Michigan State Football News and Notes 2013 Camp Edition
I had a long conversation with MSU OL Coach Mark Staten this week. We talked a lot about the changes and new look to the OL. I told Coach Staten that I had noticed he was getting to spend more time teaching this camp rather than coaching. He agreed with my assessment. I have spent a significant amount of time with the OL this camp and I can’t say enough good about the job he is doing.
Spartan Nation spoke all winter, spring, and summer about Jack Conklin and he is making us look smart. He has been more than impressive; he has been dominant. Dantonio loved everything about Conklin the first time he saw him on film. The Spartans were already maxed out for his class with scholarships so Conklin took the gray shirt route and came in the summer, but didn’t get a scholarship until that January. He weighs 325, but with his frame and body size he can firm up and still play at #340 and not lose mobility or athleticism.
Dan France is a 5th year senior battling for a spot on the OL. Most young men in that position are so focused on winning a job in their last year, but not France. As I watched him in practice, he took a significant amount of time to talk to Jack Conklin and point some things out. France is never far from a smile, is a hard worker, and in the midst of a battle for a job his last year, a super teammate. France is becoming a better player. He is such a good teammate. The OL is a team now; it is VERY impressive.
In the age where every team has big athletes that can run, the difference on the field often comes down to preparation and intelligence. With Michael Geiger (true freshman, kicker), his mental toughest and intelligence are for of a factor than his strong leg. He can hit a kick from anywhere; he was the #1 kicker in the nation for the 2013 class. He has done nothing that would suggest he wasn’t deserving of his ranking. He is confident, but not cocky. He just steps in and boots it. He reminds me a lot of Brett Swenson. A miss doesn’t bother him. His foot has impressed, but people in the program are talking more about his mental approach.
All winter, spring, and summer I have talked about Tyler O’Connor. The outside perception was that the battle for the starting QB job was between Maxwell and Cook. With O’Connor never having had game experience that is a fair assumption. What people are missing is that the battle is likely for 2nd string reps. O’Connor has played great this camp so far. More than one person has told me that he has had the best camp of any of the three QBs. Dantonio’s reluctance to start a QB with no experience has been discussed ad nauseam, but that doesn’t mean he can’t win it by getting some experience early. I said a few weeks ago in a Q/A article that he may not start as the #1 QB but that I wouldn’t be shocked if he won it. O’Connor is making me look really smart.
O’Connor is comfortable with the ball in his hands. He has good ball security. Even when his passes aren’t perfect spirals he gets them there. He has such a smooth running style and unlike many running QBs, he doesn’t have happy feet. He will stay in the pocket until the very last second before taking off. He has not only had some great touchdown passes, but some great runs.
I watched Andrew Maxwell in high school and loved his ability to make plays with his feet. That is why I am baffled that Andrew is not taking off and running when it is there is room for him. I love his commitment to the pocket, but he has the ability to make creative plays with his feet. After one scrimmage I think there was a desire to see him be more creative than he has been so far. Camp is long and grueling so there is no reason to panic at all, but I do know they want to see more out of Maxwell’s feet.
If any one player has had the best camp so far that would go to Conklin. A close second would be Bennie Fowler. He told me last spring how “Angry” he was with last season and his performance and that “I take it personally on me.” True to his word he has. He has made some dazzling catches and plays and has become a senior leader for a WR group that desperately needed someone to step up on the field. If camp is an indication, we are going to see the Fowler we expected last year.
One player who probably didn’t get the respect he should have with a very solid 2012 was K Kevin Muma. A wonderful young man, he had reasons to not have a good 2012, but he did anyway. I am hoping for him to build off of that and become a weapon in 2013. Can he take that next step is a big question or will be have to battle to keep a job?
The Spartan staff was enamored with Delton Williams athleticism the second they watched his tape. I remember reading someone who obviously has no clue of the inner workings on Spartan football writing how MSU wanted him so they could get QB Damion Terry. They thought MSU had interest ONLY because they thought it would help with Terry. So not true.
The moment the staff saw Williams they fell in love with his style. He plays like an angry man and punishes people. The coaches never doubted his ability. They thought he would take some reps at RB and go right to LB where Narduzzi would use him like a heat seeking missile. Well, we are well over a week into camp and he is performing admirably with the ball in his hands. He is a fun explosive player and one the of the select few who not only have the God given natural talent, but the drive to want to see it fully used.
Gerald Holmes is another player with just an impressive amount of God given talent. He has NO FEAR. I am talking NO FEAR. His first chance in the hole he went AT Max Bullough. Others think it may be a good idea to avoid the Spartans All-American MLB, but not Holmes. He plays like Max. He loves the game and plays it all out. The weakness he has shown so far (and give the kid a break he is only a TRUE freshman) is that he has to slow down and let the play develop. This isn’t high school where you just take it and go. Slow to the hole and fast through it is the old adage and Holmes is still learning that. One week into camp, he is showing all the tools the staff knew he had. Holmes needs to continue learning the game.
I often write and discuss how at the best football programs, most players don’t really emerge until their fourth year in the program. Case and point is Kurtis Drummond. Last year he came on strong and played well. There was A LOT of talk about taking the redshirt off of freshman Demetrious Cox. Thankfully for Spartan football, the coaches stayed true to their principles and kept Cox were he belonged. How far has Drummond come? He is solid at his S spot. SOLID and the younger Williamson and Cox are not battling each other. Fans want guys to play early, almost like a young kid who forgets last year’s Christmas toy for the new one. Young men benefit from physical maturity and growth and getting extra reps on the scout team or 2/3 string are not evil. Case and point is Drummond has played VERY well.
Freshman MLB Jon Reschke is the real deal. No one ever questioned that. He has probably taken a few more reps than even the staff planned for. Here has been a very interesting development. When Max Bullough came in Greg Jones was ahead of him. Bullough was just so talented and the Spartans were so thin that he had to play. Jones had Bullough’s respect and he watched Greg. Jones was not a loud and vocal person so even though the two got along and Jones was more than willing to answer any questions by Bullough there wasn’t a ton of back and forth. SO very different with the Reschke and Bullough relationship. With the young Reschke, Bullough has met a young man with the passion for the game he shares. Bullough is constantly teaching and coaching Reschke and unlike many youngsters who would take that the wrong way, Reschke eats it up. He is getting better every practice not only because of the staff, but even more with Bullough. Izzo is fond of saying that a player coached team is best and I agree with him. Case and point is Reschke and Bullough. Three years from now when we are entering Reschke’s senior campaign and everyone is praising the Spartan star, remember that the foundation was laid by an unselfish Bullough and to his credit and a teachable and hungry Reschke. Reschke idolizes Bullough, and Reschke has earned the respect of Bullough. With Max, if you don’t give 100% on the field and in the classroom to the game he loves, he doesn’t respect you. Reschke and Bullough share a love and passion for football. Like a druggie craves crack, they crave the game. The contact, the mental and the physical aspect of this glorious sport draw both men and their personalities to the game that they both share a love for. Reschke is learning how much of the game is won in the classroom and film room and won’t be deterred or denied. Every morsel Bullough shares Reschke devours and wants more. It is a very fun dynamic to watch and see.
One further note on Max Bullough. He could have come into this season with the mindset that he turned down a ton of money in the NFL to come back and that this year was all about him. The way he has embraced all of the young linebackers is very impressive. He and Denicos Allen have been awesome examples and leaders. The MSU LB group will be good for a long time. A very long time and the unselfish leadership of Allen and Bullough will have a big impact. They teach by example how to play, practice, and prepare and are two of the most unselfish people and teammates that the Spartans have had.
Taiwan Jones took the Spartan coaches challenge of being a CO starter on the 1st depth chart released like they expected: ANGER. MSU LB Coach Mike Tressel admitted to me they wanted to motivate him and it did. You would look at Jones and his body that seems chiseled out of granite and think, “He is a bad bad man.” If the truth were told he is very kind hearted, warm, and personable. He is a great kid. When that first depth chart came out I would not say it made him angry, I would say it hurt him. Well, that hurt has translated into the young man from New Baltimore playing ANGRY. He loves this game and he isn’t about to let someone take it from him. He is playing angry. I hope they keep the OR designation on him. He hates it and plays like it.
Kyler Elsworth got dinged up a little bit, nothing earth shattering, but that contributed to Reschke getting so many reps at MLB as well. Elsworth has been his usual self. Making plays everywhere. I even heard rumor that he mixes the Gatorade and tapes ankles on the side. He just does it all. Yet another example of a great player and leader on this 2013 squad. I said it once and will say it a hundred more times. He will not leave MSU as the greatest player of all time, but he could leave the greatest Spartan. I hope he becomes a coach and I hope he does it right here at MSU. I would love to see the day that young man roams the sidelines of Spartan Stadium as the MSU head man.
Marcus Rush is the most underappreciated player on this team and I have said that for a year now. I will continue to beat that drum. He won’t win a press conference and he won’t do things to get the cameras attention, but if you know ANYTHING about football he is a star.
Darien Harris is entering his third year in the program. He is making plays, but he has to keep pushing and taking advantage of his talent. I had one of the bona fide stars on this team who WILL play in the NFL tell me, “Darien is the most talented player on our team; I am just not so sure he knows that.” No distractions just make plays highlight (for those that do not know this, Highlight is his nickname).
I was asked in a recent Q/A article if I thought true freshman Devyn Salmon would have a big impact in 2013 and I said emphatically no. Some took that as I don’t think he is talented and you would be wrong. He is. Very talented. He is being worked on by Coach Mannie. When the sculpture is built he will be a monster. MONSTER. He has great raw talent, he is now being coached and taught and that takes time. I was worried being away from home how he would take the coaching and the teaching, but he has done well with it. Some players take it personally when coaches are on them and Coach Burton doesn’t back down.
I will tell you a great story. Coach Burton was coaching up Salmon and Burton stopped. Turned around and yelled out loud, “He’s a freshman Burton, he don’t know what he don’t know.” It was a funny moment and a great moment. They want a lot out of him, but fans and everyone else has to remember that he is a big man that has to get in the best shape of his life and unlike high school; everyone he faces is big and in shape. There is a curve, but Salmon will be just fine.
Speaking of the DL let’s talk about one of the most popular players on the team in Tyler Hoover. The sixth year senior has been a real blessing to Coach Burton. MSU has a lot of DTs like the aforementioned Salmon and the other day the DL was split into two groups. As Burton yelled at himself in the previous story and walked to the other group to coach, Hoover started teaching and instructing. Again, we have evidence of a senior that doesn’t have to, but is leading the people that want his job.
Mark Dantonio would ideally love to redshirt every player. That extra year of strength gain and learning is so critical. Shane Jones is a young man that is as gifted and talented as a true freshman LB that he is going to make it nearly impossible, if not impossible for Dantonio to keep that tag on. He reminds me of another great MSU LB from Cincinnati in Greg Jones. Dantonio said that a true freshman would have to play on EVERY special team not to redshirt. I mentioned that to MSU LB Coach and Special Teams coordinator Mike Tressel and he got a big smile and told me that as of right now Jones is. I look for immediate special teams’ domination just like the last true freshman LB named Jones and from Cincinnati.
Just because I haven’t mentioned it, I would like to add that I hate the NCAA.
Dennis Finley is a true freshman OL from Detroit. He is a big and powerful young man and after he redshirts this year, look for him and Jack Conklin to be anchors on the MSU OL for a long time. All OL redshirt at MSU, but he is THE REAL DEAL. Remember that please.
I mentioned previously about my conversation with Coach Staten. All I had to do was mention Dennis Finley and he had the same reaction. WOW.
Kodi Kieler is a mammoth human being who has an even bigger upside. His name is constantly being mentioned as a guy making plays. He still may be a year or two away from a starter’s spot, but as a redshirt freshman that is fine. The point is that he is impressing people and making plays.
People seem to have forgotten David Fennell. That is normal once a young man comes in and redshirts. I can tell you that his teammates haven’t. He still is a little ways away from pushing for a starter’s role and that is normal and to be expected for his age. What is interesting is that to a man, when you ask his teammates about him they all talk about how hard he works. He has won a lot of respect for his work ethic. When a player comes to MSU from the Midwest, most of his teammates know him from camps or other competitive arenas. He came from Oregon via Canada and the respect he has is earned. Again not this year, but I look for him to start making noise in a big way on the field in 2014 and a strong push for a starter’s role in 2015.
Demetrius Cooper is another true freshman that they hope to redshirt, and probably will, but who has shown flashes of greatness and that is NOT an exaggeration. He was once considered the #1 overall prospect for the 2013 class and had everyone in the world wanting him. Then he had an injury and most of the schools backed away. MSU was not one of those schools and he truly fell in love with MSU for not quitting on him. After he came back healthy all the schools wanted him again and he stayed true to the Spartans. He has to gain weight because when he doesn’t have perfect technique he gets pushed around by much bigger and stronger OL and that is why I am almost certain he redshirts. Still he is a name to write on the dust of your dash and not forget.
I hope with this report you pick up on the theme of depth and senior leadership. There is far more leading from players in just the first week of camp than we saw all of last year. If you are a glass half empty person even that should encourage you.