Aug. 22, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Following Sunday's scrimmage, the Michigan State football team was back on the practice field Monday afternoon as the Spartans head into their third and final week of preseason camp.
Prior to Monday's practice, the 18th this August, head coach Mark Dantonio provided an update to the media. Dantonio talked about the impressive performance of the defense in the second scrimmage, what the offense needs to improve on, and what he's hoping to accomplish during the last few practices of camp before the team turns its full attention to the season opener against Youngstown State on Sept. 2.
"When I look at the film, I always try to evaluate the toughness and the effort, in terms of what we are trying to do," said Dantonio, as he sent his team through a nearly three-hour, 183-play scrimmage on Sunday in which the defense came out on top, 78-44. "Are people being selfish, or is everybody all in? I really feel like again, we still have great chemistry on this football team, guys are playing extremely hard and playing with toughness."
It was hard not to be pleased with the defensive effort in the second scrimmage. The first-team unit didn't allow a touchdown and overall, the defense caused four turnovers, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
"I think we really improved from the first scrimmage to the scrimmage we had Sunday," said linebacker Steve Gardiner, as the defense fell last week to the offense, 67-64. "We were able to keep our enthusiasm and keep our momentum rolling."
"We came out with a lot of motivation," said junior cornerback Johnny Adams, who ran back an interception 32 yards for a score to close out the scrimmage. "We came out just to play, and played loose."
Dantonio cited sophomore linebacker Max Bullough, who recorded a team-best 11 tackles, along with sophomore cornerback Darqueze Dennard and red-shirt freshman defensive end Marcus Rush, as the defensive players that stood out to him.
Asked what he likes about Bullough, Dantonio quickly rattled off a list of positive attributes.
"Max gets people lined up, he's 245-250 pounds, he's very firm, he's got a knack for getting off blocks, and he runs well," said Dantonio without hesitation. "When you come to our winter workouts, you just say, `wow, look at that guy.' You're going to notice him running and moving. The thing that he can do is take that movement and build that into playing within a system."
Offensively, there were some issues in the scrimmage that need to be cleaned up, but nothing major according to Dantonio.
"The offensive line play, we had too many false starts," Dantonio said. "What we try to do is weight these penalties relative to the scrimmage. That hurt them and set them back a couple of times. As far as the play itself, I thought it was OK. Again, we have some young players up there playing and they are going to make some mistakes, but they're athletic and continue to grow every time we have a scrimmage or a game."
"It was very similar to the first scrimmage when we had moments when we didn't play very well, and then there were moments where we felt really good about what was going on," said senior quarterback Kirk Cousins regarding the scrimmage. "We did run the ball well. For the most part, we were able to be sharp in the passing game, but penalties hurt you every time you commit them. We also had some protection breakdowns. On offense, if one guy makes a mistake, the whole system doesn't work. So we need to have all 11 pieces working well together and that can be tough to do, especially when the coaches are trying to make sure that the twos and threes get the snaps that they need as well."
Dantonio also stressed the importance of the upcoming week and said it was too early to name starters on the depth chart after two weeks of practice.
"I'm not going to make those statements until we get ready to play the game," Dantonio said. "I think we're jumping to conclusions sometimes. We've talked about the guys competing for the positions, but we still have a week to go. We'll come back next week and sort of solidify where we're at. I think that's the fair thing to do. We want to evaluate them all the way through summer camp.
"Really what we need to do this week is to clean up some things today and address some things that we have not seen yet in summer practices, some situational things. And then really the next couple of days we will start looking at our first game against Youngstown State, start to get ready for them. School starts next week, it is a short week because we play on Friday, so we will get a jump on things this week so we are prepared."
INJURY UPDATES: Dantonio said freshman linebacker Lawrence Thomas, who has missed a majority of preseason camp with a shoulder injury, is still being held out of practice.
"I imagine it's going to be difficult because he's got to rehab his shoulder first, then he's got to be able to hit with it," remarked Dantonio. "He showed a lot of promise when he was able to practice, but he had one day of shells, so he's missed a lot of time. He's learning all of the walk throughs and everything else, but he's lost a lot of time.
"We don't really want to play a guy just to put him in the game and say `hey, you've played.' He's too good of a player, too valuable of a commodity to waste. So when he's ready to play, if that's the third game, he'll play. If it's not until next year, then that's what we'll do. It really depends on how well he's able to grasp what we're doing and then get the reps to be able to move in that direction."
Dantonio also mentioned several other players have minor injuries, but nothing "long term."
"We have remained pretty healthy," said Dantonio. "We have guys nicked up, a couple guys we hold out after scrimmages, whether it is a slight head thing or an ankle or whatever. We'll get those guys back, so we should be good so far."
TO REDSHIRT, OR TO PLAY: One of the most difficult decisions a coaching staff must make out of preseason camp is the decision to either redshirt or play a true freshman. Several factors can lead to the decision, or change it throughout the season.
For now, there are only a handful of true freshmen that might see the field in 2011, a credit to the depth and overall talent on the roster.
Dantonio mentioned Taiwan Jones, who had nine tackles in the second scrimmage, is getting reps with the twos. Safety RJ Williamson, linebacker Ed Davis and possibly defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun were three other freshmen Dantonio commented on as having a chance to play early.
BIG TEN NETWORK PREVIEW SPECIAL: Hosted by Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith, the "Big Ten Football Preview" provides on-the-field analysis of each team's top newcomers, rising stars, important position battles and 2011 schedule. Last Friday, BTN stopped by practice in East Lansing for the 30-minute preview special on the Spartans, which will debut on Tuesday, Aug. 23 at 8 p.m. The show gives an inside look at a Spartan practice and also includes interviews with head coach Mark Dantonio, offensive coordinator Dan Roushar, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy.
QUOTABLE: After Sunday's scrimmage, Cousins shared a few additional thoughts on the team's performance.
During Sunday's scrimmage, you displayed the ability to turn potential negative plays into a positive plays. Is that a skill that can be developed over time?
"There's no doubt that's an area of improvement I personally can make in my game. It's important to have the ability to create plays when things break down. Plays are going to break down - that's the nature of the game. Things aren't always going to go our way. When things break down, I have to be able to get out of the pocket and make something happen. Sometimes, receivers have to adjust a route or change the route to get open, but I must have the ability to make something happen to help our team. That's something that great quarterbacks can do."
Red-shirt freshman Keith Mumphery (four catches for 58 yards) displayed some play-making ability while working with the second team. Keith is a guy that the media and fans may not know much about, but he caught the coaching staff's attention a year ago.
"Keith is very athletic. He came in and impressed us right away last year during his red-shirt season with his combination of size, speed and strength. It's become a matter of him learning the position. It takes time to learn the techniques of any position. Keith is still learning, but he definitely shows flashes of his play-making ability. It's simply a matter of time before he's consistently doing good things for our offense."
With the season opener against Youngstown State just a week-and-a-half away, what is the focus right now?
"Our immediate focus is to improve upon what we learned from watching film of Sunday's scrimmage. We definitely have to tighten some things up. We're in our last week of preseason camp, so we'll strive to make sure that we're game ready for next week. The focus turns more toward Youngstown State. We'll study a lot of film and get some Youngstown State looks on the practice field. Things now have a game-week type feel."