Mark Dantonio Assesses Michigan State Football Prior to Today’s Big Spring Scrimmage
MARK DANTONIO: First of all, our heart goes out to Lacey and her family with her passing the other day. I think our football program is very aware of that. Big weekend this weekend. We have a scrimmage tomorrow. We have a women’s clinic tomorrow. All proceeds will go towards children’s cancer at Sparrow. And then today I’ve got a coach clinic out here. I’ve got a good group of coaches out here. So we’re just probably doing drills. I’ll take some questions.
Q: How different has this spring been than a year ago, with the questions answered…maybe a lack of angst?
MARK DANTONIO: I don’t think there’s ever that when you’re coaching. You’ve always got… There’s always some issues you’ve gotta try and figure out. There’s always different people that you’re trying to work through, get experience or whatever. Our quarterback is a little bit settled, we’re settled. There remains the question of who’s gonna be the back-up. I think O’Connor’s playing pretty well, Damion Terry’s a lot of talent. And then also we’ve got other positions open on this football team right now.
Q: Even two years ago when you had that season coming off the win over Georgia, there were a lot of questions more so on offense than there are now. Is it nice to have this sort of returning group off of something like a Rose Bowl?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, it’s always nice to come off of a great year. There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of anticipation. But you gotta get back to the grind. That’s the message today. We just keep going.
Q: What’s your philosophy of two quarterback systems? Have you done one before?
MARK DANTONIO: Played equally?
Q: I know you’ve had competition…
MARK DANTONIO: I believe there should be one quarterback. My personal opinion. I do think that you can get another guy in there and play him a little bit, give him experience. That’s one thing we wanna constantly try and do is to make sure that when somebody is gone that there’s somebody that does have some experience. I think we learned our lesson there after 2011.
Q: How do you feel Jeremy handled carrying the bulk of the load last year? And would you like to see him carry the ball more or less?
MARK DANTONIO: I’m just concerned about the yards. He (Jeremy Langford) became a guy that, at any point in time, he could break one. So you give him more carries like that. I think Nick Hill’s having a great spring. I think Delton Williams is a guy that’s shown he can do some things…he’s backup this spring. But Gerald Holmes and Nick Tompkins are two other guys, and we’ve got a couple of young guys coming. So that’s a good problem.
Q: Is Taiwan still working exclusively in the middle or is he still getting reps outside?
MARK DANTONIO: He’s working exclusively in the middle right now, but he has the ability to go back outside.
Q: How quick would you like to have it determined?
MARK DANTONIO: I think that Coach Narduzzi and Coach Tressel might have that squared away sometime in summer camp. Because I think the transition can be made back in a week’s time. I think he’s very capable of that. You gotta give him reps and you gotta saturate him at that particular position right now. He’s doing a good job…there’s some different things he needs to get better at, but that’s to be expected.
Q: If you had to pick the biggest question mark on both sides of the ball as far as a position that’s open, could you tell us please?
MARK DANTONIO: I would say on the defensive side of the ball I guess you’ve gotta look at who that third linebacker’s gonna be, number one. And also, maybe, a little bit at corner because there’s competition there. And then on the offensive side of the ball I think you gotta look and say who’s… Connor Kruse is doing a nice job in there, but who’s gonna be the right guard? I think everything else is pretty solidified.
Q: Do you feel those questions are answered with the depth you’ve got now versus when he got here?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think Kodi Kieler’s doing a nice job. He’s gonna be a very good player. So it’s not that Connor’s not doing a great job, I think he is. Kieler’s just providing some competition. Again, that’s a positive problem to have. But again, we gotta get to games and see how everybody shakes out.
Q: At that corner spot, has anyone separated or is it still kinda the way it was?
MARK DANTONIO: Hicks is still the guy. Hicks is still the guy right now. He’s a little nicked up today, but he’s still the guy. I think that there’s competition at that position because we don’t have a returning starter at that position.
Q: For the nickel position, do you think RJ’s experience tilts the scale there?
MARK DANTONIO: RJ’s a very experienced player, he knows what to do. He can play almost any position out there. I think that’s a big plus. I think Demetrious Cox’s gotta continue to come. You see some good things out of Jalyn Powell. He’s a hitter, he can tackle very well.
Q: Could he be the nickel?
MARK DANTONIO: He could be a lot of different things for us.
Q: Can you talk about the mentality of the offensive line this season in the spring?
