second downs where we're in a base defense and we have to transition our defensive line into attacking or pressuring the quarterback a little bit more.

From a secondary standpoint, a linebacker standpoint, all of this when you talk about defense, you don't say, hey, just the defensive line stops the run. It's the secondary as well as the defensive line and linebackers handinhand run pass.

But when you look at us in the secondary, we've got to make a play on the deep ball. We've got to come up with the ball when we have an opportunity to. We have to come away with more turnovers, we have to eliminate big plays.

I think these things I'm sure everybody in this meeting here knows about. But how we're going to get to that, our players have to make plays and we have to put them in situations that allow them to do that.

But from the spring, I think we had a great spring, and we've really tried to pinpoint what was the problem, critique it and move forward and try and address those issues and put a point of emphasis there. So I think we're going to be very good at that. It's easy to say here right at the podium. We've got to do it on the field.

Q. Would you classify yourselves now as a 34 defense, or is that just part of what you're going to be doing this year?

COACH DANTONIO: I think that's part of what we do and what we'll be doing. We'll try and transition a little bit more towards doing that on run passdowns, first and second down.

But the bottom line is we want to put our best players on the field at the same time. From a linebacker position, it's going to be a position of strength for us on defense. We have four starters back. We also have young players like Max Bullough and William Gholston, who I think are going to play for us. You take those two guys and try to implement defenses that allowed us to have four linebackers on the field. Certainly 34 lends to that.

We'll see how that goes as we move forward. I think as a defensive coach I've always tried to say we need to be simple but comprehensive. We need to be able to cover all the bases at once, but still allow our players to play fast, which means we have to keep it simple.

Q. How do you go about managing expectations and keeping from being overconfident, being really excited where the team is as a coach and coaching staff with your group of players?

COACH DANTONIO: There's no reason to be overconfident. I think we have a lot of players back. I know we said 16 maybe fulltime starters, but when you look at us we have 50plus lettermen back and we have 30 players who have started for us or played in and out of the situations throughout the entire year.

So we have a lot of experience back. I think that speaks to our leadership as a program and as a team right now. It comes from, as I said, the ground level being our players. But from the way our players have worked thus far and winter workouts, spring practice and now summer conditioning, it would not seem that we're overconfident. We have some things that we need to prove. I think that's very evident.

And we've lost some close games. I think last year we lost five (close) games. We were either leading or right there with five minutes to go in the game. So we lost five of those. Some other ones went our way. But, as I said, the margin of error is very, very small here. So we need to move forward. I like our players' attitudes. I've said that at the very beginning.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.

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