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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 10, 2015
East Lansing, Michigan
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we're in day 3 of practice, the first day of shells today, so I thought things went very, very well, paid a lot of attention, just getting ourselves back into football shape a little bit. But today a little bit more active. Things speed up a little bit for everybody. Young players are taking strides.
But we're starting, so you know, there's not much to say. I'll take some new questions, since I've been interviewed about every other day.
Q. You've talked a lot about Barnett and Tressel and the transition. What about their relationship with each other, and does it change? Does the dynamic change at all in that room or the way you guys prepare on a weekly basis?
MARK DANTONIO: No, really everything has stayed the same. You know, it's been first of all, we haven't gotten to game week yet, but there's no egos involved. That's why I made this decision probably two years ago. I don't think either of those two guys have an ego. I think they get along very, very well with each other. It's a give and take type of thing. Both of them have been in leadership positions before. Mike worked a lot with the special teams. He was in front of our football team a lot, and Harlon has been in front of our football team an awful lot, too.
I think it's worked very, very well, and both are experts at what they've been coaching. They play off each other.
Q. In 2012 when the season ended, you said that looking back you maybe had made a mistake not getting Andrew ready Kirk's senior year. I'm curious, will you be wanting to determine that second string quarterback quickly so you can do things differently, or is it just that's not in the plans?
MARK DANTONIO: I would say that both those guys, Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry are both guys that they've both been on the field a lot for us already. They both, I think, have a good grasp and knowledge of the offense, and I think probably when the time comes, they'll probably have to assert themselves on the field. Right I don't think there is a distinction, but certainly as we move forward in fall camp you try and make those decisions. And then as far as playing them early, if the opportunity presents itself, we want to play those guys early, much like we did last year, even in the Penn State game. I wasn't afraid to put Damion in on the 5 yard line. That was his time. But tough situation.
But I think both those guys have done a nice job so far.
Q. What are you seeing out of the wide receivers thus far? I know Connor Cook said last year it was effective looking for Tony all the time, but he feels like this time he needs to diversify more. What are you seeing?
MARK DANTONIO: Third day of practice, so like I said, you're starting, but guys are watching the ball well. They look crisp. Burbridge has got to get back into shape. Macgarrett Kings has looked good since coming off of his interval test. I think R.J. Shelton is looking very, very well, Madaris, AJ Troup has looked very, very good, as well. I've been impressed more I think we know what some of our guys can do.
I think we're looking and seeing how are our young players looking. Darrell Stewart and Felton Davis both are two guys that look the part, run the part and act the part out there, so it'll be interesting to see how they retain things and how they move forward once real pads come on and we get farther into this than two a days, or in summer camp.
Q. Looking at your offensive and defensive lines, do you think this is the best trenches that you've ever had, and what is the key that you've been able to sustain and develop offensive and defensive lines?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we've been pretty good on the defensive line here in the past, so I think all the ability is there, but I think you make those distinctions at the end of the year, but we certainly have a lot of good players back and they're very active and we've got some depth there.
Offensive line wise I think this is the most depth we've had, but again, you go back and look at our last two seasons, haven't been sacked too much, ran for over 2,000 yards probably as a group, and that's sort of been the norm the last couple seasons, but I think now they're getting a little bit more recognition. Good football team in those areas, but I think we'll anoint those people at the end of the season rather than at the beginning. But they have all the makings. They're good players with experience.
Q. Speaking of the offensive line, the two Allen brothers, do they have a trait that the two brothers share, or are they opposite or what?
MARK DANTONIO: They're so ornery. Yeah. They'll mix it up a little bit, and they compete against each other, I think, throughout the process.
You know, other than that, very similar in terms of both were outstanding wrestlers in high school, went to the state championship, those type things, and both are very tough, strong, physical type players. Great feet. Athletes.
Q. In your defensive backfield you have a lot of younger competition that's vying for those spots, especially with Hicks being held out of the early parts of training camp. How do you make sure that those guys understand they look at it as the opportunity but not press too hard to try to go over the top?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, we're going to get our young players playing in the back end there, so it's very important that we give them reps and see them play against our more experienced receivers, so we'll sort of roll them in there as we do everything else, as we always have, but they're going to get a lot of opportunities. All those guys, all six of those defensive backs look like good players, and the corners that we brought in look like they're good players, as well.
It'll be interesting to watch them as pads go on, but they have good ball skills, they can run, they have a presence to them, which I think you have to have as a young player. It'll be interesting to see can they sustain. I think that's the key thing with freshmen; can they sustain as they move through 20 plus practices, 28 practices or so here, can they endure, can they stay healthy, those type things.
Q. Does Darian Hicks's mono situation affected anything in terms of the corners and maybe your idea to move somebody to see if an offensive player can play defense the way Lippett did?
