Michigan State Head Football Coach Mark Dantonio Likes What he Has Heading Out of Spring and Into a Promising 2014 Campaign
Mark Dantonio: Well, another exciting spring game. I think watching from behind the huddle and everything…a lot of things going on. I think our guys competed. The white took a 13-0 lead. I thought the green team played themselves back into it, which is a positive any time you have guys competing. You just continue to play through it. We were trying to make it as game like as we can, as you see. A little frustrated with the penalties, the unforced penalties, but I think those things happen when you try and do all these different things, you’ve got different people playing and those type of things. Threw some picks but I think that there were some good plays by the defenders as well, and that’s the thing that’s impressive. So if you’re on the defensive side of the ball you’re excited about those opportunities and making the catches. I thought Drummond’s interception was big time. Darien Hicks, big time interception. Demetrious Cox a big time interception. Ezra made a nice play on the ball too. I thought the wide receivers made some good catches as well. Cook was sharp throwing some picks. But I think there were good plays by the defenders…and obviously we gotta continue to play. But a good spring. We continue to move forward. 2014 is right around the corner when we get a chance to sort of reflect, regroup and move forward. I’ll take some questions.
Q: What are you most pleased with and most concerned about coming out of spring?
DANTONIO: Coming out of the spring I think what I’m always most pleased about is the effort and intensity that our players bring to the table every single practice. We don’t play tag out there. It’s the real deal. You’ve gotta get them on the ground, you’ve gotta complete balls, you’ve gotta complete balls under pressure. So our guys will compete and that’s what I’m usually most pleased about. I also think that certain guys had very good springs. A lot guys we know about already, but Kodi Kieler is a guy that sticks out in my mind. He’s really played well. You see different guys making plays out there and different things. Nick Hill’s had a very productive spring. I think our wide receiver group is doing very well. Young linebackers…but it’s tough to say how they played until you watch the film…but young linebackers and they’re playing hard. Because we’re playing these live situations like this as often as we can, as often as the rules permit, I think they have to sustain. And that’s how you get better at football. You can do so many drills, but at some point in time you have to play the game. You have to get people down, you have to blitz, you have to get off of the box. So they’re improving as well… We’ll be fine in that position. Other than that I think we’re solid.
Q: Can you talk about your young tight ends? And then Jamal with the catch in traffic…
DANTONIO: Yeah, our young tight ends continue to improve. Josiah Price is taking big steps forward this spring. He was a redshirt freshman last year. He’s blocking much better. He’s a big time catch guy. The more you throw the ball to him, the more excited he gets, the more confidence he gets. Jamal Lyles is really the same thing. He’s got great athletic ability. He’s a big bodied guy, he catches the ball very well, runs great routes. And both of those guys are young players that will be redshirt sophomores. So it’s exciting to watch them grow. But I think we have two very good tight ends for the future in those guys. And then also when you look at our tight end position, it’s rather deep.
Q: You didn’t really talk about Damion being a multi-threat guy, running the football. And then the precautionary measure of putting him in the jersey…did he get a little banged up on that sack?
DANTONIO: Yeah, we’ve seen certain people using two quarterbacks in systems…you gotta look at high schools a little bit. We’ve experimented a little bit with those things so we’ve got a little package together. So there’s different things that we do. But its always nice to see what he can do out there on a game day (?) worry about it, we’ll go game to game on those things. Damion’s a guy that can make plays. I think we gotta find out about our quarterbacks. You just gotta find out about them. We put him in a red jersey because he was no longer live to the hit. So that was just a precautionary measure. So he’s a good football player. He’s gotta grow, but he can throw. He had a couple of nice throws that were dropped I felt. Or great defensive plays, maybe, where the hand gets it. But again, when guys play the game and they play it for real, they’re gonna get better, they’re gonna get opportunities to improve experience-wise.
Q: How do you think Tyler O’Connor played today?
DANTONIO: Tyler O’Connor…he had some picks, but I think he made some plays too. I just looked at the stats as I walked in here, but… The first play of the game was unfortunate. Last play’s a long shot, and then he throws one other than that. I guess the first and last play aren’t too good. But I thought he played solid in there, made a nice quarterback scramble. He’s very functional, he can make plays. I probably gotta watch the film to totally look at that, but I think that Tyler played better than his three interceptions would indicate, that’s what I would say. But again, some nice plays by our defenders on two of those balls.
Q: Connor talked about the difference this year after the first couple of years always having to prove himself. He feels more at ease and confident this year. Have you seen that change?
DANTONIO: Yeah, he’s a very confident player, extremely confident. I think he moves well with the ball. I think he’s got a big upside in terms of what he can do with the football, not just throwing the ball, but scrambling ability and some of those different things, avoiding the rush. He can create. So he has that ability to create out there. I thought he made some very, very good throws. I guess he had the one throw… I can’t remember who got picked and who didn’t. He has a couple picks as well. But other than that I thought he played solid.Â threw for 159 yards… So we really had a runningÂ clock the whole second half, so he ended up playing about a quarter and a half probably. I mean a half and a quarter.
Q: How do you feel about the growth of the defense through the 15 practices? What have you seen as far as the momentum they’ve gained from spring practice?
DANTONIO: We’ve got leaders like Kurtis Drummond and Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush…very solid. We’re young at linebacker a little bit. Taiwan’s in there playing a different position so there’s a learning process there. Defensive line is pretty solid in there. In the secondary we’ve got two starters back. And we’ve got two other guys that have played a lot of football…well, one other guy that’s played a lot of football and two other guys that have played. So I think they’re coming. It’s a little bit more up and down than maybe you wanna see sometimes. But then you see very nice plays. Really, when you look at it, there are a lot of sudden change situations in this football game today, where they got the ball on the 40 or they got the ball on the 30. Not a lot of long drives down the field. So that was a positive. And they made plays on the ball. So we’ll come up with turnovers and we’ll compete and our defensive staff will have our guys ready to play and everything. They’ll run to the football, they’ll play hard…and tackle pretty well.
Q: How do you see the safety position playing out going into the fall?
DANTONIO: RJ’s a very good player. Players draft players, coach just play the players. So RJ’s a very good player, Demetrious Cox as well. But Jalyn Powell has hitting ability. He’s a young player, he needs to become more disciplined in what he’s doing. But you’re gonna see him show up on the field, whether it’s a lot of special teams or in and out of different defenses. If he becomes more consistent in his mental assignments, you’re gonna see him get on the field. Because he can tackle, he’s a downhill player, he’s a big strong guy. That’s a little bit of what Isaiah Lewis was, especially early in his career.
Q: How much balance does your team have on both sides of the ball?
DANTONIO: Balanced team in terms of green and white, or balanced overall?
DANTONIO: Offense defense? I think we are balanced. Last year we came into this, I sat here and talked abut our offense and they were stifling a little bit. We didn’t have a quarterback. We had a quarterback competition, we had good players, but they needed to take control of the position. We had no tailback identity at that point in time as well. Our wide receivers had been been a little bit consistent. So now I think when you look at our football team you see the offense is measuring up and the defense is measuring up as well, I think. Maybe the defense isn’t quite as dominant right now, but maybe that’s because our offense is a better offense as well. You think about some of the things we were able to do offensively towards the second half of our season. Really did a nice job on some things, scored a lot of points and those type of things. So I do think it’s balanced. Sadler will be back as a punter, Mike Geiger’s an excellent kicker as well. So we’ve got more guys… We play a lot of players. That’s the one thing you do in this program here…we play our guys. We have a lot of football players moving forward, whether it’s with special teams or offense-defense.
Q: Have you had as much functional talent at defensive end here?
DANTONIO: Probably not, that’s a good question. When you say functionality you mean guys that can go in and play… We’ve got a great group of people coming in I think as true freshmen, incoming freshmen, that a couple of guys are gonna make their move from in there, providing they stay healthy and learn the system. But, physically they’re very good.
Q: How about those young guys?
DANTONIO: Demetrius Cooper is a guy that is very athletic, he’s gotten bigger. Again, he’s gotta sustain, play in and play out. But he can flash…no question, he can flash. Like Shilique did when Shilique was a true freshman. He flashed us like that. Keep in mind that Shilique now is a redshirt sophomore this past year. And then on the other side of it…LT’s a guy that’s just waiting to start coming. This is really his first time that he has made all 15 practices…he may have missed one. The first time he’s been able to go through every practice. He has tremendous athletic ability and size, he’s gotta play more consistently but I’m not sure…its hard to see how he played in the spring game. But he was challenged. He can make plays for us…there’s no question he can make plays for us, inside or out.
Q: You said at the start of spring that you wanted Joel Heath to show you something. Did he?
DANTONIO: Joel Heath’s a guy that’s big, strong…another guy that’s big and strong athletic guy. We’ve got four defensive tackles in there. They’ve all got game experience. They’ve all played. So how you’re playing every day, day in and day out… But again, you go back and you watch Joel play against Conklin, you watch him play against Travis Jackson…he’s playing against good players. Sometimes they win, something they don’t. But he’s a talent…learning what to do in there, playing more consistently, he’s 295 lbs., 6’6″ guy. He’s gotta keep both feet on the ground. When both feet are on the ground, good things are happening. One foot on the ground, bad things are happening. That’s been a consistent factor. But he’s a good player, he runs and he plays hard, extremely hard. And again, he’ll be a factor for us. There’s no question that he’ll be another factor of guys that will factor in.
Q: What about your middle linebacker spot this spring? And where do you see Taiwan going into the fall at that mike spot?
DANTONIO: Taiwan is the mike linebacker right now…he got assessed this spring. No question he can go back outside and play in a heartbeat. He’s got 3 years doing that. He got assessed this spring. He’s a thumper, he comes downhill, he brings a powerful punch with him. He’s 256 lbs…we want him to lose a little bit of weight…maybe 250. So he’s a big solid guy. When he hits ya you’re going backwards. Inside there you gotta become a more consistent blitzer I think. And you gotta get your feet on the ground, just in terms of the knowledge. And feel comfortable. That takes time. Fifteen practices…you gotta remember now, we’ll have 29 practices before our first game. So he’s gotta stack those things on top of 15. He’ll be ready. But he’ll stay inside. Darien can play all three of the positions, really. Ed Davis will return in the fall. And then we’ve got these young guys that we were playing…Chris Frey, Shane Jones, obviously Reschke as well on the inside, and Riley Bullough is aÂ talentedÂ young player because he played on the offensive side for us last year. So you’ve got those four guys and then you’ve got some other guys coming. So we’ll be fine. We’ve got guys that are gonna run and hit, that are active and they’re gonna show up on this football team…in and out of the lineup, and then also on special teams.
Q: Wondering what your thought process is with Damion Terry, and is he one of those players you felt you just need to get him out on the field?
DANTONIO: Well, you saw what he could do that first run. He’s got great running ability for a guy who’s 230 lbs. and 6’3″ or 4. So there’s things that he can do, but at the same time he has to operate…aside from what we call that little package…he’s gotta be able to operate the quarterback position. A lot of times that takes experience and decision making. That’s where he’s gotta grow in his decision making. Not so much where he goes with the ball sometimes, but getting in and out of certain plays and those type of things…and then basic reads. He’s a young player. Again, 15 practices really helps him.
Q: What do you see out of Darian Hicks oday?
DANTONIO: I thought he was playing extremely hard out there, from what I saw. But again, you’re seeing a lot of people out there and I’m trying to look for Sparty half the time, trying to get him in the game. So it’s tough to say, but I thought defensively we played pretty well in the game, really. Not a lot of long runs, they hit some passes, but I credit our wide receivers. Some nice catches and nice throws as well. I think when you go into this game and if you look just to the defense you’re gonna come out and say you had a couple plays, played pretty consistent. If you look at the offensive side of the ball you’ll say you gotta run the ball more consistently but you made some plays down the field with the ball. You gotta eliminate the interceptions, but some of those are good plays by our defenders. I think a lot of them were actually.
Q: With your running backs…with Hill and Langford and your incoming freshmen…how do you handle that rotation, or Sparty, especially when you had Nick Hill today with almost 7 yards per carry?
DANTONIO: Yeah. Nick Hill’s had a great year. Sparty will probably redshirt. We’ve got two young guys coming in…one big back, one guy that’s 210 and one guy that’s about 255. Obviously we’ve got Gerald Holmes that’s playing. Delton WIlliams sat out so Nick Tompkins is a guy that may get in the mix at the end. But we’ve got guys back there, running backs. Some of those guys are probably gonna have to play different positions as we move forward. There’s no question about that, because they’re gonna get stacked in there. We’ve got two seniors, but they’re outgoing so we need young players to continue to come here and be great tailbacks…there’s no question.