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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
May 1, 2016
East Lansing, Michigan
Q. There was very little pre-draft chatter about Donavon Clark, but there was some. I'm just curious in your discussions leading up to the draft with NFL teams, what were some of the things they told you about Donavon?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think first of all, when you're involved with the NFL Draft, you don't really hear that much because it's pretty quiet on the front as you move forward. But I thought he had a great pro day when they came over, on our Michigan State pro day. I heard a lot of positive comments about him in terms of how he moved, how fluid he was for his size, his strength. I think he did a great job representing himself in the All-Star Games and things of that nature.
But I just think that they watched him on film, saw him in person, saw how athletic he was, and I think the fact that he's extremely versatile; he's played left tackle for us, he's played left guard, he's played right guard, right tackle. To find a little balance, he even played a little center in practice. Even so, I think he's a pretty versatile guy, he runs well, and he tested very well for them.
Q. And following up on that real quick, how much does that help you going forward with a loaded team of talent where you can tell guys who maybe don't see the field early, look at a guy like Donavon who just kept working hard and made most of his opportunities?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think if you have success, if your football team has success, you're going to get looked at. Obviously everybody gets looked at. It's extremely competitive out there. But when you have an opportunity to play and you have a lot of film, you get thoroughly evaluated. I think the key thing is get on the field, keep working, but Donavon started as a redshirt freshman for us at times throughout that -- I guess it would have been the 2012 season. So he's got a history with us. He's played a lot of football, and he understands the game at a high level.
Q. I'm just curious your reaction or how you felt that Connor Cook was kind of falling down the board there and didn't go until the fourth round? How were you feeling?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I was disappointed. I was probably living through the entire thing, as well, watched the entire draft. I was disappointed. I think that Connor is an excellent football player. He's done a tremendous job for us here and for his football team, and a lot of that success that we've had can be credited to his play and his leadership on our football team. I think that speaks volumes.
Q. Was that criticism he was hearing, was that hard on him? Did you see that wear on him that he was getting questioned like he was?
MARK DANTONIO: I think it did wear on him as time went on, but he tried to continue to stay above it. You know, I think that's a question probably better suited for Connor. But what I always tell people is when you hit adversity, it provides an opportunity for growth. You're going to be tested. There's no question you're going to be tested as a quarterback at Michigan State on the field and off the field, just like the head coach, and I've always told our quarterbacks, you're going to get a tremendous amount of praise and a tremendous amount of criticism because of the position that you play. It's going to be highly scrutinized.
You know, we look forward to it as an opportunity to grow and become better for it. But I think that it was inaccurate, and it was disappointing what he had to go through.
Q. Have you ever had a player at any level experience kind of what Connor went through with the scrutiny like that? Even Kirk at that point?
MARK DANTONIO: I think quarterbacks go on -- as I've said, they're under tremendous scrutiny. I remember when Kirk Cousins was drafted and he was really disappointed in the fact that he had gone in the fourth round and they had drafted a guy in the second round of the pick and the first round, and what did that do for his future. You work hard, things are going to turn. Things are always going to move forward. Brian Hoyer sat at his home the entire draft, and I think as I remember he was projected maybe as a third-round, second- or third-round pick. He slid out of the draft completely and, he was extremely disappointed, and he's been playing since 2009. Work hard, learn your craft, be a professional, use it as an opportunity to grow, and try and -- not try, but move forward. As I tell our players all the time, there's always a starting point for everything that we're going through. There's always a new starting point.
For all of our players, they need to continue to dream big, and it truly does, it starts right now they begin to develop the reputation with their particular club.
Q. I was doing a little math here. What does it mean that Michigan State has had 10 players drafted over the last three years and you've won two big titles; Ohio State has had 23. How are you able to beat a team that has twice as many players as you drafted two out of three times and win the Big Ten, and what does that say about your team and your staff?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think we have an outstanding staff, and they've done a tremendous job, and I think we gel well together, and it talks to chemistry and it talks to our abilities, as well. The thing that you're missing in your equations there is how many of our players that weren't drafted have made an NFL team and are currently playing.
So whether you go as a free agent, and I saw a stat the other day on ESPN on the draft, it said 68 percent of the players in the draft weren't playing in the NFL currently. 68, almost 70 percent are third-round or lower players. I think that speaks volumes about the difference between a player drafted and a player not drafted, or a player drafted in the first round or let's say the third round or second round or whatever. The difference is really not that much. It's all about development and opportunity.
