Mark Dantonio (Transcript)
MARK DANTONIO: Welcome to the north end zone. With that, I think the way we start this thing is first of all, when you come to camp, first come to camp, I think there’s obviously a lot of excitement. There’s a lot of optimism. People are very, very, very excited with their goals and their dreams right in front of them, and their challenges also are right there.
As camp goes through, you start to work every day, you’re sort of isolated, very much isolated. You have to deal with that, you have to deal with new concepts, new terminology for a lot of young people, getting to know people. Certainly it becomes a grind as you go through this, and you have anywhere between 22 and 27, 28 practices before you hit your first game.
You sort of get stuck in the middle, I guess, sometimes, then school starts and here we are. We’re one day away from school, a couple days away from a football game, and we get to find out what kind of statements you’re able to make.
I think opening game is always about attention to detail. It’s going to be about who doesn’t beat themselves initially, especially on special teams, penalties, things of that nature, especially unforced penalties. Obviously you have to play your opponent and you have to be able to put things in front of each other and move forward in every phase of the game.
But that’s where we’re at. That’s exactly where we’re at right now. We’re ready to play a football game. I think every football team in America is right now, but get to find out a little bit more about who we are and who those guys are and those guys maybe haven’t played as much last year and taking a starting position now or guys who have been starting before, and maybe they’re playing a little bit different position. So you get to start putting the pieces together.
I’ll take some questions. We’ll talk a little bit about Jacksonville State as we go, and I’ll take questions.
Q. We’ve talked during camp about Mylan Hicks being maybe that Jairus Jones role. Does he have a chance to be more than that? Could he be the starter Friday night?
MARK DANTONIO: You know, there’s a lot of different offenses that we’re going to play, and certainly Jacksonville State is an offense that is a lot of wide receiver sets and things of that nature. Really depends on what they come out with initially, what type of personnel grouping are they coming out in. But I guess I said it the other day, we have ones and one and a halves, so he’s stuck in between those two. I don’t know what that would be, but he’s certainly earned the opportunity to be on the field. He’s a guy that plays with a lot of toughness. He’s extremely quick. He’s powerful, he’s going to play reckless, he’s not going to be intimidated by any situation, and I look forward to watching him play on Friday night.
Q. With a new head coach for Jacksonville State how do you assess and scout them?
MARK DANTONIO: Jacksonville State, last year an 11‑4 football team. Their coach, Clark, had left, taken another job, so Coach Grass becomes the head football coach. He’s a guy that was their offensive coordinator last year. When you look at their offense, they’ve got almost 3,000 yards or over 3,000 yards of passing, over 3,000 yards of rushing, 6,000 plus yards in 15 games, so they’re a balanced football team. Jenkins, No.7, is a dual threat kind of quarterback. He’s run for almost 1,000 yards and passed for a bunch, as well.
Their other quarterback is a guy that really can throw it, Max Shortell, and he’s much more of maybe a pro‑style attack guy. They use both those quarterbacks.
DaMarcus James, an outstanding tailback, a big, thick guy that’s run for about 1,500 yards. The other two tailbacks they’re going to use, as well, so they’re going to be complements to him.
The offensive line returns about three starters, and Barge is probably their No.1 wide receiver but Gonzalez is a transfer.
They’ve got quite a few transfers on defense. They’ve got six returners on defense. But with that, they have six or seven transfers that are coming in from various places such as Alabama, Tennessee, South Florida, Southern Miss, those types of places.
First time coordinator at Jacksonville State, defensive coordinator is coming from Fordham, so it’s a little bit‑‑ got to feel our way through a little bit as far as our offense versus their defense in terms of exactly who they’re going to be, but that’ll clarify itself as we move through the game, so we’ll be prepared for a lot of different things.
They have an outstanding punter who’s from Australia. They’ve got a guy who has a knack for blocking punts. It’s No.48, a guy that has shown he can block some punts. Their special teams coordinator comes from the Citadel where they’ve had a history of blocking kicks, so we’re going to have to work extremely hard there.
