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March 21, 2016

Mark Dantonio

East Lansing, Michigan

MARK DANTONIO: Good afternoon. First of all, I think this goes into our 10th spring, so some things change, some things do not as we move through the process. I think spring ball basically is sort of the beginning of the next phase for us. Obviously we go through recruiting after bowl games and such and then into winter conditioning.

But this is, I think, the first opportunity we have a chance to sort of see where we're at as a football team, watch our players, especially watch our young players as they've had an extra year to -- our freshmen, they had an extra year to redshirt and see how they come out of situations.

Will be very exciting for us. Again, we'll have our spring game this year. You guys have the dates on that. We'll have a spring student clinic, youth clinic. It will be before the spring game, as well. That attracted almost 2,000 people last year, 2,000 young people. So very busy time for us.

I think every spring brings forth a set of goals for us. Really they don't change. Probably pretty much the same that we've always been. We want to try to get 3 percent better as a player, as a program, I think every single practice. That's sort of inbred in us, I think, as a program and what my college coach told me to do as a player way, way back, so we'll continue to do those things. I think if you can do that for 15 practices, you get significantly better. I think that's what we're sort of measured ourselves against that.

We've got to address our needs and concerns. Obviously you have certain concerns that are inherent to every football team, and in other areas you just have basic losses, guys who have graduated, so you guys know the positions that we're dealing with, so you can take some questions with that in a little bit here.

Experiment with position change, experiment with new concepts. I mentioned our young players' experience, give our young players experience. We've got seven new freshmen that are coming in the door. It's going to be important for them to play and participate throughout spring, be 15 out of 15. So we'll look forward to our guys completing 15 of 15 practices. That's the goal, as well.

But I think our young players, especially our rookies, are going to benefit as much as most do due to their lack of performance against college players, playing in a scrimmage, spring scrimmage, with 50,000 people or so there. So all those type of things.

Fundamentally, I want to get better fundamentally, address all the different concepts, new concepts and tweaks defensively, offensively, and special teams, and then obviously we want to stay healthy and keep our attrition rate low in terms of who's practicing every day.

And then I guess the final goal would be back-to-back, and by that I mean win back-to-back championships as we go towards this next phase.

I'll take some questions and go from there.

Q. What are your expectations on the quarterback contest?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think we have four quarterbacks. Obviously we have two guys with more experience, Tyler O'Connor. O'Connor will go in as the leader at that situation. But that's going to bear out over August camp and really over the first couple games. We'll see how everybody performs. But we're going to give everybody opportunities. Messiah deWeaver is one of those rookies. Brian Lewerke is one of those guys who redshirted. I think you'll see a much more experienced quarterback. Damion Terry is going into his fourth year, and then obviously Tyler O'Connor is going into his fifth year.

We've got a lot of different levels of experience there, but with that, I think it'll be exciting quarterback race, and we expect great performance there. You've got to play, though, in the games and be consistent, be a playmaker.

Q. You haven't had this situation at quarterback since 2013. What did you learn during that time both at this time of year and how you're going to apply it to this --
MARK DANTONIO: Really what do you learn? You look at 2013, we had no quarterback. The situation really in place after '12, we had some guys experienced, but we had competition I guess is what I would say. We go to the Rose Bowl. You look at this last year, we lose three players in summer camp that some may think are three of our better players in R.J. Williamson, Vayante Copeland and Ed Davis and yet we win a championship. We had numerous injuries this year, overcame those.

So I'd say it's a crapshoot. I'd say that. I'd say it's pretty much a crapshoot.

Spring is to figure out who's who. That's why we're not opening it to the press early on. I think that it's important for guys to get their feet on the ground, let them go through the process a little bit, let us evaluate our players a little bit, and then next week we'll open it up a little bit, have a little bit more clarification on where we're at.

Q. You had a few guys coming off fairly significant injuries.

Q. Copeland, Davis, Finley. Are they good to go right out of the gate here in the spring or are some of them working back in over the next few weeks?
MARK DANTONIO: I think especially Ed Davis is working back in. Dennis Finley, as well. Vayante looks pretty good. He's gone through all of our winter conditioning program.

I think that's why we just put it on there like that, because we don't like to talk about injuries too much.

Q. Looking at the offensive backfield, Delton Williams the fullback, I'm just wondering, was that something you thought about for a while, maybe even last year a little bit for him, maybe something for his future, and then also Drake Martinez moving to tailback?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, you know, we have three tailbacks with experience, obviously four when you count Delton. Delton is a good football player. He's a big guy. I think he can make that transition to the F, and we'll see how that works out. But I think he's a football player. I think we have to give him the opportunity to show that.