Q. I was going to ask about Jack Allen, one of those guys that had to sign as a free agent. A couple weeks back he was projected pretty high. Do you think for him it's a matter of the size and teams get scared away by that and they overlooked the production he had?
MARK DANTONIO: From my perspective, it's got to be it. I think Jack Allen is one of the -- if I had to sit down and say one of the best 15 football players that we've had in the past ten years or past nine years at Michigan State, Jack Allen would be included in that. He's an outstanding football player and leader, extremely strong-minded, very gifted on the football field. He's got great leverage. He's got an opportunity to go to the Saints and play for Dan Roushar, who recruited him and now coaches the offensive line. I think that's a good fit. In a lot of ways that's the best place he could have went. I'm looking forward to watching Jack and his story in the NFL.
I have a lot of faith in him. He moves extremely well. He's the glue.
Q. I'd like to go to Jack Conklin. He's your third first-round draft pick in three years, three in a row. Your thoughts on him and where he landed, and through the process how he handled leaving early with you, because I know you talked about how much you appreciated the way he and his family handled it. Would you walk through him, please?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, first of all, I think it was difficult for him to walk in and talk to us about him leaving. I think he did a good job with that. He waited until after the bowl game. You know, you could tell it was wearing on him. It was weighing on him a little bit in terms of how he was going to have to do this. I think he did it in a professional manner. Everything Jack Conklin has done has been in a professional manner. He's a tremendous young person. He's been a great student. He's been a great football player. He's been a great worker. He's got great toughness. He's extremely athletic. But that was very difficult, I think, for him to do because he's very connected to our football team.
And then secondly, how he's developed as a player, I mean, it's just -- this guy came here as a preferred walk-on, and here he is the eighth pick of the 2016 draft. As far as going to the Titans, I think that everything that -- everybody who came in to talk to us about Jack Conklin said great things about him. It's not surprising at all to see him move up in the draft. He has no baggage as a person, and you're going to get a great worker and a guy that's going to make other people around him better, and he's going to play for a long time.
I'm very, very proud of him.
Q. I'd like to ask you about Shilique Calhoun. The Raiders are looking at him maybe as a linebacker, defensive end. How close were you to experimenting with Shilique? I know he was also on your extra-point team and showed he could catch passes. Could you talk about his athleticism and how you could see that translating in the NFL?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think he's extremely athletic. The one thing that Shilique brings to the table, he's always -- he never has a bad day. He's always up, and he brings people with him when he comes to practice. He's an extremely hard worker. He's got the ability to drop. We messed around with it at times. But he's such a good pass rusher. When you're dropping a guy and he's a great pass rusher, you sort of scratch your head a little bit. We kept him up there as much as possible, but he does have the ability to drop and run, but he's very athletic, got great hips. You could see him having the opportunity to do that and be an either-or guy. I think he's big enough to play defensive end and explosive enough, but he has the versatility to do either. But Shilique, another guy, he's been playing since he's been a redshirt freshman. He's been All-Big Ten three years in a row, First Team All-Big Ten, I believe. He's a great player and a great person.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about Aaron going out west to San Francisco? How do you think Chip Kelly -- obviously uses his offensive players in a lot of ways. How does Aaron fit his system?
MARK DANTONIO: You know, Aaron Burbridge, extremely productive player. I've said it many times, catch a BB in the dark. That guy is unbelievable. He's making the 50/50 catches every time you turn around. Again, another young man probably that was projected in the fourth or fifth round, but just very competitive.
I think our players understand that it's extremely competitive out there, and there are needs that people go through. But I think Aaron Burbridge will have a great pro career. He runs well. He attacks the football. He's tough. He's extremely competitive, and I think he'll fit the 49ers' offense very, very well. Coach Kelly will find a great way to use him.
Q. Looking at having two offensive linemen drafted and one very high, obviously, how important was that for the program to check the last position off of having guys drafted to the NFL?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I think you're right. It's another check mark. Certainly we've had great tailbacks, quarterbacks, wideouts, corners, safeties, linebackers, defensive linemen, and now we've got the opportunity to check off our offensive line with two guys being drafted, a third going as a free agent.
You know, I think it sends a message that you come here, you're going to have opportunities at every position, just like anywhere else in America. Great things can happen if you play and you've got a big stage to play on here and you've got a highly successful program that demonstrates the coaching of Mark Staten and everything else we've done in terms of protecting our quarterback and running the football, as well.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Arjen Colquhoun. I know Arjen didn't get a lot of attention, but Harlon was saying he thought over the second half of the season he was the best corner. Your thoughts about him making it into the NFL.
