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Football Media Day: Defense & Special Teams

Malik McDowell smiles in front of the camera during Michigan State's media day on Monday.
Aug. 8, 2016

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State held its annual media day Monday afternoon in the Izzo Family Media Center inside Spartan Stadium.

Below are quotes from the defensive players that spoke at media day.

Senior linebacker Riley Bullough

On the linebacker group as a whole…
We feel like we have a ton of depth at linebacker. We feel like we have six or seven guys that can come in and play and start and play good football for us at a high level. So, that is exciting. We will work through it as we get through camp, but right now after the third day, everything has been going well.

On what he has tried to do to improve his game since last season…
Right now, my biggest thing is to continue to be a leader. Not just for the defense, but for the entire team. I think I have done that for the most part. I’m trying to get better at one thing each day.

On head coach Mark Dantonio saying the defense can be as good as last year…
I really think we can be. First couple of days of practice that we have had, we have some big guys that can run – that is what makes up a great defense. We have smart guys as well. So, right now, I’m excited to get in full pads so we can really get after it.

On if Malik McDowell is ready to explode onto the national scene…
He definitely is. I think he is ready for it. He had a great season last year, but I think he’s really going to take it that next step this year. He is a really athletic guy. He is huge. As a defensive lineman, that is what you want so that is awesome.

Junior defensive end Demetrius Cooper

 

 

On Malik McDowell’s leadership…
Malik is a guy who is talented, but at the same time, when I’m with him in the meeting room, I can still see the growth. He is still learning and learning from other people. The thing about Malik is, he sees himself as another guy on the team and he carries himself that way. Everybody in the meeting room learns from each other. Everybody in the room comes in as one.

On if it is more talkative in the meeting rooms this year…
It is really different. With Shilique Calhoun gone and Lawrence Thomas gone, those were the most talkative guys in the room, but could also be serious. Now, it is more like a business-type thing, because we have a lot more younger guys trying to learn the playbook.

On how things changed for him now that he is a leader…
Things really changed for me because I have to take on a bigger role. Last year, I was in the back of the room learning, now I have to lead the younger guys. Now we are teaching the younger guys what we do.

Sophomore cornerback Vayante Copeland

On if he feels like he showed a flash of how good he can be last season…
Just a little bit. I do have a lot to show, I just want to stay healthy. If I can stay healthy, I can really show my talents and what I can do.

On if he was worried after the injury that he was done playing…
Absolutely. There was a time I was down on myself. Thanks to the people on the staff and the people behind me, everybody pushed me and was in my corner and that motivated me every day.

On the depth of the secondary…
We have people with game experience. It’s not just the secondary that people look at with young guys. There are a lot of guys coming on that are feeling stronger and we are trying to build that secondary back up.

On if there is any talk about the 2013 secondary…
No, the coaches don’t really talk about it. Everybody knows about those guys. And we still have great relationships with hem at the same time. We are trying to build the secondary here ourselves. We just want to build a strong unit and a strong secondary and get the job done.

Senior defensive back Demetrious Cox

On camp and what’s the biggest difference this year…
There are some new, fresh faces but really not much is different. There are a lot of guys that are hungry and ready to get going but other than that it is the same intensity, same fight.

On the last game last year and the confidence the team gained from it…
It comes from the sense of we were there; we experienced it. Now that we were there we just want to keep raising the bar. Like Coach Dantonio says, ‘reach higher’ and now we have a chip on our shoulder to not only get where we were last year but to exceed that.

What was the experience like that you can take in to a big game…
There was stuff we can see on film from that game, we looked good, especially early on. Just like Riley (Bullough) said, we have a chip on our shoulder because we know we can play with them.

What’s practice been like and how did you build over the summer months…
I think this was the most freshmen we had come in early and it was good to see the young guys progress, myself progress and my teammates progress. The coaches know the bond that we keep building is pretty much what we are doing right now. (The freshmen) don’t quite know what they’re doing but they’re flying around, having fun.

On stepping in to the leadership role…
I feel comfortable now, after all summer and spring. I am just getting everyone going, trying to be that energy guy. I feel like It is my time to get everyone else around me going.

Sophomore linebacker Andrew Dowell

On playing the STAR linebacker position...
It is a very complicated position because there are a bunch of things going on and a bunch of reads we have to make. One thing I rely on as the STAR linebacker is being a playmaker. I can make plays from that STAR position and I am looking forward to it.