MARK DANTONIO: No, not at this time I don't think. Certainly R.J. Shelton can go over there; he's been there before. But right now we need to find out what our young players can do. Demetrious Cox works out there, as well, and he's been very solid, so we're sort of staying the course, but I think, like I said just a minute ago, I think we have some young players that will make the transition pretty quickly.
Q. With the motto of "reach higher," is that something that you guys only talk about during the off season, and now that the practices and things have started, do you focus on more of the games ahead of you or is that something you constantly talk about?
MARK DANTONIO: I think that's something that we go into the season with and speak to fall camp about a little bit and our mindset as we move forward, and things change. Things are always changing. We come off of one thing and go into another thing. It's sort of what sticks, but initially moving into the season, that's the thought process, that we're here but we need to go farther. We're already up there, as I've said before, as I told our football team, and I think I mentioned to you guys before, too. So we're already up there. We're competing at a very high level. But we need to go a little bit higher to get where we want to be.
Q. Can you recap the summer as a whole and what returning guys have you seen improve the most?
MARK DANTONIO: Recap the summer? Well, I had a great summer. I think our players worked extremely hard in our bottom line program, which is, hey, you're getting it done or not getting it done at the end of the day. Got a lot of players lifting a lot of heavy weight, a lot of players running extremely well. We look like we're in shape. We look like we have explosive players in the back end when you look at their 40 times and their short shuttles and their long jump and their 40 times, their vertical jump. I think my feeling is we have good skill, and we sort of paid the price with our big people. They can run, as well.
I think we're in a good place. I think the leadership has been very good early in this camp from our senior group, and that's always extremely important, and I think there's great direction within our program at the ground level, which is, again, that's at the player level. When you have that at the player level, I think that gives you an added advantage, especially in games on the field because players lead on the field. They have to. They have to get it done on the field. But it's been a great summer.
Q. You mentioned a few of the young guys on defense. Curious about your initial impressions of LJ Scott.
MARK DANTONIO: Impressive, very impressive. You know, he showed up today, a big, physical back, runs well, balances things, sticks it up in there. Looks like the real deal.
Q. Traditionally most of your freshmen have had a redshirt year. Seems like recently more guys are getting on the field right away. Do you have to change your approach at all in getting those guys ready in a hurry to be on the field?
MARK DANTONIO: I think it's just a matter of where our need is, can people stay healthy, and how ready are the players. Montae Nicholson played last year. He's a great athlete, great tackler, great ball skills so we put him in there.
Some other guys played, as well, but it was because of need or because of their abilities, and I think that's usually what happens.
We've got to look at every freshman as they come in and we're going to make sure we go ones, twos and frosh so that the frosh are getting reps. It takes a little bit longer, but we're going to go ones, twos and frosh and see how they make their way, and then we're going to put them against our ones at times, too, throughout practice, so we're going to see them measure up not just against frosh but against the ones as well as the twos. We're just going to try and build their rÃ©sumÃ© and see how they handle it as we go.
I would agree that we played more freshmen last year than we have, but you go back and look at the 2011 class and those guys are all seniors right now, and it's a great class, and we only played one, DeJuan Jones, and it's a great class, and those guys are all fifth year seniors.
Q. Is there anyone specifically who has stood out so far?
MARK DANTONIO: I think it's sorta early, but I'm spending a lot of time with the defensive backs, and you see Josh Butler looks good, Tyson Ty Smith looks good, David Dowell looks good. I've been impressed with those safeties. I could go through all those guys. They all look good. Our line backers played pretty well. LJ, as you said. I've already mentioned the two wide outs. I think it takes a little bit of time for our offensive linemen and our defensive linemen, but they look talented.
Q. Just talk about Riley Bullough. I don't know if it's too early to compare him to Max, but that's the obvious comparison.
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, two different type players. Max, even though they're brothers, Max is a little bit more of a thumper probably, Riley a little bit more of a guy that can go sideline to sideline. I think they both have leadership skills. I think they both have a good feel with the defense. Certainly this is the first time that Riley will be the starter at Mike linebacker, so Max had the advantage there of being a three year starter in that regard.
But leadership skills, active, loves playing football, good ball skills, and he can really run, and the guy was a defensive back some in high school, and as you know, we had him in 2013 he was a starting tailback here for a couple obviously he's a good athlete and can run, physical, big.
Q. A lot of specific questions today. I have a more general one. I just counted 67 media members here. I don't remember what 2007 was like, but can you just address the overall momentum in your program and how you used to have to sell it and now you just kind of are watching the followers?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think it's sort of what I said. We were selling hope back then a little bit, a little bit more of an unknown, and now we're selling the results of what's happened. I think people look at things and say that they've done this, they've done that, okay, what's the next step, where reach higher comes into the play.