He demonstrated that his first two years, and so this is where we're at right now. Doesn't mean he does not play tailback, it just means that he has an extra opportunity there.

Drake Martinez is a guy -- he's a good football player. He's been hampered a little bit by injuries, but I think he's got great speed, and he's played -- you saw him play a lot of different positions in high school and in junior college, so we wanted to try him in that area.

Q. Has Delton been returned to being on scholarship?
MARK DANTONIO: Delton will go back on scholarship in the summer, and I appreciate you asking me these one at a time. Good lesson out there for everybody else.

Q. When you talked about a sixth year for Ed Davis, the way I understand the NCAA rule, it cannot be applied for until he's graduated.

Q. So would that be a later summer decision just because of his graduation schedule?
MARK DANTONIO: He's on track to graduate probably by either this semester or early in the summer, so he's on track for that. He's on track. That's all I can tell you.

I think he'll make that.

Q. Brian and Cody both you have at the center position. Is that trying to get the best five guys out there?
MARK DANTONIO: We've always used multiple players at center. I think that we need to train a guy into that position, as well. Cody has a tremendous amount of experience, and so we felt like that's a position that he could possibly play, so we'll experiment with that position, move a little bit, and then also Brian Allen will play guard, as well.

Q. Craig Evans and Montez Sweat, last time we talked, I think Sweat was in limbo --
MARK DANTONIO: At the limbo position.

Q. Are these guys both reinstated in good standing now?
MARK DANTONIO: They're both participating in spring practice, so yes.

Q. I saw Malik walking around at pro day last week. Is he healthy and able to go this spring?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I'm not talking about injuries, but he'll go this spring.

Q. Offensive line question: For you there's so many intricacies about that, it's almost like a beautiful ballet when an offensive line works together in harmony. How quickly would you like to find that starting five so they can get some continuity together?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, really the last three years, we've used about eight guys, so it's been a situation where -- and I think Coach Staten has done a great job with this, getting different guys experience to be able to play eight guys and move them really in and out of games like that, and that's benefitted us, I think, when we've had injuries. We've been able to plug in a guy that has significant game experience.

So I think we'll still maintain that approach. I think we have those numbers. That's been a good thing for us. So guys like Tyler Higby, some of our younger players, Cole Chewins, those guys are redshirt freshman, Noah Listermann, redshirt freshman, those type of guys, to see how they've come, but it's early in the spring, but I do think that some of those guys have a big upside. David Beedle moved over there, was a redshirt freshman last year. I think that's going to pay dividends. Clemons is back for a sixth year, so we've got different pieces in there who we can move people around with game experience, and then also I think it just benefits us to have eight moving around.

I don't think five any more is the perfect answer for us. I think eight more is like it.

Q. You said experimenting with the position changes. When you look at this depth chart, a lot of guys look different from the last time we saw them. Are a lot of these just that, experiments where they could go back fairly easily, or are all of them sort of a thought that --

Q. How much of it is a puzzle you figure out?
MARK DANTONIO: I think there are experiments, and then also I think that -- we're trying to put people in a position -- the best positions for them to play. That's number one. Number two, we're going to try and promote growth and stretch people. So I know where Kodi Kieler can play. I know where certain players can play, so we need to stretch them and see can they play at these different positions as we move forward. Just an example. So that's what we tend to do in the spring. That doesn't mean, is it a week or is it a couple days, is it a -- is it an entire month-long situation, so we've got to figure that out as we go.

But we do want to try and expand our players' knowledge, and the best way to do that is to work them at other positions sometimes.

Q. You mentioned tweaks. Can you give us any more on what kind of things you might be adding or changing on either side of the ball?
MARK DANTONIO: No, not really. You know, I think that what we've done is we've had a lot of time to really digest what we've done. We've done a great job, I think. Our offensive and defensive and our special teams groups, we've really taken what we've done and really analyzed it to the best of our abilities, but we've taken our time doing that and looked at it very objectively in all areas. We won 12 games last year, and we've been pretty successful here as of late, but I think you can always get better.

We look at the areas where we're deficient conceptually, and try and improve those areas, whereas some things where we've not been -- some things we've not done, and we try and go there with that aspect, as well. Without really saying what we're doing, yeah, we're trying to change for the good.

