Mark Dantonio Takes You Inside Spartan Football Spring Practice with an Update!
DANTONIO: We’re going into our fourth day of practice here and second day of pads, so we’re looking to get better as we move forward. We’re in our second day of pads so I think our guys are getting their feet back on the ground a little bit and moving forward. I’ll take some questions.
Q: How’s Taiwan Jones doing at that middle linebacker spot?
DANTONIO: Taiwan’s doing well. He’s getting nicked up a little bit today but doing well. He had his first day in pads the other day. You can see he’s a thumper, he can play in there, he can get off blocks, and he can run and hit.
Q: So was he out for a little bit?
DANTONIO: He may have missed part of practice today.
Q: Are you still going with what you had on the depth chart or are you already moving guys around at that spot?
DANTONIO: At linebacker.…we’ve got certain guys that can play in and out at certain positions, but for the most part we’ll try and stay with what we’ve got. We lost a lot of experience at linebacker, there’s no question about that. With Max Bullough, Kyler Ellsworth, Denicos Allen…three guys really that have been in the program for 4 and 5 years. Now we’ve got guys like Chris Frey who’s a brand-new freshman, Shane Jones and Jon Reschke who are true freshman. And then you’ve got Frey coming in at mid-year. So we’ve got 3 freshmen in there playing, so there’s a big difference when you’re talking about the first day of pads and the experience factor. But they’re good players.
Q: So what are you trying to get done early, now that you’re on the second day of pads?
DANTONIO: I think the biggest thing is you wanna get your feet back underneath you and sorta reaffirm who you are as a player fundamentally. We wanna see quick reactions, guys that play with power, guys that play sudden, guys that can catch the ball, and really do the fundamental things that will allow you to be successful . After one day you can see, hey we’re not as good a football team fundamentally as we were at the end of last season. But that’s to be expected the first day of spring practice. But there were good things to see as well. We went long and hard on Saturday.
Q: Anybody jump out and surprise you? Are the guys off to a good start this spring?
DANTONIO: I think Jamal Lyles is playing well. He’s taken a big step forward. I think Lawrence…L.T. is playing well. He’s a guy that, remember last year, he had a shoulder injury and missed all of spring ball, and then he had the back episode that took him into the season. Really, he didn’t start playing until October. So this is the first time he’s been able to get his feet on the ground fundamentally I think, in a spring practice/summer practice type of format.
Q: How are Frey and Sokol adjusting so far?
DANTONIO: Like any freshman. I think it’s a faster game. But Sokol’s got great ball skills, he can run. But remember, he’s not only transitioning to college, he’s transitioning from a big quarterback to tight end. So there’s quite an adjustment there. But he can catch the ball and run. Chris Frey’s a good football player. But it’s a faster speed, the speed of the game has picked up.
Q: What are the major fundamental things that you’re noticing?
DANTONIO: I just watch them run, tackle, catch…do all those things. We have drills that sort of apply to every position group to try and simulate game situations. So whether it’s a D-ball drill or whatever it is, we wanna see guys go up and play things fundamentally. We wanna play the best football players. We can teach guys what to do, but you need to play the best football players. So fundamentally they have to do the little things to get better.
Q: With Hicks in the corner spot, is that little bit of time he had last year helping him right now?
DANTONIO: Yeah, I think Darian’s a guy that plays the ball very well in the deep part of the field. He’s a tackler, he’s got a great attention to detail. Right now he’s the other starting corner opposite Trae Waynes. But that can flip back and forth a little bit. There’s other guys that are talented; there’s other corners who are talented.
Q: The safety spot…how close are Williamson and Cox and those guys there?
DANTONIO: Very close. Demetrious Cox will be a very good football player for us. RJ has the playing experience and is extremely coachable. But Demetrious is a talented player. He’ll be on the field for us.
Q: You said before going in that you thought end was the ideal spot for Lawrence Thomas. Do you feel more so that way now?
DANTONIO: Well, it’s only been one day in pads but I think he showed some flashes. We’re gonna play our four best defensive lineman. He can go inside and play…he’s 290 lbs…he can go inside and play as well. He’s sudden. And as long as he stays active and he stays healthy, he’s gonna be a very good football player for us.
Q: How much will you rep him inside?
DANTONIO: He’ll probably get a little reps today at inside, but the majority of his reps will stay outside the end right now.
Q: Who’s working behind Taiwan at middle linebacker? I know you guys had said you were gonna try a lot of different combinations. How’s that shaking out?
DANTONIO: Jon Reschke’s in there. Shane Jones will play in there a little bit today. So those two guys will sort of have it right now. But Riley Bullough can step in there as well. We’re gonna play the best guys that can run and tackle, and that’s gonna be the deal. When we get them ready to play, the guys that run, tackle and hit ya, make a great effort, those are gonna be the guys on the field for us.
Q: Do you have any live scrimmage action today? I imagine you probably didn’t the first day…
DANTONIO: Oh yeah, we went live on our first day. Absolutely. We’ll go live today, too. I think you have to do that. You have to find out who can play. The quarterbacks are not live, but we’re gonna run and tackle. There’s gonna be some guys get nicked up because of it, but this is spring and we’ve gotta find out who can play. We’re a relatively young team in certain positions. In the offensive line, Kodi Kieler needs to play. He’s a good football player, he needs to play. I’ve got other guys that are sort of secure in their positions, but he’s a guy that’s gotta figure into it. Those tight ends are young…Josiah Price and Jamal need to play. The wide receiver situation, we’ve got some young guys in there battling as well. So it’s a good situation.
Q: Going outside…does that help you guys more in game situations?
DANTONIO: Well, I just try and get outside you know. I think the game’s played outside in the environment. There’s gonna be wind out there. It’s gonna be November, we’re gonna have wind. I don’t know if the sun’s gonna shine or not. It’s just a little bit of a sterile environment when go inside all the time. You have too many perfect conditions. So we’re gonna go outside. We’re just gonna make a statement and try and go outside a little bit. We may be back in before you know it. If this finger gets white I go inside, a little frostbite.
Q: Is that a statement you’re making to the players?
DANTONIO: No, it’s just the way we are. I think they expect to go outside. Again, I just think you can spread out a little bit more, you try to make it a little bit more realistic. There are perfect conditions when you go inside, and the game is not perfect. So we’ve gotta practice on throwing into the wind, we gotta practice on catching the ball as it moves in flight with some wind, we’ve gotta tackle… We’ve gotta do the things we gotta do. It’s a long way up to the top, I can tell you that.
Q: Speaking of throwing, your quarterback situation is a little bit different than it was last spring. How are you handling the reps with Connor, and then the two backups and Tyler and Damion?
DANTONIO: You know, we’re just splitting all the reps right now in spring. I think it’s important that we try and rep as many players as we can to give them opportunities. They pretty much split the reps with ones, twos and threes. Damion will get with the 2’s some, and Tyler with the 3’s some. But for the most part Tyler remains a 2. But they are both improved players, they both have talent. As a coach you can see some things with both those guys that give you an indication if they’re moving forward, and then indications that we’re not where we need to be yet. But they’re certainly functional and they’ve made plays out here.
Q: How much difference is there between those two?
DANTONIO: Not much. It just depends on how they come to practice every day.
Q: Guys that were on the scout team last fall and have gone through winter conditioning, any of those stuck out to you during the live scrimmaging so far?
DANTONIO: I think Cooper is a guy that’s a playmaker. He’s up to almost 250 lbs. now; he came here at like 212. So he’s active, he’s a (?) type of player. He makes plays, he’s a guy that stands out. Those linebackers, Shane Jones and Reschke, they’ve gotta play for us. Jalyn Powell is another individual that sticks out to be a playmaker for us on the defensive side of the ball. On the offensive side of the ball, I think DeAnthony Arnett’s playing pretty well. Like I said, we’re one practice into pads and two practices just playing touch football. So it’s difficult to ascertain.
Q: Anyone else nicked up other than Taiwan so far that we didn’t already know about?
DANTONIO: Come on guys.
Q: Sometime in spring you’re a little different.
DANTONIO: Yeah, I am. I’m a little different. Let’s just leave it at that…I’m a little different.
Q: Do you like spring football?
DANTONIO: Yeah, I think it gets you back to your roots a little bit. The pressure’s not on for you to play a game; the pressure’s on to try and get better. So that’s what every football program does in America. They find out a little bit about their freshmen…because your freshmen, when they come in, they’re just… The transition is difficult for them to handle. So you have an opportunity now to see what they’ve got. You find out who your leaders are and what your senior class will be like a little bit. You set new goals for your program and you try and move it forward. So it’s always been a thing that we’ve tried to get better at and I think we’ve always sort of tried to use the adage to try to get 3% better per practice. That’s what was told to me way back when I was playing by my college coach.
Q: You’ve talked about doing things differently in terms of going early more for the winter workouts. Are you doing anything differently overall in spring practice or is it just that if ain’t broke don’t fix it?
DANTONIO: Well, we’ve always spread it out because you’re gonna get some guys injured. You want them to be able to come back, so we’ve spread it out over 5 weeks. We’ll continue to do that. But I think we just sort of stay the course of what we‘ve done. Obviously we’re always trying to find new drills and different ways to approach the game, different things to try and critique what we do, and try to experience some new things and experiment as well. So we’ll continue to do that. But spring’s a time for blooming and moving forward.