On earning his position…
I had a really good spring. I came out and made plays. Both my brother and I were able to come out and make a lot of plays in the spring game. Spring ball is when things started clicking for me and I’m starting to put it together now.

On having a dual skill set as the STAR linebacker…
Coaches bring up to me about how good I can be, but it is up to me personally and how much time I put in the offseason and putting in the extra time with the playbook to reach the capacity of play level that they think I can reach.

Senior linebacker Chris Frey

On winning a starting spot…
I’m going into the season knowing that I have to work hard because I don’t want to get beat out again. I go into every single practice with everything I got. I come off the practice field and I hop in the ice tub because I know it’s going to be a long night and a long day the next day. I go into every practice and every day with an, ‘I need to win a spot’ mentality.

Senior kicker Michael Geiger

On how the special team unit is looking…
I feel like we have a really experienced unit. We have Jake (Hartbarger) coming back, we have Kevin Cronin coming back and then we have some competition at long snapper. The first couple days of camp are always interesting for special teams. There is a lot of teaching and stuff going on and you have to make sure you do not get caught standing around but all the kicks have been good. You have Matt Coghlin coming in, who is very talented, so I would say it has been pretty good so far.

On another football season and how he’s feeling…
I could not be more excited. I have been waiting all year for fall to come around and when it does it is just a blessing to have another year. This is my senior year so I am even more excited and focused on having a great senior year.

Sophomore punter Jake Hartbarger

On the effects of Mike Sadler’s death…
The bigger picture comes out after things like that happen. You can’t take anything for granted. Sometimes we don’t know the reason why things happen. You have to have faith and trust in God, and believe there is a reason for everything even though we do not know those reasons.

On speaking with the Sadlers following Mike’s death…
I spoke with his parents at Spartan Stadium at the ceremony for Mike. They were holding it together well, but they got through it and we all got together after in the stadium to talk with the family. We had a chance to talk through everything, and it helped give us some closure. It was nice to know that they are here for us and we are here for them. After what happened, it was obvious we have a big family with the team and Spartan Nation, and that family was out in support.

On any struggles from last season…
I had a rough patch. It was best to take a quick break and step back to regroup. The coaches knew what was best for me, and that helped my game. It really was a lack of consistency and a lack of confidence. Ever since then, I’ve had that confidence I knew I had.

Senior cornerback Darian Hicks

On the deep secondary…
The freshman class that just came in has a good amount of DB’s, but as a whole we have about 20 now. Us as a whole, I think we can all help each other. The young guys can learn from the older guys and we can all step up to the challenge.

The only thing you can ask for is us to be healthy, but obviously if one guy goes down there are the other guys. Obviously all of us, or most of us, have the experience to know what to do and we can step in.

On the reputation of the “no-fly zone days”…
We pride ourselves on being the ‘no-fly zone’ and I truly believe that this season, with the guys that we have and the freshman that we have, we can be the ‘no-fly zone again.

Senior defensive end Evan Jones

On what is going through his mind now that it is football season…
It is crazy. The countdown is barely into double digits. It is flying by and we are enjoying it and working hard every day with the first day right around the corner.

On replacing the starters from last year’s team…

I think we have all worked hard and now that those guys before us have left, that leads us to fill some big shoes, but I think we are definitely capable of doing that and having a good year.

Junior defensive lineman Malik McDowell

On preparing for this season compared to last…
I don’t think it will be much of change from last year. I think that I will see the same type of blocks, so I am just getting ready for the season like last year. I don’t pay much attention to the outside stuff. People will say a lot of things, but you have to prove it first. I don’t feel any pressure from it.

On different areas addressed this offseason… I want to get off the ball quicker and use my hands. I picked up a couple of drills from when (the NFL) players came back and showed me some stuff. I am perfecting the basics first though. You always need to work on the basics. One of those guys I was talking about was Will Gholston. He showed me some ways to use my hands and get off the ball.

On the freshmen defensive lineman…
Be ready to work hard and to use your hands, then you will be able to play this year. That is all you have to do. They (freshman defensive end Josh King and freshman defensive end Auston Robertson) are nice. They are a lot nicer than what you would think a lot of freshman come in at. They are doing a nice job and holding their ground. They might have to play this year, and they have shown they can be ready in the next month.

On being moved along the line…
It will be fun to get away from some double teams and have some fun on the end or wherever they put me. I had to learn a little bit more and was working more on defensive end. Since I have been here, I was at nose guard more. I learned the game more and picked up on some new tricks over this past year. I am working on beating more double teams. I know when I am double teamed, I am doing my job because somebody else is free. I still need to be able to make the play through the double team. To take it to the next level, I need to do that on a consistent basis.

Junior safety Montae Nicholson

On the end of last season…
It was definitely crushing but I think has helped. It has definitely helped us, but more than people realize. To be so close but yet so far away - it is just like having a little piece of food and you want the whole thing but you cannot have it, it is just going to make you work harder so you do get the whole thing. It has definitely helped us in the offseason, we have that mentality because we know what we can do, other people know what we can do, we just have to show what we can do.

On noticing a difference in the team attitude this offseason…
Without a doubt, people are so willing to learn. With the freshman coming in, they take coaching so well. It’s not just a coach-led team, it’s definitely also a player-led team. I am not saying it was not before, but I feel like it has upgraded. Our young guys and our old guys are bonding together well.

On Malik McDowell’s expectations…
Malik is just a freak of nature. He is so fast, he is so long and it is just not usually like that. He is 6’6” or 6’7”, arms about four feet long and moving that fast. He is really strong but what really makes me appreciate him more and more is he does not pay attention to all that hype. He may retweet something out now and then, but in the locker room he is just one of us. We do everything together with the team, he is part of the team and he does not let that get to his head.

On how McDowell has matured...
Without a doubt, when he first got here he was just like the rest of us, a freshman coming straight out of high school. Everything is clicking and just on the go, I think last year was a big year for him but I think this one will be even bigger.

On the championship culture of defense wins championships…
I have been playing defense my whole life so I have been hearing that growing up and I take that very strong. Ever since I was little, a lot of games that we won were because of our defense and that has shown even here. Our defense this year should be pretty good. Our guys are just blending together well, in my opinion better than the past years. I think this year we all feel like we have a chip on our shoulder and that chip is still sitting there.

On the competition faced during practice, is it as good as the other competition…
The competition we face in practice, in my opinion, is the best in the country. The guys we play against throughout our schedule are great guys, great competition, great athletes, they are obviously there for a reason because they can play football, they can make plays. It just makes me pay attention to detail more because it is not just practice, it determines our season. I cannot go making mistakes in practice and then go watch it on film and correct it. This is game situation, I have to stay on my toes and stay sharp.

On the defensive player that is a little loud/obnoxious that gets everyone fired up and the player that is just laid back…
I actually two perfect examples. I would not call it loud and obnoxious, he is more the energizer bunny of our defense and that would be Riley Bullough. When we are down or something happens he is definitely the guy that everybody on the defense looks to. He is the guy for the energy the one that brings us that ‘umpf,’ to bring that spark. As far as the guy who is more quite, definitely Malik McDowell. He is loud on the field but not really loud vocally, he is obviously definitely one of our key players.

Junior linebacker Jon Reschke

On communicating expectations to the younger players…
Us as a defense, we have a swagger to us this year. We know how good we can be and what our potential can be. To exceed that, we need to do better than what people think we can do. We have a great defensive line and new guys that have come in and are unbelievable. We have an unreal linebacker corps and some great defensive backs.

On (freshman defensive end) Justice Alexander and (freshman defensive lineman) Raequan Williams…
They had a great off season, and both guys worked their butts off because they know they need to be a big part of this defense. Raequan is a stud and will be a big name guy this year.

On Riley Bullough and the linebacker corps…
We need to set the goal to be the best defense in the country. That is what needs to happen. Riley makes us great and makes the calls, which we all echo. He brings an energy level that you can’t coach. He brings that energy to the team, and that is what is great about him.

Sophomore defensive lineman Raequan Williams

On how excited he is to play next to Malik McDowell…
I am very excited to play next to him. In the film room, we just watch everything he does. It is nice being able to learn from him and frees me up because the offense is focused on him all of the time. I’ve been able to make a few plays in practice and I have been able to learn a lot from him.

On what he brings to his position that will allow him to have an impact…
I think the physicality mostly and the ability to run. If they are forcing the ball in, they know I’m coming. I think it is just the athletic ability because you know I am going to be in my spot.

On why this year’s group will make sure the winning culture continues…
We have a really talented group. We have good leaders like Riley Bullough that are going to make sure everybody knows what they are doing. We have good leaders and a lot of talent and that is how we are going to keep it going.

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