This is a football team that beat Ole Miss a couple years ago. They play extremely competitively. As I said to our players, they’re one play away, one day away from being in similar situations and moving their trade to another school. Having been at Youngstown State back in the ’90s, I can tell you that when you bring a college football player in who’s played at this level and transferred to the next level down, they can have a direct impact on your football team. So we expect a great football game, and they’ll be extremely competitive as they come, expecting to win.
Q. I know Makaric was reinstated for fall practice but I wanted to confirm he’s fully available on Friday.
MARK DANTONIO: Yes.
Q. Just checking the depth chart real quick, I noticed R.J. Shelton listed at corner. Has he been working both sides? And I also see Monty Madaris. Is that a switch that’s been made, as well?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, R.J. Shelton has worked both sides. We’ll see how he transitions to that position as we move forward. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
But I felt like we needed more depth at the corner position. He’s an outstanding football player, could have been playing corner all along. He has those type of skills, and he is extremely confident, and I guess I would say energized at game time. My thought process is that the guy has got to play more than 20 plays a game for us because he’s too good of a football player, so he becomes a dual guy, and we’ll see where that takes us as we move down the road. But at this point in time I think he’s probably the fourth, fifth corner, of that nature, so we’ll see how that all‑‑ how he transitions.
But that aspect of coaching him has started here since we broke camp, so it hasn’t been a long time, but I think he’s very, very capable.
Monty Madaris has also been given that opportunity, but I think he’s a little farther behind in that regard.
Q. Not a Jacksonville State question necessarily but a change of focus. With the playoff system now and so much going into effect, do you have a tendency to take knees and not try to run scores up because there is a playoff system that is subjective? Will that change maybe you going for points in the past where maybe you wouldn’t?
MARK DANTONIO: I don’t really see that changing. Our goal is to win a football game, and our goal is not to pile it on or disrespect. We’re going to play the game, and we’re going to‑‑ if we happen to be ahead, our twos are in, we’re going to let them play. But at the end of the game, we’re also‑‑ we’re going to handle it the right way. I would hope that others would do the same, but I guess we could have always gone for two last year.
Q. This is the fifth time in MSU’s history that you’ve faced an FCS opponent, all in your era, though. What is it you like about FCS teams or what is your take on that?
MARK DANTONIO: I think it’s basically the scheduling, how it works out. I respect those teams. I have a history there. I coached at Akron. University of Akron was a 1‑AA team at the time, went to the playoffs. Went to Youngstown State as I said for five years and really left there and went to Kansas, and when I got to Kansas, I said, we have a lot of players that can play here at Kansas. I think they are very, very good football players.
You can take guys like Darqueze Dennard, who was not a highly recruited guy, he could have very easily been playing at Jacksonville State, he was an outstanding player for us, and we have others just like him. They have some highly recruited guys that filtered their way down into that system, so it goes both ways. But I have a great deal of respect for the coaching. That’s a very well‑coached team that we’re playing. Again, defensively you don’t really know because it’s the first game out the gate, but you can see from an offensive standpoint they’re very well tied together, their structuring concepts are excellent, and they’re challenging. They’re going to spread you out.
Q. Along those lines, when looking at Jacksonville State, when they want to push tempo and get things moving a little bit, how does that set you guys up as a defense moving forward in terms of facing teams like Oregon and Indiana that like to do similar concepts? And also, in the off‑season that was something that was brought up a lot, that trying to eliminate that tempo style. What’s your thoughts on that?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, first of all, we’ve played a lot of teams in these past years that are up‑tempo teams. We’ve gone to that a little bit at times, as well. I think there’s things that are borrowed or taken from every team that’s having success. People try to emulate that. I think every football team has that in their package right now, so you have an opportunity to practice those things.
