Aug. 7, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Under overcast skies and temperatures in the low-80s, fifth-year Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio sent his team through a 2 1/2-hour workout in helmets, jerseys and shorts on the grass fields behind the Duffy Daugherty Football Building on Sunday, Aug. 7, as the Spartans completed their first of 29 scheduled preseason practices.
"When the team comes out in shorts on Day 1, we're looking for people who are moving around and competing in the various drills," Dantonio said. "When we look around, we've got numbers at every position, so depth is a positive. At the end of the first day in shorts, it's tough to evaluate things from a football standpoint, but we had good recall by the veterans. So we got some things accomplished."
With the combination of heat and 65 percent humidity, Dantonio also was pleased with the pace of the opening practice.
"They worked through the heat," he said. "You have to remember the players ran their 20-interval test early this morning, so they've been doing a lot of running today. It's the first preseason practice, so we had to remind the players how we transition from one drill to another. That's something that's easy to address. Overall, we're encouraged by the way our guys moved around and competed this afternoon."
As preseason camp opens, all eyes are focused on the offensive line where three departed regulars (left tackle D.J. Young, center John Stipek and right tackle J'Micheal Deane), who combined for 53 career starts, must be replaced.
"Coach (Mark) Staten gave me the opportunity to address the group last night," fifth-year senior offensive guard Joel Foreman said, "and one of the things I told them was that a lot of people have doubted the offensive line over the last few years. There's no question that we're young up front, with three starting positions wide open. But as the 2011 season approaches, I really believe that we can become the best offensive line in the Big Ten.
"Prior to last season, some people described the offensive line as a weakness, but we ended up helping to create holes for All-Big Ten running back Edwin Baker, who rushed for more than 1,200 yards. The year before that, we allowed the fewest sacks in the Big Ten, and in 2008, we ran the ball all over people as Javon Ringer emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate. We've done some great things over the last four years. Michigan State has a great tradition of producing outstanding offensive linemen. That's something we need be proud of and embrace because it's now our turn to carry on that tradition. As a group, we like being the underdogs. A lot of people don't expect much from this offensive line, but we know what needs to be done and we're willing to put in the time and effort to get there."
While being held out of contact drills in the spring while nursing wrist and ankle injuries, Foreman had a chance to observe the development of the offensive line.
"The entire group has come a long way since spring ball," he said. "Those guys did a lot of individual work throughout the summer and it's really paid off. We're not there yet, but this group is hungry.
"Since I didn't actively participate in contact drills last spring, it was hard for me to be a big influence on them, but I did my best. Now as I return for my fourth year as a starter, I've taken it upon myself to become a more vocal leader as well as one who leads by example. It's important to practice what I preach."
Free safety Trenton Robinson, one of only three seniors listed on the defensive two deep, believes the team got off to a good start Sunday.
"It was exciting because everybody came back to campus ready to go to work," Robinson said. "The entire team can't wait until we put the full pads on Thursday.
"What surprised me Sunday was how much material the freshmen were able to retain. Those guys really listened to what Coach (Harlon) Barnett had to say and displayed proper technique throughout the practice.
"Without a lot of seniors on the defensive side of the ball, I've got to become a more vocal leader," Robinson continued. "I've always been an emotional leader, but now it's time to speak up and ask my teammates to follow me. I'm committed to going hard every day in practice because I know my days here are numbered. I want to win another Big Ten Championship before I leave here, so I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help lead us to Indy for the title game."
Michigan State will conduct its annual Media Day on Monday, Aug. 8 followed by its second workout in shorts. The team will spend two more days in shells before donning full pads for the first time on Thursday, Aug. 11.
The Spartans, ranked No. 17 in the Preseason USA TODAY Coaches' Poll, open the 2011 season and home schedule against Youngstown State on Friday, Sept. 2, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. on BTN.