But we're on the move a little bit, and we've got some momentum, as you said, and we've got a lot of good chemistry and a lot of confidence in our football team, which we should. But the bar is set very high; understand that, as well. That's probably why you're all here.
Q. You have said since the day you arrived on campus, speed, speed, speed is the name of the game. When you look at this linebacking corps, have you ever coached one faster, and just how much better does it make you when all three of them are not going to be outrun by anybody?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, it's a fast group, and we've got to be able to play sideline to sideline, especially with the people with what they're doing offensively now. But again, I'm not ready to anoint our football team because we've had some great football teams here and we've had some great defenses. That 2013 defense had some guys that could really run, too.
We'll see how they go, but they're good football players. We have some depth, and that's what's exciting, we have some depth at those positions, so that's a positive.
Q. You mentioned before you're doing a lot of work with the defensive backs. I'm wondering with Coach Barnett adding some more duties and having so many young guys there, are you doing a little more hands on with that group than you have the last couple years?
MARK DANTONIO: No, that's just gravity. I just get pulled there. I go over to the offensive line, and gradually I just keep moving that direction, okay, so that's just natural. That's what I know best, and so that's where my eyes end up going at some point, and because also I think that the corner position is a position we have to address right now because of relative inexperience, and then also just because we've got some guys there that I think can compete, so I want to watch those guys a little bit more, and that's what I know. Nothing more than what I've ever done. Same old sort of thing. You've got a lot of players out there, and sometimes we split up the coaching a little bit, whether it's Mike Tressel, Mark Snyder going one to the defensive line, one to the linebackers, or whether it's myself taking the safeties, but Coach Barnett has got those guys. He does an outstanding job and I try not to interfere, but gravity takes over sometimes.
Q. You talked about your program maintaining its edge and the reach higher concept. In the last year or two, have you even sniffed one sense of complacency anywhere, because I know you rail against that, but do you ever see signs of it, because it doesn't
MARK DANTONIO: No, I really don't see signs of it. We're not built that way here. We compete against each other here, so we go a lot of ones versus ones. When you go ones versus ones, you've got to measure up on the field, right now, right at that point in time, otherwise you get defeated in practice. We've always come to work in winter workouts, we've always come to work in our bottom line program, summer camp, and I don't sense any complacency at all. Again, I think that comes from our seniors because they're now into their last turn, their last three or four months here, and they understand, and I think the urgency of the situation, what has to happen and what they have to do to lead because that's been the nature here, I think, of what we've tried to do.
We've had great senior leadership, and probably our seniors have always had their best years. When we've had big years, our seniors have had their best years, and that's a positive.
Q. With all the success you've had lately, is it harder and harder to fuel the overlooked or disrespected, whatever, all that fuel? Is it harder and harder to keep that?
MARK DANTONIO: No, I think that's no, I don't really I'm not sure I understand the question. I mean, do we have an edge to us still? Is that what we're asking? I think we still do, because again, I go back to we didn't we won 11 games, we ended up No. 5 in the country, we did what we did, but the fact of the matter is we lost two games where we could have if we win either of those games, I think we are a little farther along.
We didn't succeed in those two games so we didn't reach our goals, and that's the bottom line.
Now, goals always change. I was very proud of our football team in terms of how we reacted after those two losses because we regathered ourselves and we did what we needed to do to get back in the hunt in both situations. Coming after the Oregon game we had a ways to go to get back to where we were in the top 10 and we were able to do that, and when we played Ohio State after the Ohio State game, we had to regather ourselves and made a run and we end up in a big six bowl. In both cases we rallied the troops a little bit.
But I don't sense the complacency. I think our guys have goals in mind, goals internally, what they want to do, and I think right now in summer camp right now, I think our guys are motivated on those.
Now, we need to be able to stay motivated, too. That's a key, too. Can't fall away.
Q. You mentioned it's a motivated group. You have 17 seniors in the two deep. Is there a place you see that could where you look at it and go, this could derail a season that could be special, this is what we need to stay away from or avoid or anything like that?
MARK DANTONIO: No, just trying to focus on the positive and stay grounded. I think if we stay grounded we know problems are coming. We know they're coming. We talk about that all the time. Problems are going to come. It's how we're going to handle those problems that are going to make the difference. We've got some maturity here. We've gone through some tough times. We've got to handle the things that are going to come our way, and they will come, I promise you, they will come.
Q. You mentioned the goals and reaching higher. What is satisfactory or a successful season here now at this point?
MARK DANTONIO: I think a successful season is a season where you finish on the up note. That's what I still I still will say a benchmark for us is going to be certainly getting to the playoffs and all those type of things. That's where our goals are. But you reevaluate your goals as you move forward, too, and I think that my feeling is that this is what I want for our players. I want relationships, I want them to graduate, I want them to win, I want them to go to bowl games. I want us to give back, and when they walk out of here, feel good about their experiences here. That makes it a positive season for me.