Q. Significant?
MARK DANTONIO: Not significant. I think significant would be a mistake.

Q. Last season you talked a lot about the senior class and maybe the greatest senior class you've had, certainly it's the winningest. I guess the flipside is that puts you in position for perhaps your biggest rebuild. Can you talk about how this team may look different, what you expect to change? I know not maybe scheme but as far as the look of the team, personality and such?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, you know, I think every college football team goes through cycles where people come and they move through the process. I think wide receiver is a position that you look at and say, wow, they're going to have some new younger players there. It's important at that position that we move in that area and find out what those guys can do, Cam Chambers, Donnie Corley certainly, and then also you've got some other guys like Monty Madaris who needs to have a great senior year, some different people like that.

Obviously R.J. Shelton is established; Delton Davis, the guy that had -- I think even though you really didn't see him until the end of the year, he was very impressive throughout the year as a true freshman, and I think you'll see great things from him. I think I mentioned five guys there.

Darrell Stewart is another young player that you've got to look at as he moves forward. Got some other guys who are very steady players, Barksdale, Macksood. Sowards is a guy that has shown his positive aspects there.

But that's just one position. So I think you're right, we had a great senior class. You need to have your best senior year. If you want to have a great football team, you've got to have your best senior year ever. I really feel like that. I think the last three senior classes may have done that. It remains to be seen if this class will or not, but I think there's some great integral parts there, especially when you look at Knox, Clemons, Ed Davis coming back from that senior class, and all three of those guys are good football players.

So there's a nucleus there, and that will help us solidify situations. Obviously we have some -- we've got a new quarterback situation where we've got a fifth-year quarterback in there with another fourth-year guy with two promising freshmen. Yeah, things are going to change. There's a look that's going to change, but I do think that's the challenge of college football, being able to be consistent and play consistently, and I think we've tried to meet that challenge year in and year out as evidenced by the amount of wins over six years or nine years or three years.

Of course we're picking the good stats, okay, but I think that's natural.

Q. I noticed no long snapper on there, just kind of where we're at with that now for the spring, and then also speaking on the special teams, where Jalen Watts-Jackson is health-wise headed towards this?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, we don't talk much about injuries, but he's participating to some degree. And then as far as our long snapper, we had two long snappers come in at mid-year. One is a -- when I say rookie, that means they're in their first semester. One is a rookie, another will be a redshirt freshman. Dylan Chmura also has long snapped as well as Cole Chewins, so we've got guys in-house that have done this, but they have not done it at game time, and we're going to miss Taybor Pepper. He did a great job for four years.

Q. You can from time to time be a glass-half-empty guy; although you don't like to go there, you can be. Sometimes when you look at all of your losses, do you need to remember in context that --
MARK DANTONIO: A few of those losses?

Q. Not losses on the field but player losses going into spring.

Q. That other teams lost a lot of great players, too, and it isn't like you haven't been recruiting. How much do you need to remind yourself this time of year when you look at what you lost that the glass isn't half empty?
MARK DANTONIO: I think you always that, especially when you watch pro day last week, you see the guys that are leaving, you see the amount of success that they've had, you see a guy like Burbridge catching the ball or Cook throwing the ball and the defensive line. You see all of it. So you understand, like I said last week, there's a reason we've won. We've had great players here. But that should continue.

We've recruited at a high level. We've got an influx of good players coming in here, and you know, all they need is growth and experience, and sometimes that comes painfully, I guess, but we'll get there, and I think we have the makings of a very good football team.

Q. And with the struggles with special teams last year, do you expect to maybe spend some more time on it this spring?
MARK DANTONIO: We'll spend a lot of time on special teams, as we always do, but really when you look at our special teams, we have 38 players back who played on special teams, so we've got a ton of players back on special teams that have run down on punts, kicks, whatever it is, and again, some of the tweaks can conceptually change. Things changing conceptually may have to occur there, but we're going to evaluate, like I said, everything top to bottom.

Q. Is Reschke staying at money or sam? I know when Davis comes back, one of them may be looked at to start. Which one of them would that be?
MARK DANTONIO: I think Reschke would be a guy that would probably move out there faster than Ed, although Ed has the athletic ability to play out there, as well. So I'm not sure which. But if you really look at our football team, linebacker is a position of strength right now. If you look at us in the secondary, from an experience standpoint, when you bring back Copeland and Montae Nicholson and Cox, Darian Hicks, Tyson Smith has played, Josh Butler is going to be a good player, you've got Grayson Miller and Khari Willis back, Morrissey has played, I think David Dowell is going to be an excellent player for us, excellent player. You've got Jalen Watts-Jackson who's really doing some great things for us at the very beginning.

I mean, those guys are all viable football players. They show up on special teams. They've all played for us. With the exception of David Dowell, I think every one of those guys have played. So that's a position of strength for us.