As far as my belief system there is, you know, we had one of the top defenses in America last year with the rules as they are. I do think people tend to get hurt when they’re tired, but you’ve got to sub them out and get them out and in some way figure out a way to do that. But as far as the rules, I’ve just tried to weigh in on the ones that I can change. I don’t think I have any influence on that, so why weigh in on it.
Q. What are you hoping to learn about this defense? What do you want to see from them early in the season?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think we’ve got certain guys playing some new positions, so you want to see‑‑ you basically want to see guys bend their knees and play in space and tackle, play the ball in the deep part of the field. There are certain things that you can do schematically, and then it comes down to guys making plays.
But you need to keep your feet up underneath you and stay balanced as a football player, you need to get off blocks, you need to be an attacking defense. Obviously we always want to affect the quarterback. We always want to come up with turnovers and stop the run and do all those things from the standpoint of the things that win football games. You want to do those things, but I think it starts with attention to detail on your initial reads. I think it starts with can you bend your knees throughout, especially on a fast‑paced offense, are you able to play 10, 12 plays, and we’ve worked extremely hard on doing that. But there’s a conditioning factor with that, not just physical conditioning but a mental conditioning, as well, and that’s all a part of this. That’s why when I sit there and say in my opening statement, we’re going to see where we’re at, because at this point in time people are going to start making statements on everybody’s football team in this country, including ours.
You guys will be the closest to our football team, and you’ll have a definite perception in terms of where we’re at as well as our coaches. We’ll have a perception, okay, we need to get better at this. We did this well, we need to get better at this. We constantly try and evaluate ourselves and critique what we’ve got to do to become a better football team. That’s just the way we’ve got to be built here, and we’ve got to get ready to play our first game.
Q. In that first game, do you hope to play all three quarterbacks for at least a series or two?
MARK DANTONIO: I can’t answer that right now. I think that all of our quarterbacks have had good fall camps, but Connor Cook will be our starter and we’ll go with him, and that’s my‑‑ that’s what I anticipate happening. Beyond that, we’ll have to see what happens.
Q. And then also, AJ Troup leapfrogged a lot of guys this fall. What has he done other than simply stay healthy?
MARK DANTONIO: AJ has stayed healthy. He’s come back after the ACL and is running very, very effectively, big‑bodied guy that can really run. What he’s got to do is he’s got to put it on the game field. He’s done everything he’s needed to do in practice. He’s got to put that ability on the game field and make plays, and he’s got to have opportunities to do that because we are deep at wide receiver and we’re going to play a lot of different guys.
Q. As you mentioned a lot of balance for these guys, a lot of rushing. I think they had 49 rushing touchdowns. What do they look like? Who would they compare to when you look at their offense and their style?
MARK DANTONIO: You know, just depends on who’s their quarterback a little bit. When Jenkins, 7, is in there, they’re a little bit more like a Nebraska, Ohio State, with runs from the quarterback position. I think when Shortell is in there, they’re a little bit more like a traditional passing team, maybe more like Indiana in some regards. They’re going to spread you out horizontally and vertically, and it’s going to be quick, rapid‑‑ I’m not sure how fast they’re going because we haven’t seen them in real‑time, but it looks like they’re going very fast from all indications that we have and all information that we gathered. They look like they go pretty quickly.
But there’s a flipside to that, too, the flipside being our offense versus their defense and what happens on that side of the ball. There always is two sides to everything.
Q. I have long wondered why a school like Michigan State had us in a sweaty trailer and wooden chairs. As you conduct your first press conference here today, what does it mean to you to be in this facility, not just the media room, as you step up with the big boys in college football?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think we’ve been one of the big boys with the bad locker room, basically, but it’s a part of‑‑ I think it’s a part of progress here, and we’ve been able to‑‑ now everything that we’ve done, from the Skandalaris Center when pro scouts walked in and said, this is the best football facility in the conference, and now when people walk in here. I think we’re constantly trying to evaluate where we are at in all aspects of our football program, not just on the field, but that’s the main part. I still say, hey, we’ve got a beautiful building here, but if we don’t have the right mental attitude walking in that locker room, if we don’t put the right players in that locker room, this doesn’t mean anything because the bottom line is it’s about wins.
