With nearly 900 youngsters braving 40 degree weather for the annual youth clinic, you knew something was in the air. The days of disappointment are far from over as Mark Dantonio has exorcised mediocrity and status quo from Spartan Football.
21,000 showed up at the High Cathedral of the Spartan Nation, Spartan Stadium, for the annual Green and White spring football
game and they got a glimpse of what other Big Ten teams fear: The Spartan Defense. Led by perhaps the best defensive player in the nation,
William Gholston, the Spartans defense was stingy, mean, and downright inhospitable to a red shirt freshman QB who was jittery and uncertain for much of the game in Connor Cook. Who can blame the youngster?
With starting QB Andrew Maxwell out for the game, (Maxwell would have played if it were the regular seson) Cook took the vast majority of the reps and without a doubt the much heralded
youngster looked the part of the apprentice taking on the monster. Although his performance was not what I am sure he, his teammates, and coaches or even the Spartan Nation hoped for, it was not the end of the world and he certainly had the odds against him.
Braving swirling winds and fourteen different offensive linemen, he also had the most depth of premium blue chip defensive talent to
face on both sides of the ball as he rotated from green to white. He admitted after the game, “Couple of my throws were getting away from
me. The same thing happened in the second scrimmage we had. I was sailing a lot of balls early…My first couple throws got away from me.”
In a game where getting hit was off limits for the signal caller, Cook was nervous and who can blame him. There will be several games in the 2012 season where teams will not have a defense as good as the MSU second team, let alone the beasts that eventually will be the feared first string.
Denicos Allen is one of those first string beasts and he rose to the defense of the young QB. When talking about the less than stellar performance of the offense he said, “I wouldn’t say it’s our offense. I would just say our defense is really good…going against our offense all spring, I know how it was out there today isn’t what their potential is.”
Dantonio who is widely lauded as a defensive genius around the world of college football could barely contain his excitement with the depth and more importantly the talent he has on the defensive line. He said, “It is a position again where you see 10 or 12 guys in there playing.”
Imagine this fact. He has linebackers on this team (and at other positions) who will one day play in the NFL that won’t crack the playing group this year. He said of his backers, “You thought the ball was going to break out and then all of a sudden everything would close up quickly. They were running and hitting and the hitting was very good from where I was standing.”
Cook was 20 of 45 passing with one recorded sack. Remember that he was wearing a red jersey which means he couldn’t be hit. There were as many as five other “SACKS” that weren’t called and the play continued. It was a great day for the young man to get experience. Having red shirted last year, the chance to play in the stadium was good for him, but nothing will replace real game experience. Hopefully, the staff will do
a better job at getting him reps as a backup then they did with Maxwell for Cousins.
I don’t think anyone can be fair and judge Cook by this performance. There are going to be plenty of experienced and talented QBs this fall who look worse than he did today. Overall, he got some great reps and I personally think his best performance of the day came in the media post game
interviews. Cook handled himself like a seasoned pro. He still had his confidence, but knew he was not where he will be.
Another factor you have to take into account was the offensive line. Big and talented, they were split up. As I mentioned previously, fourteen different
Spartans got into the mix and at NO position on the field is continuity of playing together as important at the OL. Splitting them up doesn’t bode for a top performance at any level of football.
Still the Spartans have a great group of seven players who are all legitimately vying for the starting five spots. Dantonio said of that group of seven when I asked him, “Just like everything, it’s what have you done for me lately? How you play in August is really going to determine who starts in the fall. I would say things are close enough to say where you can make a place where every player in the top seven could be a starter.”
Special teams are my biggest concern with this team. Mike Sadler is a star who will one day kick in the NFL for sure. He boots the ball with the precision and skill of a world renowned surgeon.
Senior kicker Dan Conroy missed both of his field goals and is certainly not living up to the expectations he set with an amazing initial season when he arrived on the scene. With Conroy we know what he can do, it is all mental at this point. He has all the skills to be an All First Team B1G kicker this
Matt Giampapa burst on the scene for MSU last year as the ONLY major contributor from the 2012 freshman class. One of only two players from that didn’t red shirt from the 2011 class. After off the field issues kept him out of the bowl game, the long snapper is on a VERY SHORT LEASH as the long snapper. How short? After rewarding Giampapa last season with a scholarship, they brought in ANOTHER scholarship long snapper in this fall’s recruiting class to guard against him leaving them in a bad spot again.
Junior kicker Kevin Muma struggled with his kickoffs last year. With kickoffs being moved up this season he must find the end zone on a consistent and regular basis. Of his four kickoffs on Saturday two were touchbacks The Spartans are actively recruiting two kickers for the 2013 class and will offer one of them as early as June when they show up for a camp on campus. Whoever gets the coveted Spartan offer and accepts will get to compete
to play immediately with Muma if his struggles continue from last year.
Dantonio said of his special teams play in the spring game, “”I did think Sadler punted the ball pretty well…missed two field goals. One was a
gimme, and the other was a long one. You’d like to see more success there, obviously.”
All in all I think Brad Salem said it best when recapping the spring game, “Our hope is that guys experience success today so they feel that and can believe in themselves so they are ready for Boise State.”
Here are six players/things that stuck out this spring.
- The defense is as good as advertised. Not since 1966 has the Spartan Nation had a unit as deep, fearless, and downright
nasty (not dirty) as this. They will cause nightmares for opposing teams and QBs. DC Pat Narduzzi said this spring that as many as “four or five” could go early to the NFL next year and he is right.
- Fou Fonoti came in last year, won the right tackle spot when Skyler Burkland went down injured, and has done nothing, but put a stranglehold on that spot. He owns it. He has emerged as a team leader, which is amazing considering that even at the time of this writing he hasn’t even been on campus for one year. He has a legitimate shot at being elected a team captain.
- LeVeon Bell is an NFL caliber running back and will be the bell cow of this team. He has all the tools and talent and I predict will finish the season on the First Team All B1G.
- Dion Sims is a star at TE, but after him it is wide open. Others played well, but no one else distinguished themselves from the pack this spring. Incoming freshman stars Josiah Price and Evan “BULLDOZER” Jones will compete immediately to play. If they come into East Lansing in shape and can grasp the system quickly, they both could play.
- Legendary Steel Curtain head man and Spartan Nation legend Coach George Perles once told me about Mean Joe Greene, “On a defense of stars, the best defense in the history of pro football, he was the big shot. The celebrity that all the others looked up to and respected.” William Gholston is that player on this team and this defense. At the children’s clinic hundreds of youngsters clamored for his autograph, a hug, or
attention. It was William, William, William, wherever you turned. His teammates picked him #1 in the spring draft overall and he owned his own teammates in drills and scrimmages. He could be the best defender since George Webster and Bubba Smith and perhaps the greatest
ever when all is said in done in East Lansing. What is even better is that as great of a football player as Gholston is, he is a better young man.
- Max Bullough is the best MLB in the country and is a dominating player and personality. He is nothing short of a star and although not as big of a personality as Gholston, he is just as good of a person and player.