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, he had size and length, and I would agree with Coach Barnett. He had a great second half of the season. Really pretty good first half, too. But he sat behind Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes, two first-round picks, so he's got great speed, jumping ability. He's a 37-inch vertical guy, 6'1" almost, long arms, so I think he'll fit the system down there, and I think he'll have a very good opportunity.
I think what's echoed across the NFL, in regards to whether you come as a free agent and make it or you're drafted, when you get a Michigan State player, they're prepared to play. They come to play and compete, and they've done very well.
Q. As far as Jack Conklin, he told me late last week, "I was asked by a lot of NFL teams about my work ethic, and I explained to them that I had an obligation to Coach Dantonio who offered me a chance to walk on to work hard. That's going to continue in the NFL. I never want to let Coach D down for the opportunity he gave me." You had told us from day one that football is about relationships. To hear a young man that just became a multimillionaire to give that kind of credit for your influence, can you just talk about maybe what that makes you feel like on a personal level?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, you know, Jack is a special guy. All of our players, I keep saying this over and over, we have won here because of the relationships that we have with each other. I don't think you can understate that fact. It brings energy to our meeting rooms, to our team meeting rooms and to the field, and it brings a sense of accountability to each other. As I said earlier, Jack is just a very thoughtful person. He's an extremely kind person off the field. You know, then he steps on the field and he does exactly what you try and ask him to do to the best of his ability, and he's got raw talent.
As time went on, you saw him as a redshirt freshman. You knew he was going to be something special. He's played a lot of winning football for us, and he's really -- you go back and you look at his redshirt freshman year, Rose Bowl; redshirt sophomore year, Cotton Bowl; this last year, another Cotton Bowl, playoff, two Big Ten Championships. These guys are all largely responsible for that aspect.
Yeah, it's humbling that he says that about his head coach.
Q. A couple guys on the defensive line that look like they have a shot at maybe making the NFL as free agents, Joel Heath and Lawrence Thomas. Can you talk about those two guys and were you surprised they didn't get drafted?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, there was a lot of people that had come to work out, but all three of the guys, Shilique and LT and Joel, and they came away always impressed. LT had Senior Bowl opportunities. He was at the combine. Both those guys were at the combine, so they had ample opportunity to be looked at. They're big-bodied, explosive guys. People have talked about Joel Heath possibly moving to the offensive side of the ball, and they would obviously have to work with him there, but LT goes to the Jets, Joel goes to the Texans, and again, there's two players I think will have an opportunity. All you ask for is an opportunity to get in camp and show what you've got, and then everything starts to be compared to who's there and who you are as a person, as well, person and player.
Both those guys played a lot of football for us. LT, remember, he's only played defensive line here really for two seasons, two full seasons, and Joel certainly has played for four, five. But I think they're very good players for us, and they'll have an opportunity at the next level. But very happy for them. I talked to all these guys yesterday. They were thrilled about going to the league, and their dreams are alive.
Q. Do you encourage your players to kind of keep an eye on this process? I know at pro day a lot of your players are kind of watching, getting accustomed, seeing what's going to happen in a year, and I guess for a guy like Malik McDowell, how do you manage a guy when he's projected so high and he's still got a lot of football ahead of him?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think when our guys come and they see our players and they know that they're -- they know how successful they've been both as a team and individually, and then they watch the draft and see how competitive it is, I think it sends a number of messages to them. Nothing is guaranteed, never forget where you came from, and continue to work hard. Your next play is the most important play. If we can just keep those things in mind as we move forward, we're going to continue to have success.
Q. I think there was only a couple other guys that really are out there. Any word on Kings, Williamson or Lang, if they're going to try and latch on, or do they plan on not even pursuing it at this point?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, first of all, I think Darien Harris is going to free agent trial, a free agent contract with the Bengals, and I think you've got the rest of them. I know R.J. Williamson is healing up his broken arm, and I've heard he's going up to the Packers for them to evaluate his arm. You know, Paul Lang has a couple rookie mini-camps as well as Trevon Pendleton and A.J. Troup, and DeAnthony Arnett may have a free agent opportunity or a mini-camp. He wasn't quite sure. It was being laid out. And then Macgarrett, I have not talked to Macgarrett. He's the one guy that I have not been able to reach.
