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March 24, 2015

Mark Dantonio

HEAD COACH DANTONIO:  Good morning.  First of all I just want to first off obviously congratulate our basketball program, reaching the Sweet 16 again.  And tremendous job, I guess, by Coach Izzo and the entire basketball team.
Really when I looked, I saw a Tweet yesterday that said we're the only ones that had been in the Sweet 16 four straight times.  And also won our last four bowl games, as well.  Pretty amazing what's being done here, not just in basketball and football, but in all sports.  Once again, congratulations.
Spring ball for me is a time for growth.  It's an opportunity to get 3 percent better on every practice.  We've got 15 practices, so do the math on that.  But we've always tried to do that.  We've got a foundation I feel or we feel, really, right now, we have a very strong foundation, we need to be able to build on that foundation, as we move forward.  And the reality is that the expectations here are very, very high.  And they should be.  And that's where we start with.
Really what we've been able to do since our bowl game, since the Cotton Bowl, is obviously hire a new coach, Coach Snyder, revamp things in terms of who is coaching what, different things of that nature, get him on board, critique what we've done.
We've certainly worked extremely hard conditioning our players and gaining strength; player development, physically, player development mentally, as well.  And we've trained extremely hard on that.
We've really worked our entire program, including the leadership aspect.  I think every time a new season comes around, you've got new leaders that have great years, that have to be able to build a foundation this themselves, as well.  So that's been something we've worked on very, very hard.
Our goal, in the spring, find the best 11, whether that's the best 11 on punt, kickoff, defense, offense, nickel, different personnel groupings, obviously you want to experiment with positions, player by positions.  And also experiment conceptually, as well.  Want to go through and maintain our health physically.
And I think also our mental health is just as important.  You've got to train yourself as champions, you have to expect yourself to do certain things as you move through the process.  And it's all part of it.  We've got to be able to train mentally, as well.  Find the leaders, attack our areas of concern, which we have some, obviously, every football team has those.  And reach a little higher as we go.  I think we're here to stay.  I think that's very important as we move forward here, but continue to reach higher.
And we will have our first annual student athlete clinic, actually do it two times, do it this coming Saturday afternoon, the last 45 minutes of our spring drills.¬† And then carry over and have a little clinic for our students.¬† It's open to our student population, but you have to be an MSU student.¬† We interact with them, like the youth campers, and do a little bit of I guess a personal one‑on‑one relationship with our students, I think would be exciting for everyone involved.¬† We are going to do that, as well.
I'll take some questions, and we'll go from there.

Q.  Is (inaudible) suspended or where does he stand?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:¬† I'm going to talk about the guys on our depth chart.¬† And anybody not on the depth chart, is sort of in limbo, that's the best way to say it right now.¬† And we're day‑to‑day on a lot of guys.

Q.  Following up on that, is Delton suspended for the entirety of the spring, though?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:¬† That would be a follow‑up question, so we are going to about these guys right here.¬† I've issued a statement on that.¬† And we'll take the next statement.

Q.  You mentioned every team has its areas of concern, what are your areas of concern for this spring?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:¬† Well, first we've got to look at who we lost.¬† I think we lost a great‑‑ two great tailbacks, actually.¬† So it's time for new guys to rise up.¬† We have two guys that basically will be red shirt sophomores, Gerald Holmes and Madre London.¬† And then also Joe Owens is involved in that, as well, he's a red shirt freshman.¬† Tailback is an issue.
We've got good players, there, I think we're going to find out a little bit more of our guys as we move toward.  Wide receivers, we lost two great players.  I think we have players there, but we have to adapt and see who is going to step up in that area and really take over their areas of prominence, I guess I'd say.
And then we lost two good corners.¬† Aside from that, I think we're pretty solid.¬† We've got guys who played football, Rodney has played in there, a lot of football for us.¬† John Reschke is also there.¬† Very excited for Shane Jones and what he's been able to do in terms of just his‑‑ he's come along.¬† So we'll see how he goes.¬† But I think those are the areas.¬† Actually I think everybody else is pretty experienced.¬† We're sort of established on the offense life, defensive line, and the linebackers, our tight ends.¬† We've got depth at wide receiver.¬† But certainly our quarterback situation is very, very solid.

Q.  A couple moves on defense, Lawrence Thomas the end, and then Cox at the corner, are those spring try out things or do you think those guys are going to be in those spots in the fall?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:  Well, Lawrence has played defense for us in the past, very good football player.  And just felt like at this point in time rather than bring a red shirt freshman in there and put him as the starter that we wanted to work LT there, defensive end, he's about 285 right now, but athletic and active.  Whether it be Damon Knox or Malik McDowell, whoever is in there, you know, they're both starters.  And so along with Joel Heath and then Arjen Colquhoun gives us five guys, I think that have played a lot of football for us up there.
We also have very good young players that need to get looks this spring, Craig Evans, David Beedle, and Smith.¬† So it's going to be exciting.¬† And Montez, is a guy at defensive end and Cooper, Evan Jones, as well.¬† We've got guys that we can play in there.¬† But I think it's a good situation.¬† And LT straight out there, and he's done a great job out there in the past.¬† The other positions was Cox, he's played corner for us this past year, started a number of games, actually, I think at corner.¬† So we're just going to put our best football players on the field, RJ Williamson, Montae, are very good players, as well.¬† So basically going to ‑‑ right now‑‑ along with Montae, or certainly Darren Hicks is the guy that will go in there as a starter, as well.