MARK DANTONIO: I think offensive line-wise there’s a lot of carryover because there’s continuity. But I also think that they’re playing very physical and they’re athletic in there. So that’s a positive.
Q: Is that different than years past, the aggressiveness of the offensive line?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we’re always gonna try and be aggressive. But last year we had some guys coming off of injuries and so they were reestablishing themselves. I think our young players, our players that are coming back, they’ve pretty much have all played. So that’s a positive.
Q: Tomorrow’s scrimmage…how many plays do you think you’ll go and how important is it as far as spring practice?
MARK DANTONIO: We’ll go over 100. We’ll probably go over 100 easily. As you said, we’re three weeks into spring ball. I think we’re ready to go and I think it’s an important scrimmage. It’s not so much what we do, but how we do it.
Q: How do you like the depth at D tackle?
MARK DANTONIO: Good depth at defensive tackle with the 1’s and the 2’s. But I do think that there’s gonna be opportunities for players to be able to come in and play. I just think that’s gonna be the nature of it.
Q: How many guys do you expect to get reps at middle linebacker tomorrow?
MARK DANTONIO: Probably 3.
Q: Jones is back?
MARK DANTONIO: Jones is back. We have Reschke in there, and then we can put somebody in, whether it be Darien in there a little bit or put Shane in there a little bit, Pat Rhomberg a little bit.
Q: Can you talk about Joel Heath and how you think he’s doing?
MARK DANTONIO: Joel’s moved inside. He’s big, extremely athletic. He just needs to be more consistent. You can’t play on the defensive line if you’re on one foot. He’s gotta be able to remedy that. But he’s a solid, solid player in there, very athletic and you see him run and make plays.
Q: Is some of that technique issue just because he’s played with a hand on the ground on the outside?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think so. He’s had good days, he’s had very good days, and he just needs to continue to work. Coach Burton’s doing a great job with him. He’s a try-hard guy and he’s extremely athletic. He is what you want at that position.
Q: You said you like one quarterback. Does that rule-out wildcat kind of packages? Obviously Terry and O’Connor have such great mobility…
MARK DANTONIO: No. Doesn’t rule that out. No, we’re gonna try and experiment with all different aspects. But guys have to prove that they can handle the offense as they move forward.
Q: When you look at the offense at the end of last year, what do you wanna see it able to do that it couldn’t?
MARK DANTONIO: I thought our offense got progressively better as the season went on and continued to improve. We just need to continue to hit our stride, continue to do what we were doing. I thought we didn’t turn the ball over and protect the quarterback, we ran the football. We had big plays and we scored in the red zone as the season progressed. And that’s what you gotta do.
Q: Which of the position shifts and experiments are going the best right now?
MARK DANTONIO: There’s not that many. Really, there’s not that many shifts. I think there’s a lot of competition at tight end. I think Jamal Lyles is a guy that’s improved. You see Josiah Price… Those are two of our young players. Now they’re more physical, they’re bigger. Jamal weighs about 260-265. He’ll play at tight end.
Q: Could you talk about Coach Bollman’s impact off the field?
MARK DANTONIO: Coach Bolls is a great person. He has a great effect on young people I think. He’s extremely calm, poised. He doesn’t get overwhelmed with things. I think that comes from experience sometimes. He’s the kind of guy who settles people in a little bit. You need all different types sitting on your coaching staff and I think there’s a great blend on our coaching staff right now. Boll’s is a guy with a lot of experience. A lot of heat’s been placed on him at other places, and that’s good for the soul sometimes. That is. He helps… He shows people how to weather a storm sometimes. I think that’s big.
Q: A year ago Coach Burton brought a lot of energy to the defensive line. This year does it feel more comfortable with him in the position?
MARK DANTONIO: I think the nature of our staff is to always try and get better and continue to improve things. Coach Burton’s very excitable. Coach brings a lot of excitement to the game, adrenaline. He’s extremely hard working. When you start watching defensive drills today you’re gonna see that…you’re gonna see the same thing. What I found over the course of time is people really don’t change all that much. They are who they are.
Q: How’s Demetrius Cooper progressing this spring?
MARK DANTONIO: Coop’s been slowed a little bit by an ankle but he’s practiced every day. Much bigger, he’s athletic, quick twitch… He’s gonna play for us some next year.
Q: Is he gonna be able to scrimmage?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, oh yeah.