Oct. 10, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Delton Williams appears to be a supremely well-adjusted freshman, but that doesn't mean he's satisfied with the settings.
For example, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Michigan State tailback was fine with being redshirted through the first four games. But by gradually improving and refining, Williams made a case to head coach Mark Dantonio for getting into the lineup and rushed for 32 yards on nine carries in his debut at Iowa.
"Coach D would tell us you're getting evaluated and graded every day and then we're going to sit down and watch film and see how good I did in practice," Williams said. "So, you're just trying to get better. At first, I had things like pass-protection (to work on).
"I see I'm making progress because now I'm playing. I just want to be on the field. I'm here working for the scholarship I have, so I'm just going to keep working until I make it to that next step."
Williams, less than a year out of Erie (Pa.) Cathedral Prep, now is building on what he gleaned from his second-half appearance in the 26-14 victory over the Hawkeyes for Saturday's game against Indiana.
"I was just happy to be out there when I first got in," Williams said. "My first touch could have been a touchdown, but I was too hyper and I got up in there and tripped over an O-lineman's feet. After that, I came back on the sideline and was like, `I hope I get another chance.'
"When they gave me another chance, I saw that my coaches felt confident in me and wanted me out there, so I had to prove myself. So, I went back out there and settled down, and did better."
Williams opened a fourth-quarter drive with an 11-yard gain - on his fourth career rush - that helped set up the field goal for a two-touchdown lead.
"At first, I didn't know my purpose," Williams said of his break-in period. "I was out there just trying to make the team better any way I could. Now, I know what I've got to do every day. I know I've got to come out and compete against (defensive) ends and linebackers with pass-protection, keep the ball up and make sure I don't fumble.
"I know my purpose now, and it's just making me better now every day."
The Spartans, who are ninth in the Big Ten in rushing offense with 176.6 yards per game, will try to make some hay against the Hoosiers, who are last in rushing defense (212.2).
"Our offensive line's been doing a great job," Williams said. "I had holes I could have hit in the past game that I see on film, and now I know I got to just be more calm, let blocks form and do what I've got to do. We're going to be all right in the running game.
"I watched film on ... their floating linebackers and how their defensive line fires off the ball. Every week it's going to be different, and that's why in game-situations you've got to be ready for whatever."
Physically, Williams is a Le'Veon Bell-power-back prototype, but he also is a thoughtful long-range planner. When he was asked earlier this week what position he thought he'd be playing in 2016, he replied "safety" even though the debate in training camp was over whether he'd line up in the offensive backfield or as a linebacker.
"I'm open to wherever coach puts me because I know he's not going to put me somewhere that's not going to make me successful," said Williams, who's looking forward to the day the coaches take advantage of his pass-catching ability. "I'm just a young guy. They haven't really seen all the things I can do and just trying to get the little things down pat so when they want to do that stuff, I can have it all down.
"That time will come. I've got a long time here."
A hospitality business major, his approach is much the same off the field and as a student.
"I'm going to get my degree and then, if I get my chance, go into the NFL and with the money I get out of there, I'm going to invest it in something that can set me up for the future, so I can have my mom and family set," he said. "I'm looking forward to being that person who can help everybody out.
"I'm not just here for myself. That's why I take care of any other problems I have off the field, so everybody back home can be happy that I'm doing what I'm doing."
GoG Blog Notes & Quotes: Now that it looks like MSU's receiving corps is finally over the hump and catching the ball the way receivers coach Terrence Samuel has been saying they could since last season, he provided insight on what he meant by playing undisciplined or without confidence and focus.
In the Spartans' season-high 25-catch, 277-yard receiving performance against Iowa, the wideouts had their best overall game since B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol were ravaging secondaries in 2011, according to Samuel.
"They did a really good job knowing their responsibilities and being in position to make plays in the run and in the pass (game)," Samuel said. "Some guys, in the midst of play, their eyes travel someplace else. They'd be running the right route, but you needed the crispness of the route. Are you at the right depth? Are you thinking and a little bit slow? Or are you too fast? Sometimes, we weren't getting into the right windows for the quarterback.
