Mark Dantonio Gives a Complete Recap of Spring Football and the State of His Team!
A: Spring game #7. It was a cold one. First thing I guess I’d say is what a great crowd. Great crowd out there today. The weather…woke up this morning with snow on the ground and everything else. We had 800+ young people come to our Youth Clinic, which was tremendous. We had about, with parents and everything, probably 1200—1400 people in our facility. So I think that was outstanding. And a great crowd that came to the spring game. I wanna thank everybody for that, all their support. As far as the game itself, I think what you saw is how important turnovers are. How it can really cut into the plays on one side. In terms of the white, it could really cut into the number of plays that they have when you return two turnovers for a touchdown. That’s like a yahtzee deal. So your plays are gonna be limited, but at the same time you get 14 points. I thought our green team did some nice things, but we gotta learn to stay in the pocket and not run around with the ball and take it as it comes sometimes. I thought Connor Cook executed, threw the ball well but had a couple of probably critical errors…run backwards and around. That’s something he has to learn to do. He’s out here in the crowd somewhere. As far as the white team, I thought Maxwell was consistent. Had some dropped passes. The wind was swirling out there. It was bad weather conditions. Nevertheless, I thought that he threw the ball pretty effectively but you gotta catch it on the other side. Had some guys make some big plays. Arnett got involved, made some big plays. Happy to see that. Bennie Fowler from what I saw. I saw Burbridge make some big plays for the green as well. So there’s three receivers on the green side that did very well. I thought Riley Bullough did a nice job running with the ball. We threw some things in there from an offensive play calling standpoint that was nice to see as well. So I’ll just take some questions.
Q: Where are you on the quarterback competition right now?
A: I think you leave here at the end of spring saying that… Well first of all, I don’t know how much the spring game falls into this, but I think you leave here saying Maxwell comes into the summer camp #1 based on knowledge, based on consistency in terms of performance. I think Connor Cook pushes him. Quite frankly, Connor Cook doesn’t make mistakes that can be easily omitted. He’s right there because I think he throws the ball and he moves well in the pocket. But he can’t take a 5 yd loss and turn it into a 20 yd loss. He just can’t do it. That’s just the bottom line of it. We gotta learn that and that’s part of it. I think Tyler O’Connor’s first opportunity playing on live TV, playing in front of…I don’t know how many thousands were out there, 30, 45, whatever it is…but a first opportunity to play in front of a large group of people. He needs to play a little bit more consistently and he needs to play better. He had a big turnover for a touchdown. Again, he was playing with the white so he didn’t get the number of snaps initially, and they tried to force the issue at the end playing with the green a little bit. But it is as it is. It was nice to be able to overturn a referee’s decision, so I was really excited about that at the end of the game. You’re trying to get the Big 10 Network off the air right at 4:30 and try to run a 2 minute drill. So try to make sure you get a little TV coverage, so it was a little bit out of whack there. The green team could have used their time outs there at the end as well. But I thought it was a competitive game. I think our guys came to compete, they had fun with it. We split it up…we don’t make it the 1’s versus everybody else. So it does get a little bit split up. You don’t have people working with each other and we lost Kodi Kieler early I the first series who works as our second team center. So we’re getting ready to go.
Q: Just a minute ago Dave said Riley’s certainly in the mix at that #1 running back. In your mind is he your #1 back?
A: I think in my mind he compliments our running back situation. We’ll see what our freshmen do when they come in and then we gotta make some quick tough decisions. We got Jon Reschke coming in as a linebacker who is an outstanding high school linebacker. Shane Jones, outstanding high school linebacker. We need a guy who is able to back up Max Bullough. Kyler Elsworth is a guy that can but he is a senior and I don’t like back-up seniors with seniors, but he certainly can do that. It depends on how our freshman linebackers come and play and how our freshman running backs come and play. I think Riley shows the ability to play, as a football IQ, he shows the ability to play on offense, he shows the ability to play on defense. He gives us a powerful punch and we need to be able to counter that punch with a Nick Hill or a Jeremy Langford. And that’s part of it too. Or an RJ Shelton. So it just depends on how they come in. That’s a little bit of an unsettled position but I think we got the guys that can make some plays. We had 4 or 5 starters that were out today. Two defensive backs that were out in Lewis and Dennard, and 3 offensive linemen that have started for us, out today. So we had 5starters out. To be able to put that on the field, an offensive line, a secondary on the field, two different teams like that, shows that you have some depth with scholarship players in there. Shows that we do have depth and that depth needs to come of age in the fall.
Q: Beyond the entertainment, what were you looking for out of this spring scrimmage?
