Mark Dantonio took time to update the media on how the Spartans are doing in spring practice and here is what his thoughts were on a plethora of topics:
We came out of last week’s scrimmage a little nicked up but we’ll keep playing. But thought the scrimmage the other day was a good scrimmage. Defense played very, very well, especially early on. Offensive did good things at the end of the scrimmage.
Q: Mark, heading into spring you thought offensive line would be a strength. Is it demonstrating that, is it being that?
A: Well, we got some guys nicked up. We had three starters, three guys really not go scrimmage so it’s tough to see on that. But we’ve got to run the ball more effectively and that’s the one thing that came out of the scrimmage. We didn’t run the ball as effectively.
Q: How about tight end and full back?
A: Tight end and full back, young players. Again they’ve got a big learning curve there, I think. But we’ll continue to make improvements.
Q: What do you wanna see out of the wide receiver position and what have you seen this spring?
A: I think the biggest thing is consistency. I think if you look at the end of the game, yeah you saw consistency. I think if you saw early on you sort of felt like maybe we need to play a little bit better. But the passing game is always so much involved because it’s not only pitching the football but delivering it and protecting the passer as well.
Q: How have the running backs been so far? Any separation?
A: No, I didn’t see any separation. We need to be better.
Q: Aaron Burbridge is he OK? Is he playing?
A: Yeah, he’s playing. Consistency. I think that’s what you see in young players. A lot of times they make a big jump and then they settle back a little bit. You know, we’ve got some good wide receivers but they need to be consistent.
Q: Has there been any 1’s on the depth chart who’ve been moved down not because of injury?
A: I would say no. I would say no.
Q: Do you have any returners picked out yet? Are they auditioning for that?
A: Well, we’ve been inside so often it’s been tough to really do a lot of that game wise, game speed. AJ Sims had a nice return on Saturday in a live punt situation. The big kickoff returns, we haven’t done that yet just because of the nature of the scrimmage.
Q: The defense has been so good for several years now. Is there a fear that that’s being taken for granted?
A: No. You need to be good on defense but we continue to critique what we do. It’s about fundamentals and execution. Fundamentals, it’s really what you do. And then conceptually you gotta be tied together, you’ve gotta have a foundation.
Q: Who’s been your best place kicker this spring, Mark?
A: Kevin Cronin.
Q: Finishing late in games for the defense. Have you kind of focused on that this year and what have you seen in regards to that?
A: Well, to put that into focus… I think that’s one thing that we’ve got to guard against. In the scrimmage that’s what happens, but you know you’re playing 1’s and 2’s. We try to create situations as well. But I think our offense did a nice job in that situation so they just keep working at it. But that is a concern.
Q: Did you go 1-1’s, 2-2’s, 3-3’s?
A: 1-1’s, 2-2’s.
Q: What kind of progress have you seen from Josiah Price and Evan Jones at tight end?
A: The freshman gotta be more consistent. I think that’s what you hear out here when you got young players is you need consistency. So when you have a state of the union address and you talk to the players, that’s what they hear.
Q: We know what Andrew can do. What have you seen out of O’Connor and Connor Cook?
A: I think Tyler O’Connor can make a play with his feet. He adlibs very well. And when you see big plays from him, a lot of it he’s created. So that’s been a positive thing. He needs to be a little bit more consistent. Again there is the word, in your everyday things. Some things that he should do: He should be able to make a throw. You know, sometimes he’s not 100%. But he’s done some good things. I think Connor Cook is much the same. He’s just a year removed from it so sometimes he’s just a little bit…I don’t wanna say disoriented, I just say lack of consistency. But he makes plays. He makes plays with his feet out there, he’s big, he has a strong arm. So all three of those guys are good football players. I think we’re farther along this year than we were last year with our quarterbacks, due to the nature of the experience that Maxwell has, the experience Connor Cook has. And we’ve got a third that could play himself into playing time. So we’ve got three guys I think that have good ability, raw ability, throwing ability. But the consistency needs to be there. But that has to be said about when you look at the whole offense, that has to be said. Playing against a good defense.
Q: What do you think about Maxwell?
A: I think when he’s got time and everything’s good around him, I think he’s very efficient. Things breakdown, which usually with most quarterbacks, when things breakdown the separation is not as great. The separation is not as great from the other two.
Q: What are you most pleased with this spring, Mark?
A: Our chemistry is always good. We come out here and work hard, we’re aggressive, we play the game. Quarterbacks have been live, cut on the edge. We’re playing this game as aggressively and as game-like as we can. And I think with that in mind our players have done a great job. But with that comes more mistakes. If you just go “thud” and you’re not wrapping up, you’re not taking them down every day, you’re not making the quarterbacks live, it’s a little cleaner. But sometimes you gotta get your hands dirty to find out exactly where you’re at. That’s what we got to do.
Q: How much of your offense do you have in? Are you still adding things or do you have a pretty good base right now already put in?
A: We’re still adding things. We’ve gone slow because of certain… The tight ends are young, just different positions. I think in the spring what we need to find is who can play the game. It’s not so much what we do, it is to some extent because you want to experiment with things, but we need to find out who can play, and then get those players into the game and get those players in the right positions. So there’s some positions quite honestly that are still up for grabs on this football team. I think you guys are aware of that.
Q: You said you had a state of the union address with the guys?
A: We just talk generalities.
Q: AJ Troup has shown up on the stat sheet, but I also know it’s a situational scrimmage. Is that someone that’s impressed you or are those stats more situational?
A: Well, he took a slant to the house against the 2’s. He also ran a fade against the 2’s for a touchdown. So he’s ha d a good spring thus far. He’s a big bodied guy, he’s a good young player, he’s a big bodied guy who can run when he’s got the ball pretty cleanly.
Q: Explosive plays what you are looking for?
A: Yeah, I think explosive plays and then lack of turnovers on the offensive side of the ball, and then you looking at the opposite on the defensive side. You’re sort of sitting there in a catch 22 situation sometimes.
Q: Is Juwan Caesar still getting reps at tight end.
A: He’s nicked up right now.
Q: Keith Mumphery I saw had a couple reps in tight ends drill you had open last week. How’s he doing this spring?
A: Keith is a good player. Everybody, I think, on our football team has certain levels that they have to accomplish. When you’ve played a year you need to be farther along. If you’re a true freshman, you need to come into your own. If you’ve never played, you need to gain some ground. I think everybody’s looking for more. I think we just need to check ourselves, including myself. Check yourself, where are you at, what are you doing, what are you doing to try to get better. I think we all need to always improve. And so I’m looking for improvement. That’s a roundabout way to answer that question. You just keep pushing. And I think he’s one of those guys that does push himself. He plays hard but he needs to mature. Just like a lot of our players. If they’ve been in the games they need to mature, they need to grow. Expect that growth to take place on the field and we expect to see that on a consistent basis. Now, I’m in the business of critiquing it. Again, we’ve got a little bit of a catch 22. I’m not dissatisfied, I just think we need to be as good as we can.
Q: Nobody walks out of here with a clean slate.
A: No, that’s not the way we’re made.
Q: Are you seeing that 3% gain that you crave every practice?
A: Yeah, I do see 3% but it’s not on everybody. That’s the problem.
Q: Wide out. What would be your lineup for a game right now?
A: I think you’re looking at Bennie Fowler, you’re looking at Lippett, you’re looking at Mumphrey. You’re looking at the same four that you saw show up last year. All four of those guys have made plays here this spring. You’ve seen things from (Monty) Madaris, AJ Troup. But you haven’t risen to a player like BJ Cunningham. That is the standard. That’s what we can’t accept anything less than. That’s the standard.
Q: Is route running the big emphasis with WR this spring?
A: Yeah, everything is. Blocking, catching the ball, traffic, route running, getting off press, whatever we got to do. Growing in terms of alignment, growing in terms of experience. That’s why we do this. So that’s why we practice. Our effort’s great. Our effort’s very good and our chemistry is very good.
Q: Cook or O’Connor with the 2’s?
A: What we did is we rolled them. We tried to give everybody opportunities with the 1’s. Cook had an opportunity with the 1’s. Tyler O’Connor had opportunity with the 2’s. Andrew played with the 1’s. We tried to give those guys equal reps because we’re trying to evaluate and allow everybody to play.
Q: Conklin and Kruse — two young guys you’ve talked about the opportunity to really step up. How are they doing, Mark?
A: I think Jack, again, a lot of things coming at him. Sometimes he’s playing straight-legged, sometimes he needs to bend his knees, play with a little bit more “umph”. He’s talented and he wants to play very, very well. It’s important to him. He has potential but he’s a true freshman.
Q: Coach Bollman told me they’re going to work out how co-offensive coordinators work. So in the first live scrimmage, how did that work with Dave Warner and him. And how is that feeling out?
A: Good. As I said when we did this Dave Warner will be the lead guy, the play caller. Jim Bollman will be more of a consultant in that area. I don’t think we have two guys calling plays. We have a consultant to say, Hey what about this, what about that? I think all of our coaches do that, but I think that’s what this is.
Q: You’re former coordinator, you mentioned the big plays in the scrimmage. Reading between the lines, you seem ticked off about it. Is there an individual breakdown or scheme things?
A: No, it’s not the scheme thing. It’s the individual breakdown. Again I go back and say we needed some. We needed some big plays in that scrimmage too. So I was sorta glad we saw it. Game came down to the end where the offense drove it in a 2 minute situation and had an opportunity to kick a field goal at the end to win it and they didn’t make it, partially blocked. So team defense wins the scrimmage. But it came down to the end, which is the way I like it.