And then you go to the front and you've got some good players up there.

You know, I think that -- I can't remember the question we asked, but I think -- yeah, he may. I think he can play any of the three. He's pretty versatile.

Q. I remember after the Cotton Bowl, you said your wife was telling you to quit watching the thing and get over it, and a few weeks ago in Grand Rapids that was still kind of a work in progress for you.
MARK DANTONIO: I'm way past that.

Q. And any advice for Tom over there on getting past one of those shockers that you're having trouble with?
MARK DANTONIO: You know, Coach Izzo really is the face of Michigan State athletics for the last 20 years. He really is. The amount of impact that he's had on people has obviously been very significant. So I think coaches are judged in a couple of ways. They're judged by their players, do you make them better, and do you make them better players, do you make them better people, and I think that they're also judged by their peers. What kind of longevity do you have, what kind of success do you have, how do you run your program, and at the end of it all, you know, you win and you lose. Obviously losses are tough to stomach sometimes, but I don't think it in any way defines that program. It's tough to deal with. It's tough to deal with. But sometimes things create even -- sometimes things happen that make you stronger, I think. Everybody learns, everybody grows.

Q. Will you be going live with your quarterbacks this spring?
MARK DANTONIO: Depends how good they play.

Q. What do you get out of when they go live, or what are the pluses and minuses?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think the pluses are you get to see them with true results at the end of a play. I think the negative is obviously you get a guy hurt. But I do think that you have to see them play in a competitive situation to find out can they make plays under duress.

At some point in time you try and create that without getting them hurt. If that can't be created, then we'll turn them loose. That's what we've done in the past.

Q. When was the last time you went live in the spring?
MARK DANTONIO: I think it was last spring.

Q. Looking at the depth chart, you have Andrew Dowell. He's projected currently as the starter. I know there's talk about moving people around, but what does that say about Andrew Dowell? That wasn't even a position of need last year, a guy that looked like he'd be redshirted on paper. What is it about this guy that not only did you have him play as a true freshman when you didn't need him to, but also have him projected as the No. 1 linebacker?
MARK DANTONIO: I think Andrew is a doer, first of all. He's a guys that comes to work every single day. He's extremely goal-oriented as a person, and I think that carries over in his football life. He has great shock. His ability to shock you, played the secondary, like with St. Ed's in the same type of defense that we play. That transition to star backer was maybe easier, especially the terminology was maybe easier. There's probably more terminology here, but there was some similarities. So that gave him a big upside, and then he runs and tackles. He's a guy that from day one when we put the pads on, you noticed him. So when Ed was injured, that obviously thrust him up a little bit, but he had an outstanding summer camp last year.

Where he sort of fell back a little bit was change every single week, changing to play a different type of offense. But when he knows what he's doing, he can get there very fast, and he's a fast, physical guy that I think will be a tremendous player for us.

Q. One of the drawbacks of a loaded roster with talent is you have guys who have to wait their turn, whereas maybe when you got here, guys who sit now would play. How much do you use Joel Heath, who two years ago at this time wasn't even seeing the field and now he's played himself into the NFL as an example to guys? You can change position, things can happen, but good things happen to guys that work hard.
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think he's a great example, a guy that stayed positive, a guy that really developed in the weight room. He came here as a 240-pound guy playing defensive end, made the transition to defensive tackle, ends up now he's over 300 pounds and benching 400, whatever. So I think he's transitioned his body, and usually when you're playing a big -- a defensive line position, offensive line position, it's going to take you a little bit of time to transition physically. So I think we've seen that happen, and we've seen that happen countless times early in our time here with our players. Ken Mannie, who was the strength Coach of the Year incidentally, does a great job with our players, and they work. Our players come here and they work, and I think probably as big as anything, the key to our success here has been our chemistry and our work ethic.

Q. You mentioned earlier that Vayante Copeland has looked good lately. Can you talk about what you saw in him prior to the injury and what you've seen in him this winter that makes you say that he's looked good?
MARK DANTONIO: I think first of all, prior to the injury, he's a quick-bodied guy, great ball skills, great tackler in space. I thought he had a great first game against Western, and then was playing in the game against Oregon. And then what I've seen him, I think he looks quicker, faster, very under control, very balanced, and that's what he's demonstrated throughout winter conditioning.

I want to thank Joe for all his -- Joe Rexrode for all his meaningful commentating over these last number of years. You've been great to work with, very fair, very professional in what you've done. I want to wish you the best down in Nashville. All the best to you.

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