"That's what I'm saying about just being really focused on what needs to get done and do it consistently. It's not knowing the plays anymore; it's about production. We're not talking about just running the right route; we're talking about getting open, having separation and making plays in the run and the pass.
"The guys are coming on, and right along with that, their aggressiveness is coming as well and that's what I'm liking. They've got the confidence. Now, attack the ball and attack your blocks. It's showing up in the game and, hopefully, they'll continue to do it."
Samuel said Kings "is finally starting to see things the way he needs to see them, and he's playing aggressive. He's not just confident; he's playing out there to beat the defense. He's not worried about how he runs the route or what route he's running, he's just going out there to get himself open as fast as he can for the quarterback."
Kings, who scored MSU's first touchdown against the Hawkeyes on a 46-yard pass-and-run, said: "It was a big relief, but we knew it was coming. It was a just a matter a time before we got that long play everybody was talking about."
Red-shirt freshman Riley Bullough played linebacker last spring, started at tailback in preseason camp and is now settling in at fullback. He's happy with the change even though there are no guarantees he'll get the carry the ball out of that spot the way Mike Alstott did with bruising success as Purdue's three-time MVP and career-rushing leader in the mid-1990s.
"This is what I thought I was going to do from the beginning on offense," Bullough said. "I thought I was going to be blocking more, going out for passes and not necessarily running the ball. Now, I'm excited to be staying with the running backs.
"I never played anything close to fullback before, so I'm kind of just trying to create my own style and position, really, because I still think I can run the ball and am athletic enough to go out for passes. From watching the NFL every week and seeing how good the guys can block, is something I've looked at and want to improve on.
"I'm not too worried about getting carries, but maybe we'll do some fullback bellies, hopefully, sometime. We've got a couple plays for that, so that's another dimension we can put in and give teams to think about."
A fullback hasn't led MSU in rushing since Carl Butler in 1983, and you probably don't need both hands to count the Spartans' number of carries from that position over the past 25 years. Nevertheless, Dantonio is receptive to anything that will improve point production.
"Yeah, I do look at that," Dantonio said. "When we looked at Riley and put him over there, I felt like he was a guy a little bit like (Iowa's Mark) Weisman. He's a little bit like Alstott. He hasn't transitioned as fast as we hoped he would, (but) he was limited in summer camp a little bit with an injury, so he didn't get as many reps.
"But he's a football player. We need to find a way to get him more reps on the field, and that's what we're trying to do. He's very active in special teams. If he was a linebacker right now he'd be a backup, so we're just trying to get him on the field as much as we can and get him game experience and allow him sort of to take off a little bit."
Although MSU leads the Big Ten in most major defensive categories, the Spartans are tied with Purdue for sixth with nine quarterback sacks. That projects to 23 in a 13-game season, or only three more than last season when they were 11th in the league. Defensive line coach Ron Burton isn't concerned, however.
"The pressure is there, No. 1, because of the hits on the quarterback and they're no different from sacks in terms of what you're trying to get done up front," he said. "We do need finish some plays, but the plus side of it is we hit him just as much as if we needed to get sacks because of the pressure.
"It was between 16-18 (quarterback hits)."
Junior defensive lineman Lawrence Thomas, who has missed the first five games with an undisclosed injury, has returned to practice in full pads this week. Whether he can contribute the speed and athleticism he demonstrated last season on Saturday against the Hoosiers remains to be seen.
"He looks fresh, that's for sure, and he looks stealthy," Burton said. "But, he's got to back in gamesmanship-mode, using his hands at the point of attack, and that's going to take a couple weeks. But, it's good to have him out there, which shows right away with his quickness and agility."
"He had a little ankle, but he still played as many plays as he did when he's starting, and he is the starter," Burton said. "With the strong run-situation, that's how we started and when we got them in a passing situation (Rush went in). But, he can do both. We just wanted to make sure we worked to our strengths at all time."