A: I wanted to come out safely, goal #1 come out safely. Ezra, I don’t know if it’s spring knee or whatever, there’s no major ligament damage so that’s a positive. Shilique tweaked his ankle, no major damage. Kodi Kieler tweaked an ankle, no major damage. So I wanted to come out safe. I wanted to play penalty-free. Didn’t get that done. But again, it speaks to the fact at how close they’re calling interference in the Big 10 Conference. And that’s been a source of contention, really. It’s great because I can talk about officiating today. But it just goes to show you how close they’re calling that as far as pass interference. That’s a source of contention with all Big 10 coaches right now. It is what it is. We gotta play what they call. But it was close. Not a lot of delay of game penalties, when you’re trying to get people in. Not a lot of off sides penalties. So from that standpoint it’s good. Not a lot of holding penalties. So that was a positive. I wanted the guys to play hard. I didn’t want to see guys tag off on people too much, you know just run by and tap them. I wanted to see guys play through the whistle and I think we saw that. I wanted to see guys play smart and keep our quarterbacks safe. What you saw was accurate. There were a couple guys that took a couple hits, a little bit. And then the last thing I wanted them to do was to have some fun and I think they did do that. And it was competitive. We tried to get things accomplished. It’s never a perfect game. If we play a perfect defensive game you got a 3-3 tie out there. You play a perfect offensive game you got a 28-28 tie. So it flips back and forth.
Q: Are there any injuries that you expect to carry over into the fall or do you think you’ll be 100% by then?
A: No, I think we’ll be 100%.
Q: Did you consider moving Riley coming into spring ball and what prompted you to do it when you did?
A: I did coming in to spring ball, but I didn’t really want to talk to anybody about it for the first 3 weeks because I wanted him to play mike linebacker. And I wanted to give all the reps to our other tailbacks. But I felt like, after watching him get ready for the Iowa game…he was the scout team tailback versus Iowa last year to simulate their tailback…I thought he had something to him. He’s used to carrying the football, he was tough. He had a little bit of something and maybe there would be possibilities there. So we stuck him in there the last two weeks which is what I planned to do.
Q: Tight end… Is that gonna keep you up nights going into fall?
A: Well, we might have to play him over there too. Great catch by Max out there. Football players make plays. You could play Max at linebacker, tight end, fullback, defensive end. He’s that way.
Q: What specifically are you worried about at tight end?
A: Tight end is a point of concern coming into the season. We lost a good one. The year previous to that, 2011, we had three great ones. The year before that we had four great ones. So we gotta grow up. But we got two true freshmen playing at that position and that’s just the way it is. Things go in cycles. Next year there’ll be second year players; after that there’ll be third year players. That’s the way it goes. They get better. But they’ve got the ability to catch the football and we’ve got some different things we can do to help in that situation.
Q: Have you done overall offensively what you’ve wanted to all spring?
A: Yes, I do think we did. We made the quarterbacks live. That was one of the big things I really wanted to do but struggled to do because of the nature of it; the safety factor of it with the quarterbacks. But I felt like they needed to create. We got that. We got that simulation so we can make accurate decisions on who can do what. They’re in a little bit more the line of fire. I said the other day there’s nothing like having live bait. So it makes your defense a little better too.
Q: Mark, can you talk about Troup and his playing making ability we saw today? And drops, is that one thing you really need to get cleaned up before the start of the season?
A: First of all, the drops…as I said, I thought Maxwell threw the ball pretty well. He had some drops. But the wind is swirling down there. It’s 15-20 and it’s moving in all different directions. So we’ll give him a little bit of a hall pass. We’ll give him a hall pass. We’ll give him a little bit. But they need to catch the ball more successfully. But again, all of our players are playing. I think what you saw was DeAnthony Arnett caught the ball. He had a couple of big catches. I think Burbridge caught the ball pretty well. Fowler. If you want to be concerned about anything, we gave up too many big plays on the defensive side of the ball. But again, it just depends on where you’re looking at, what side of the ball you’re looking at. Things like that normally don’t happen. Troup continues to make a play every now and then. He can catch the ball, snap it, catch it. He’s a big bodied guy that can run a straight line. Once he gets going he runs under 4.5. He’s a 4.43 guy. So he can run. There’s opportunity for a guy like that. He’s consistently made plays. Now what he has to do is come back in August and do that again.
Q: You talked about getting more pressure all last year. How do you feel that the defensive line did with that today and how do you feel going live has helped them?
A: You know, we’ve got our defensive line ready to go. We have depth on the inside tackle position. We have five defensive ends we can play. That’s at the very beginning of things. That’s before anybody else comes in. So I think we’re gonna get the pressure. Our linebackers understand what we’re doing. We got pressure in the spring. I don’t know that it showed up as much today. I think it did; the guys were running around a little bit. So I feel very, very good about our defense. I feel stronger about our defense this year than I did last year going into the season. So we’ll see, but that’s right now.
Q: Any reaction… It’s been reported that you guys are going to be in the East…Michigan, Ohio State Penn State, over there. I don’t know if you’ve heard that?
A: The reactions are that we’ll play the games that are lined up for us. Who knows who’s in Conference by 2014. It’s a crazy world out there. So we gotta worry about 2013 right now and that’s the only thing that’s important. Spring is over, concentrate on spring football. We had a lot of recruits that came today, some great players from around the country and from the Michigan area, Ohio area, Chicago. We got a lot of commitments on campus. My focus is on 2013. So we’ll deal with… That’s other people’s problem. If they’re in the Conference with us, it’s their problem. Right? They’re the ones that gotta deal with it.