Q.¬† Dairies is listed, currently has starting wide receiver, he didn't see a lot of time last year, he's someone that's progressed this off‑season?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:  I thought he had an outstanding fall camp.  He's a guy who started to play a little bit in there, got into the top six last year.  He's got great speed.  He's got great ball awareness.  Big body guy.  Catch the ball down the field very well.  So just felt like, based on his performance in bowl practice that he would be the guy that would move up to that position.  Just depends really on what personnel groupings we would be in.  I think they listed three starting wide receivers, and remains to be seen if he's in there, with two wide receivers right there.

Q.  Middle linebacker, Reschke, the guy that hasn't been able to stay healthy, is that going to be the biggest key?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:¬† John Reschke is a great football player coming in.¬† He had an ankle situation when he was a true freshman, created a red shirt issue for him.¬† Plus we had Max in there, Riley could play in there.¬† But this year shoulder late‑‑ middle of the season, so we opted to get him ready for surgery so he would be ready by spring.¬† It's a physical game.¬† He's up in strength and weight.¬† Very good football player.¬† Riley is obviously as well.¬† And I think we've got depth at that player.¬† He's a football player, and he'll play for us.¬† And they'll really go in there as sort of almost co‑starters, probably 60/40 with.
Bullough having the nod there.

Q.  Reschke cleared for full contact or is that going to be a limited?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:  He's cleared for contact initially, full contact probably in about a week to ten days.  We've got to sort of work it through.

Q.¬† Looking at your defensive line personnel, depth, size, some of these guys would appear qualified for a three man front, is that one of the things you'll look at is a 3‑4th spring?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:¬† We'll look at a little bit of 3‑4, if you've got to get good at something, you have to major at something.¬† We've been good with our 4‑3, we're not going to change something that's not broken, and that certainly it is not broken.¬† We were No.1 in run defense against the run, and we've got good players up there.¬† But we can formulate 3‑4 look, but that just depends on how it goes.¬† We can formulate it, it's in the package, but we sort of adhere to the format.

Q.  What has been done since the Cotton Bowl and what will be done going forward to keep the edge and to prevent any kind of complacency setting in with so much success?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:  You know, there's always going to be change, physical change in facilities, because our admissions commitment to everything.  And other people, influential people, we're overhauling our locker room at the Duffy and the training room so that's all new construction.  That will be done here probably early June and July, those two things.
As far as with our players, it's really‑‑ we sort of start at ground zero every year, that's why we take our time to get in spring ball.¬† We want to start at ground zero, see how they're doing, weight, and strength.¬† Critique what we've done, find out are we really playing the best players, based on the season before, critique what we've done, try and work out any issues, kinks, experiment with new things sort of are the goals I've talked about.¬† But we've never been a complacent group of people.¬† 16‑1 in the Big 10 the last few years.¬† And go back, we've done some very, very good things.¬† I think we're approaching some very high standards here.
But there's still room to grow, and I think that's what we're trying to do, continue to grow.  We're here to stay.  And I think that's something we've got to constantly say to our football team and preach to it, is you're going to be measured on what you do next.  And there's basic expectations now from our players who have left, and from I think Spartans in again, that we need to continue to raise our level of play.

Q.  When you've got a running back coming in in the fall with pretty high expectations, how do you look at the running back, the guys that are here, when you know you've got someone coming, too?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:¬† We've got a lot of good freshmen coming, especially skilled positions, I feel.¬† And usually as a freshman you're going to play early at the skilled positions.¬† And so whether that's a wide out, whether that's a corner, LJ Scott at tailback would be a guy that's going to be in the hunt.¬† I think that's going to be‑‑ I sort of naturally assume that.¬† He's good enough player to come play now.¬† It looks like it on film.¬† Once he gets here we'll figure it all out.¬† Sometimes players try to lay going this way or going that way of high school, too.¬† It's important he comes in in shape and we'll see how he works.

Q.  You mentioned leadership right off the top.  Having Connor and Shilique and couple of the offensive linemen coming up, does that give you a leg up in developing that leadership this spring?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:  We have a senior class that probably has as much experience as we're we've had since we've been here.  And I think there are some very, very good football players there, just the offensive line, Clark and Jack.  I think he's got a year, but we've got experienced guys up it there.  But I think they have to lead.  And that's the important thing.  Just because you're becoming a senior doesn't mean you're necessarily going to lead.  You have to be forced into those positions, and that sort of just turns.  These guys are sophomores when we won the Rose Bowl.  And now they have to assume a leadership position.  I think it's natural progression, but they have to work on it.

Q.  You've talked a lot about Connor and Shilique coming back for obvious reasons, but Conklin has the most press from NFL people.  How significant is it to get him back in considering the lodge particulars of the team?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:¬† He's a great person.¬† He's a very strong leader, and I think he's assuming that leadership role.¬† He still has another year after this.¬† That's the beautiful thing about it.¬† So obviously had a left tackle back who is projected all Big 10 player, All‑American type guy, gives you a big upside.¬† But I think just as important is a guy that will work, he goes about things academically, socially, everything he does, he does pretty well in terms of the right type of person.¬† So having a guy back like that shoots for us and demonstrates to other people that you can get it all.¬† You don't just have to be a football player, you can have it all here.

Q.  Looking at the depth chart, Michael Geiger is not there.  Have you discussed the hip or the injury he's had and when he'll be back?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:  You're asking an awful lot of questions about injuries, which Mike had the surgery, he'll be out for the spring.  He had sort of a hip flexor deal.

Q.  Speaking of Shilique, one of the reasons to come back here was to possibly be a part of the team that won a national championship.  Is that the clear goal here, or is it too early to think about that?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:  I think you go with things in progression, you always have to take your goals and you're building your goals as you go.  And then you reevaluate your goals if you don't reach that.
After the Ohio State game this past year, we needed to see what that did for us.¬† But we didn't win a championship.¬† So the first goal has to be to win, which is as tough ‑‑ this side of the conference is as tough as there is in college football.¬† But a lot of good teams, a lot of very good coached football teams.
But you leap frog from there to the next step to the next step.  And I think it's possible with what we've accomplished, we've got a name for ourselves a little bit.  We've got some rankings, and I think you need those things to be able to put yourself over the edge.  We're up there now so we've got a little bit of a podium, I guess I'd say, if that's the right word.  You've got a little bit of a recognition, so what are you going to do with that?  So I just feel that our football team, you're always trying to reach farther, reach higher, and we've got to reach a little further and you're in a playoff game.  And that would be the goal to get in the playoff game.  But to do that you have to go through the progression.

Q.  Is it still possible for a program that has won four straight bowl games to have a chip on its shoulder?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:  All you have to do is read the paper, right?  Absolutely.  Okay.  I believe that it's how you're built.  We try to be built for the long haul here.  And as I said at the end of this thing, we're here to say.  And that's got to be a mindset.  And you don't get there being happy with where you're at.  You have to have some type of mindset where you're going to be challenged.  And I understand we're going to be challenged.

Q.¬† Does it help with all the attention that Ohio State has gotten for winning the national championship and some other coach got hired somewhere around this state, whose name escapes me right now, but you've got‑‑ did that help, though, in focusing more attention on the fact that a lot of people still aren't giving this program the respect, if you will, you think it deserves?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:¬† I just feel like we're going to try and‑‑ after we're 13‑1 we tried to refocus ourselves, we lost two games.¬† We could have done better, but we lost two games.¬† So I don't think that we went into the season expecting and taking it for granted that we were just going to throw our helmet out there.
So I think you sort of sit there and teeter one way or another.  You want to be confident you about you can't be so confident that you take things for granted and I think that's where we're at.  We believe in hard work here, we're going to work extremely hard.  We're playing with great effort and understanding what we're doing and having knowledge about what we do.  And that's brought us positives.  There's still some negatives out there.  There's going to be negatives around every program that's out there.  I don't know if I'm answering the question, but I'm trying.

Q.  Back to the depth chart.  Chris Frey, is he a fan, now, moving forward?  With Harold, how are you going to split him up in the spring?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:  TJ will play some star backer, which is the backer, outside backer, stays more times than not.  He'll also play a little bit of tailback.  And I think it fits into the depth chart.  He was an excellent tailback in high school, so we're going to work him in there and see what happens with that a little bit.  So he'll have to play a little bit of both.  And at some point in time we're going to have to determine, is he here or is he here, give him opportunities there.
Chris Frey is a guy that's a good football player.  He's demonstrated that.  He was a sand backer, money backer, I think that's probably better suited for him to play in the box a little bit more.  But he has the ability to go outside and play.  You see so many different formations now you have to be able to adjust out.

Q.  Damion Terry, the brass package, will we see some of that, is there any chance he'll play receiver.  And update on Drake Martinez?
HEAD COACH DANTONIO:  I would say that that's in the spring, to experiment on things.  And Damion is an excellent football player as is O'Connor, and I think you'll see opportunities where we have two quarterbacks playing at the same time.  Now, we'll see.  And then also think brass package is something that both those guys can do.  And really all three of them can do.
Drake Martinez, that's ongoing, but I think it's going in right direction, we just need to get closure on everything, all the data that's been done.

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