But what it gives us, I think, it gives us a platform that in many cases the word is a very professional, cutting‑edge facility.
Q. You’ve got three tight ends here listed on the depth chart. I wonder how you kind of evaluate the depth at that position right now.
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think they’re all guys that play in certain situations, and we play a multiple tight end offense, so you may see two or three of them in at the same time. They’re all listed as No. 1 because they’ll play in that regard. If we decide in the first play of the game to come out in a specific personnel group then all three of them will be on the field. When we list starters on the field, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily starting the game based on the first play, it’ll be based on what personnel grouping we’re in.
Q. You have three true freshmen listed on your depth chart at defensive tackle. Is that an indication that all three will play or have you not made decisions on red shirts?
MARK DANTONIO: I think you can basically say that Craig Evans is going to play and Malik McDowell is going to play, and then the third one we’re going to have to wait and see. Just in terms of‑‑ you want to make sure if we play a freshman, they’re going to get the reps, they’re going to get reps throughout the season as we go. I think those two guys have proven themselves. David Beedle and Enoch Smith are both very, very good players, but whether it’s an injury that takes a guy back a little bit or whether it’s they hit a little bit of a plateau or maybe we just need guys that play in other areas, playing on the scout field, whatever. We can’t play them all, and we’ve got five defensive tackles in there that we’re prepared to play, and to sit there and say we’re going to play seven, I think that’s‑‑ I guess if we get tired we will, but I think right now we’re looking at playing five in there.
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think Jon Reschke is going to play. He’s going to be in there. He’s a red‑shirt freshman so you’ve got to get him some experience. He’s had a good practice this week. I guess we’ve only practiced once this week, but I look for him to play and get reps. How many reps will be dependent on how he plays. But he’s going to play in and out initially.
Q. New faces at all three linebacker spots. Obviously Taiwan has been a starter but moving over. How curious are you as to how this combination is going to work, and do you have a pretty good feel for what you expect from these three guys?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I know all three of those guys are all fourth‑year players. They’ve all been in our program for all four years, so Ed Davis and Darien Harris are all red‑shirt juniors. Both of those guys have played a lot of football for us, Ed probably as much as any, especially in terms of last season. He’s a big‑play guy. He’s made big plays for us here. Darien started, I believe he started or played a lot in the Rose Bowl, so he’s been on a big stage, as well.
It’s going to be something that we look at, obviously, because that is a new lineup. But I think all three guys are extremely talented, but then I go back to say what’s going to allow them to be successful, staying mentally sharp, bending their knees and playing fast and tackling and playing in space, getting off of blocks, doing the things that they have to do on a drill‑to‑drill basis. If they stand up and start wandering, bad things happen.
I’m pretty sure that our players understand what they have to do to be successful, and we’ve got good players behind them that will be able to take snaps, Riley Bullough is a guy that can play at a high level, Reschke as we’ve talked about, we’ve talked about Mylan Hicks, and I think Chris Frey will be a guy that can work his way in there as we move, too. I think he’ll be a very good football player. Again, we have seven guys for three positions there, and I think they all have the ability to step in there and play snaps.
Q. Were you talking specifically about defensive linemen when you said two, maybe three, or were you talking true freshmen overall?
MARK DANTONIO: True freshmen, at the defensive tackle?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, true freshmen defensive tackles.
Q. Any other freshmen who you’ve decided to play for sure?
MARK DANTONIO: Possibly Montez Sweat as we move closer to game time. It’ll depend on his practices. Probably today and tomorrow, but he’s working in there with the twos, two and a halves. We’re throwing fractions, I guess.