Q. And Taybor, too, obviously Taybor and Trevon, and it sounds like the Ravens is where they're headed?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, Taybor I'm not sure on where -- it's all just -- I had to fly out this morning very early and everything was sort of in flux last night. I think Taybor will have an opportunity. There was a lot of interest, but again, everybody only has one snapper, so you're competing with a number of people. But inevitably he's a very good snapper. Inevitably he'll find his way into an opportunity, I think. But I have not heard which direction, where he's going in that direction.
Q. I think you named all the players. My question for you, you look at things in phases as you've said all the time and the media go from one thing to another. Now that the draft is over, what's next for you?
MARK DANTONIO: You know, we're spring recruiting, so it's finding guys and evaluating players and hosting some players when they do come up unofficially, then it's critiquing again, spring practice, and getting on to who we're playing and looking at who we're playing and doing summer reports and things of that nature, and then it's a little bit of downtime as we move forward, too. We've got exams this week, so be back in the office on Tuesday and see our players hopefully -- we only had a team meeting last week, but players will be trickling out of here and then be back for summer school in a week and a half. Hopefully I'll see some of those guys as they move out of here on Tuesday.
But it's sort of the next phase. Spring ball is over, finish your exams, a little break time for our players, and then get back at it.
Q. I know we haven't really talked to you since then, but what's your thoughts on the overturn on the ban of satellite camps?
MARK DANTONIO: I think that my feeling is that it needs to be a level playing field. There's a lot of things that are positive about satellite camps. There's probably a couple negatives in there. So I think people are trying to make good decisions and try and get it so that everybody has equal opportunity and that it doesn't just go -- it just doesn't run wild. But I think it's a good thing that people decided to sit back and rescind it until they can make better decisions on things and see where it goes from there. But I'm happy that it provides an opportunity to go to some of these other camps to provide an opportunity for us to go to some different camps as a staff and then also that staffs can come and be at our camp, especially the Mid-American Conference and some of those other football teams at that level, the non-Power Five. It provides more opportunities for players, which I think that's the underlying result, educational opportunities.
Q. You always tell us that you judge recruiting classes when they all leave, and obviously there were some juniors in this one, but overall now, as this class departs Michigan State and you've seen where they've gone on and so many now are going to get their chance at their dream. If you were an engineering professor you'd judge how many kids get their chance to go be engineers. To have this many young men with this chance, clear to say this was a very successful class?
MARK DANTONIO: Are you asking me to grade it?
Q. No, I don't want a grade, but your thoughts now as they move on with so many of them getting NFL chances.
MARK DANTONIO: I would rate our class as an opportunity -- everybody that we've talked about it played for us, and there's a couple unknown guys there because I have not heard, but they're all having an opportunity to move in the league, so you've got to say -- some guys, obviously you wanted a couple guys to be drafted a little bit higher, so I'd give it a solid B+. Very happy that they had the opportunity to win two Big Ten Championships and go to major, major bowl games, three Big Six bowl games or BCS-type games. They've had a tremendous amount of success here, played in big games, won games, played on TV. We've got All-Americans. We've got All-Big Ten performers, and now we have NFL players.
I think everything that they wanted when they came to Michigan State they've been able to accomplish. There is no perfect world out there, but I think that we are well-represented in the NFL and will continue to be so in the future.
Q. Connor Cook once said one of the things that makes you a great coach is you're never satisfied, so I guess my question is if that was a B+, have you ever had an A, and what would it take to get an A from a class?
MARK DANTONIO: No, I've never had an A. I don't know. You know, I guess an A would be like the '66 class which had four first-round picks in the first six. That's an A. You've got to measure it, but it's extremely competitive out there. I think what happens in the draft is everybody looks at what they need and they draft to their needs. So that cuts down the opportunities for people, and then they get very specific, and one person likes another person better than he likes this person and that type of thing. But when you look out there and you see the number of colleges playing football at this level, high level, and 32 teams, seven picks, that's not very many.
You know, I'm extremely grateful that they're having these opportunities. It was a little bit of a frustrating day for me watching our guys because I felt like they were good players and you sit there and you say, well, I think he's better than that guy, I think he's better than that guy, but I'm not the NFL coach. I don't have that opportunity to draft the guys. If I would, we'd have a bunch of Spartans playing someplace.
Q. You touched on Arjen, but does Arjen get to that level maybe without one of those camps?
MARK DANTONIO: I think he got that opportunity from Windsor to come over and be at Sound Mind and Body Camp at that point in time, and there were coaches there, and we had seen him perform, so it certainly accelerated the process for him.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports