Aug. 9, 2009
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Third-year Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio welcomed members of the 2009 team back to campus for physicals, compliance and academic meetings, and a media workshop on Sunday, Aug. 9, as the Spartans opened preseason football camp. The first preseason practice is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 10 at 3:30 p.m. EDT.
Following a 6 a.m. wake-up call Monday, the players will report to the indoor facility at the Duffy Daugherty Football Building for a series of running tests.
"The first thing the players have to do tomorrow is pass the running (Bottom Line) test," Dantonio said. "(Head strength and conditioning coach) Ken Mannie and his staff have done a great job managing the summer conditioning workouts, but most importantly, the players have bought into the program. So the guys have trained throughout the summer for this test. It's a demanding exercise, so we're anxious to see where the players are at from a conditioning standpoint."
Over the next five days, the Spartans will practice in shorts for two days and shells for two days before donning full pads for the first time on Friday, Aug. 14.
"This week, we'll install our base offense and defense," Dantonio said. "The guys haven't participated in organized workouts for three months, so they will have to become reconditioned to playing the game of football. Later this week, they'll also have to adjust to carrying their pads again.
"The biggest thing that they'll learn this week is how to operate as a team. They'll learn the snap count, how to execute with precision and the importance of paying attention to detail. Those items will be our focus during this first week of preseason camp."
As preseason camp opens, all eyes are focused on the position battles at quarterback and running back. Gone are Brian Hoyer, who compiled a 16-11 record in 27 career starts at quarterback, and consensus All-American Javon Ringer, who rushed for 1,637 yards and a school-record 22 touchdowns in 2008.
"We have a solid situation at quarterback," Dantonio said. "Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol may be short on experience, but they both have talent and a lot of upside. Kirk and Keith are great students of the game and both play the position with toughness. So we're anxious to see them compete in preseason camp, and my role here is to provide opportunities for growth at the quarterback position.
"In the past, we've had success with the running back-by-committee approach. In 2007, Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick combined to rush for more than 2,300 yards and 27 TDs. And heading into last season, everyone wondered how we were going to replace the productivity of Devin Thomas, who had 79 catches for more than 1,200 yards in 2007. We had great success with the wide receiver-by-committee approach last year, as Blair White, Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham combined for 120 receptions and nearly 1,900 receiving yards.
"We have both talent and depth at running back. What we'll be seeking this preseason is consistency from our running backs. Our two incoming freshmen, Edwin Baker and Larry Caper, will be given opportunities to impress, so it will be interesting to see how they respond."
Michigan State ranked No. 27 in the preseason USA TODAY Coaches' Poll, just 29 points shy of cracking the Top 25. "With 18 starters returning, the expectations are high for the upcoming season, and it takes a certain maturity level to manage those aspirations," Dantonio said. "For this team to meet those expectations, our seniors must have the best seasons of their careers. Look back at the 2007 and 2008 seasons, those teams had success because the seniors consistently performed at a high level. This year will be no exception, as our seniors will ultimately determine if this team will become a contender for the Big Ten championship."
Fifth-year senior Blair White, who led the team with 43 receptions for 659 yards and a touchdown in 2008, is approaching his final preseason camp with a greater sense of urgency.
"I had a chance to reflect a little during my drive back to campus, and in the past, I honestly dreaded preseason camp," White said. "This year, I'm more excited about preseason camp than I have ever been (in my career). I'm looking forward to taking it all in, and it's going to be fun.
"This first week of camp is real important because it helps set the tone for the next three weeks. Our seniors must be willing to assume leadership roles and help guide the incoming freshmen through the mental and physical demands of preseason camp. Most of the incoming freshmen are paired with upperclassmen as roommates, so we can help them get a feel for camp. As seniors, it's also our job to make sure that the guys bring some intensity to the practice field every day."
Junior linebacker Greg Jones, who has led the Spartans in tackles each of the last two seasons, also has learned the importance of having a productive first week of preseason training camp.
"Each year, I gain a better understanding of just how important this opening week of preseason camp is in terms of developing our identity," Jones said. "Our expectations are high and the guys are approaching camp with the right mindset and focus. There's a lot of excitement around the football program, but we also understand that we have a lot of work to do over the next four weeks.
"The guys worked extremely hard during the summer conditioning program, but we're all looking forward to putting the pads on at the end of the week, so we can start hitting again."
Michigan State's 2009 season and home opener, Sept. 5 against Montana State, will be televised by the Big Ten Network, with kickoff set for 12 p.m. EDT.