But I think Evan Jones has had a good camp. I think he’s solid. I think he’s ready to play for us. He’s a guy that maybe is‑‑ if you want to look for a surprise in camp that you keep hearing, hey, he’s doing a good job, he’s very solid, Evan Jones is a guy that’s a 260‑pound defensive end, he’s going into his third year, a guy that’s moved from tight end last year. At the beginning of fall camp, he was moved from tight end.
Q. Following up on Montae Nicholson, you’ve played him at a lot of different positions and you’ve said that you think he could make an impact, but if a guy doesn’t play enough you don’t play him, how is that going to shake out?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, that’s a great question because I think Montae is an excellent athlete. He’s a big‑bodied guy that can really run. I think he tackles pretty well. He’s going to get better. He’s tough, he wants to play. But from a learning perspective, he’s got to‑‑ he can’t make mental mistakes, so these next two practices are going to be extremely big for him. ME’s in the back end create problems, but I think he is a guy that we work with and try and get ready to play, and he can go from A to Z there. He can be an A player and be a starter. I mean, he has the skills to be a starter this year, but he also could not see the field this year. So it just depends on his development.
Again, we don’t want to play a guy if he’s not going to get significant reps. I would say if a guy is on three special teams, if a guy is on three special teams, we would play that individual and then play him into actual plays on the field.
But if you remember Demetrious Cox was very talented as a freshman but we ended up holding him the whole year but traveled him in every game. We just never got to the point where we had to use him. We just sort of kept trying to nurture him along in his development, and now he’s a red‑shirt sophomore instead of a red shirt junior.
Q. What’s the atmosphere in the locker room been like in preparation for Jacksonville State, and has there been any concern about the players overlooking the game and focusing on Oregon?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I would hope not. I would hope ‑‑ our attitude throughout camp has been very, very positive, enthusiastic. Yesterday was hot if you were outside, it was very humid here. We went about two and a half hours outside. It was a strong‑armed practice I guess you’d say, strong‑armed. Again, you’ve got to play through those situations. But we’ll get our message across.
Again, this is a statement game. If you can’t get excited about playing in Spartan Stadium on the first day of your senior year, junior year, freshman year, sophomore year, then maybe it just isn’t happening for you. If things don’t go right for us, it will not be because we have overlooked Jacksonville State, and I can promise you that. We can get that message across.
Q. Demetrious Cox, the fifth defensive back right now in your nickel package?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, Day‑Day is the nickelback and also probably the first safety in the game, and I think he’s had a pretty good camp. He’ll show up on special teams, as well, and I think he’s ready to go. I think we’ve seen him grow every year as a player, and I think he’s got outstanding skills. It’ll be interesting to watch him.
Q. And then in this game, how do you balance trying to get a look at a lot of different guys but also trying to win the game and put your best 11 out there?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we’re going to‑‑ you know what, we’ve got a lot of players ready to play, I think, football this year. Our tailback situation, we’ll see what’s going on there. We’ve got wide‑outs playing. So we’re going to put players on the field, keep them fresh, make sure we’re playing at a fast pace, make sure we’re playing fast, and if a guy is not doing his job in terms of effort and toughness and knowing what to do, then there’s going to be some changes.
But I think we have enough depth on this football team that guys have an opportunity to play who have earned that opportunity. So when they get on the field, they’ve got to play fast.
Q. You mentioned the other day about being aggressive, coming out, going after points maybe not in the past, that was your nature. How exciting is that to an offense knowing we’re going to come out with our foot on the gas pedal?
MARK DANTONIO: You know, hopefully I’ve never given that indication that I want to slow it down, but I think that our offense grew immensely from game 1 last year through game 14, and I think what we’ve done offensively, we’ve had a very strong spring. We’ve had a very productive fall camp, and I’m looking forward to watching our offense perform during the season, and I think we have a lot of weapons there. I think we have a lot of weapons. I think we had a lot of weapons going into last year, but now what we have I think is a lot of confidence, and I think that bears out in terms of how we’re playing and our skill level.
Q. Coach Glass joked last night that Michigan State might try to get a hold of some of the high school tape to study him because it was two years ago that he was a high school coach. How unique is this and what does it say about a younger coach like this that he’s been able to get through the ranks so quickly and go from coaching high school to playing Rose Bowl champions in two years?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, he’s been at a lot of different places, a number of different places, head high school coach, and there is a change between high school and college, but it’s still about organization, it’s still about players and coaches getting along. From my perspective, and this is just my perspective, but high school coaches, highly successful high school coaches, when they have time to invest all their time into one aspect into being an offensive coordinator or being a position coach at the college level, but being at the college level where they’re able to invest their time, they are outstanding coaches. They become‑‑ not that they’re not. They become outstanding coaches even more because what you have to do as a high school coach is you have to juggle so many different aspects of your lives, dealing with the young man that’s got a lot of different pressures on him that are different than college pressures. But you become extremely well‑versed in all aspects of football, and I can just tell you as a high school coach, and I was a defensive coach for one year, went to college and became a defensive back coach, secondary coach, defensive coordinator, so everything that was applied in my trade prior to becoming a head coach was all about defense. I never spent one year as an offensive coach. So whatever I know offensively has become over the last 11 years.
A head high school coach invests in every area of the football team: Special teams, offense, he knows offensive line play but he also knows defensive line play. He’s gone to many, many clinics. He’s sought out, looked for knowledge in so many different areas, and I think that’s when you see great expertise come out.
He’s extremely successful, coached last year as an offensive coordinator. They had a defensive‑oriented head coach, so he was in charge of that offense, and I think they set like 49 different records or something of that nature. So very efficient, and I don’t think you get hired as the head football coach at any university if you are not ready for that position, and I think that he’ll have an outstanding career.
Q. A lot has been talked about the backup running backs. Where does that stand going into this game in terms of splitting up some of the carries for those four guys behind Jeremy, and is there any concern with Jeremy not having really gone through a lot of the scrimmages in the fall?
MARK DANTONIO: You know, we held Jeremy a little bit in the scrimmages but we didn’t hold him in practices, so he was full go in the practices, and you know, we did go live in practices where he was full go.
Really what we wanted to try and do was identify who was going to be the second, third, fourth, fifth tailback, so we had to split those reps up to be able to allow that thing to transition. We had a couple guys banged up a couple days, missed some practice, and that type of thing. I think Nick Hill has had a great camp, Delton Williams is a physical, downhill runner, can move the pile, Madre London, Gerald Holmes, they’re right there together, and we’re going to see‑‑ but they’re both outstanding running backs. They’re both good players. We’re just trying to figure out what do we do in that situation.
Take a red shirt off of Madre, he’s got to play in other areas in terms of special teams, and I think he can do that, but that’s a big decision. We have two senior tailbacks, so we’re going to lose some guys, and we have one recruited, outstanding tailback coming, so that’s probably all we’ll take. You need to have depth at that position, and I think we have the depth, but whether we play them or not just depends on the injury situation.
And I really can’t tell you, I’m a guy if he’s hot, put him in the game, so a guy comes in there and he creases the team and gets hot like Le’Veon Bell did when he was here as a freshman, I’m going to be pushing them, I’m going to tell them put Le’Veon in the game. You earn your carries by what you do on game day.
Q. I was going to ask about running backs, too. Is it fair to say that Nick Hill has separated himself a little bit from those younger guys at this point?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think Nick Hill is a guy that’s had a great camp, as I said. He has separated. He’s a fifth‑year senior, he knows everything inside and out. But again, Delton Williams is going to play because he’s a different style running back. You’re going to have that situation going in there with two or three running backs depending on how healthy everybody is. Jeremy is our lead guy. He’s going to get the reps. We’ll see how it all shakes out. It’s a good situation to have.
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