The wins and the losses are going to come and go. That's a part of life. That's a part of who we are. It's going to be how we handle both ends of the stick that's going to determine are we ultimately successful.
But you've got to handle negativity, too. That's a part of it, too. But our goals, our initial goals, are extremely high. I will say that. I don't go into the season saying I think we're going to lose these two games.
Q. I think one of the things you said you wanted to work on was not giving up big plays, the 22 plays, four yards or more. Can you talk about press quarters against some of the elite spread teams and maybe the potential for tweaks or expansion or however you phrase that?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, there's great skill out there. You're playing against great skill. There's no question about that. Some of it could have been prevented with a little bit better play. Some of it could have been prevented if we'd had a different defense called or structurally if they attacked it. So you know, you try and make tweaks, but at times there's always a weakness to every defense, there's always a weakness to every pass protection from the offensive standpoint or a route. But there's always weaknesses in the coverages, so I think the key thing is to try and be on the same page, make sure that we can play the ball in the deep part of the field. That's one of the things. Make sure that we have correct leverage on a receiver down the field and that we don't blow a coverage because, for example, the Oregon game you blow three coverages and there's three touchdowns or three huge plays.
Some of that is there, but again, it could be structure a little bit, could be play, could be offensive players, too, versus ours. It's a very competitive game out there. There's great parity in college football right now, and I think there's very innovative offenses out there right now.
Q. Just following up on blown coverages (inaudible), a lot of that is based on how the officials call the game, right? How do you adapt to that?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, you know they're going to rub you, they're going to pick you. That's part of it, so you've got to be able to talk it through and you've got to be able to work on those things, which we do, and then there are a lot of them we played correctly, too. But a couple of them got loose.
Q. You've talked before about the punt being one of the most important plays of the game, and you've got to break in a new guy this year. How important is it that you get consistency out of Jake, and how much did it help to have him around for a year with Mike last year?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, Tyler O'Connor is also a punter. He was a recruited punter out of high school and quarterback, so he's working as a punter, as well, and Hartbarger had a tremendous first day, and he can be as good as there is. But he's young, he's a freshman, so we need to test him throughout camp and make sure his go times are right, which they are. We've got a great snapper, so we should be good, but it's new territory, new ground. As he moves forward, he'll get more accustomed to things, and he needs to take a leadership role with our punt team.
But we also have Ty back there, who I think is an experienced football player and can handle pressure situations and not afraid to put him in there. He's been good, as well. He just doesn't have the he'll hit one every now and then where Jake just booms him. But I do think that Tyler has that ability and he can also do some other things back there, as well.
Q. Harkening back to the years you were up here talking about this program fighting for respect, maybe this relates to the edge, but four 11 win seasons in the last five. Are you still fighting for respect, or is that never over?
MARK DANTONIO: I don't think that's ever over. I think you compete against yourself and what you've done already, and we try and reach new heights. That's why we say reach higher. I think that's the norm. If you look at our basketball program, I don't think Coach Izzo has ever been satisfied. I don't think that's the makeup of a coach or the program, or any real program, any championship type program or program that's won a lot successively.
We're going to come to work every day. That's all I can tell you. We're not going to take things for granted. We're going to try and stay grounded in who we are and what we do and understand that the game is played on the field. I think that's the point that a lot of people in the press miss sometimes. The game is played on the field. It will be determined between those lines. Players make plays. We've got to coach the players, and we've got to engrain in them a sense of discipline and be mature, and they've got to have a sense of maturity in terms of how they handle issues on the field, adversity. That's a big part of it.
Q. Gerald Holmes, how important is he to this team, and what growth have you seen out of him the past couple of months?
MARK DANTONIO: You know, Gerald is on the verge of that tailback situation being a starter, being the second guy in. They're all clumped in there together. It's the first couple days of practice, so you know, you just have to wait and see how he's going to play. But he's got he's a big, physical back that can really run and jump, and I think he's improved his pass catching skills greatly. I've noticed that in two days. He understands our offense better, obviously, because he's now a redshirt sophomore, so he's into his third year. I think Madre London is another guy, obviously. He's had a great first day. We've got guys, and I've said as I've said, Riley Bullough was our starting tailback. That was great coaching, you know, for one game, and then we put Jeremy Langford there and the rest is sort of history.
We've got a great offensive line. We've got very talented running backs, Gerald being one, so I expect somebody to sort of come out of the deal and another guy to be playing, as well, and we've played three of them in the past before, as well, but he'll have his opportunities.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports