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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 5, 2019
East Lansing, Michigan
MARK DANTONIO: Good afternoon, everybody. Appreciate everybody being here, first of all. I think about two weeks ago I went through everything. We're in day four now. Continue to be impressed with our student-athletes, our football players in terms of how they've handled things, the relationship, the way they've gone about their business on the field here in these four days. Getting guys as many reps as we can right now. They're working hard.
I'll take some questions, and we'll sort of go from there.
Q. Mark, when you promoted Brad Salem, one of the reasons you gave is his success as an offensive play caller when he was a head coach at Augustana. When you study his offense, it was very audible heavy. In the past, you've allowed guys to have checks but not necessarily audible heavy. If that's the direction Brad wants to go, will you let him?
MARK DANTONIO: I think offenses today are predicated upon what you see is really what you'll get, in terms of, if you see a particular defense, you're going to certain things. That's the basis of RPOs, the basis of a lot of things, whether you're running to the three, running to the shade, based on different things. So a lot of it is predicated on what you see, whether it's coverage or front related or blitzes or those type of things. Those things have always been opportunities for our quarterbacks to get out of bad plays.
So those types of things will continue, and they'll continue all over the country. So in the event that -- but we're going to give our quarterback some latitude. We always have. So I don't think that those things are going to change. That guy needs to control issues out there. That's the nature of that position. That's why it's criticized and praised probably the most of any other position in football.
Q. Mark, as good as your defense was last year, there's always a next step, obviously. Where would you hope to see it be even better next step?
MARK DANTONIO: I think last year we came up with interceptions. We didn't come up with a fumble. Sometimes balls were on the ground. We stopped the run and played pretty good on third down. We were difficult to score on. Of course, you want to continue to get better in those areas, but I think what we'd like to see is our turnover margin be better than plus one.
When you look at us in '13 and '14, and I think '15, we led the Big Ten in turnover margin. I think we were plus 14 or something like that at one point in time, maybe '13 or '14. So that wins football games for you. Can't turn it over, but got to come up with maybe some more fumbles, maybe ball disruption a little bit more. We work on it, but sometimes they come in batches.
Q. Mark, when you talk about the offensive line, a couple days into practice right now, I guess, where do you feel that group is in terms of having guys that can be interchangeable either at positions or with each other? And just in particular with Cole Chewins, where do you feel he is at right now and needs to be by Game 1?
MARK DANTONIO: I think that, first of all, offensive line is usually -- when you're trying to get things going and everything and you're in day four and your defense is a little bit ahead of your offense and that type of thing -- basically, that's the way it usually is everywhere. So you're trying to get everybody on the same page, trying to get them to work in unison, those type of things.
I think we have guys that have played. As I said earlier, I think maybe it was last Friday or whenever it was, Tyler Higby is making steps to get back involved. He's still not back all the way, but I think he will be shortly. And then after that, hey, what are we playing today? You playing left tackle, right tackle? Are you playing left guard, or are you playing center, those type of things? So I think that type of thing is going on.
So we want to find the best five, get them involved, get them situated, and then beyond that, there's three or four other guys that have played, and there will be some newcomer or somebody that will step in, whether it's some freshman or a younger player will get involved as well. But they're taking steps.
Q. (No microphone)?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, Cole's got to be healthy, and you're going to make sure that he has every opportunity to do that throughout the camp. So we'll take it easy on him and sort of nurture him along.
Q. You talked a lot about the coaching shifts you made. I got to imagine at some point for some of those guys it maybe wasn't the easiest thing to do when you're, say, a coordinator and you have to switch -- or for any of the guys. Did you sense that was a tough thing for some of those guys, and at what point did you see it kind of -- or have you seen it get back to okay, and now we've kind of got a job to do?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I understood it was going to be tough. It was going to be a tough situation. That's human nature. But at the same time, they also have another opportunity to go back to their initial position, I think, of expertise, like I've said, and then also we've got tremendously unselfish people. Our coaches just want to win. Our coaches just want to have our guys play well. They want to have input in their life, I guess, make a difference in their lives.
But as much as anything, success is what they're looking for. So sometimes you've got to put everything else over here on this side of the table and put it over there and leave it there and get back to work, and I think our coaches have done that.
They've been extremely diligent. They've worked very well together. They've put aside any egos and those types of things. I've been very impressed with how they've gone about their business in terms of critiquing everything, reevaluating everything, restructuring their meeting rooms with the players and the things that they want to involve our players with. It's been impressive to see how they've gone about their business.
Q. Mark, obviously, Brian was used more in the running game with his legs in '17 than last year. Maybe partially early to try to prevent him from getting hurt and then later obviously when he was injured. How do you use him in that dynamic, and what does that do for your offense in opening up plays when he's an effective runner as well?
MARK DANTONIO: Especially if you look at his sophomore season, I think he had the ability to create. He created with his feet, created with his legs. He had big scrambles, big runs, big plays. He's got to be able to do those things. The quarterback has to create with his decision-making -- as we talked before, his decision-making with what play to get into or his decision-making as the play continues on, and then he's got to be able to get out of trouble. He's got to be able to improvise and create.
That's, again I go back to, that's why the quarterback is the most praised or the most criticism. One of the two things usually happen. But he's got to be able to do that. That's what our quarterback has to be able to do. How we evolve to that or how much we ask him to run the ball per se really depends on the moment probably as much as anything.
Q. Weston Bridges makes the move over to wide receiver. Can you talk about maybe the dynamic of if you can get him in space, if he can get into that top six.
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I think he's got running ability. He's quick. He's got 100-meter speed. I just felt like that was his best opportunity to get on the field the soonest. He's got a transition that he has to make to wide receiver, but there's certainly opportunities, and we run the ball out of -- our wide receivers run the ball as well, run after catches and those type of things should be good at.
Again, he's got to go through -- really didn't have that opportunity in the spring, moved him in the summer. So he's got to go through the summer camp here, but he's going to have 20-plus practices to be able to do that.
Q. Could you kind of break down I guess --
MARK DANTONIO: Every time I smile, I hear those cameras clicking.
Q. What would you sort of say is the state of the tight end position? What do you want to see from Matt Dotson this camp? And what is that sort of pecking order behind him? And if you can, sort of the role of that position and sort of the retooled offense you guys are working with.
MARK DANTONIO: I think Matt Dotson has taken a step forward based on what I've seen so far. Again, it's only four practices or so, two of them are shorts, but I think he knows what to do and he's doing it at a higher rate of speed and he's more physical.
I think Trent Gillison is along the same lines behind him as a redshirt freshman. Noah Davis is coming off an injury, so he's trying to get back into it. Matt Seybert is a guy that's been moved back over to the original position, and I think he's certainly functional, and he's making strides as well. Then Parks Gissinger over there as well, and he's just learning the position, but I think he's got a big upside as well.
I may be forgetting one guy, but that's basically it, I'm not sure. They're all sort of in the mix. After Dotson, I think they're all in the mix. The thing about tight ends, we can play a lot of people at that position and plan to do so.
Q. Mark, if you could characterize how different do you think your offense will be, would you call it a tweak, an overhaul, an update? Just looking for a word, in your mind, the level of how different it will be.
MARK DANTONIO: It will be a question.
Q. So you don't --
MARK DANTONIO: We're not going to expand on that right now. I don't think that's -- I don't want to do that. I think there's got to be something to be -- you know, you've got to leave something in the bag.
Q. I'm wondering on your favorite day to smile, Media Day --
MARK DANTONIO: That's one of them.
Q. If you ever reflect on your time here -- now, it's going on 13 years. Did you think you'd be here at 13 years?
MARK DANTONIO: The big question is did you think I'd be here 13 years?
Q. No. Has it gone fast?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, it really has. I think you're sort of -- you know, you're on the carousel. You're just going. You go from one thing to another when you're a coach, from football to recruiting to critiquing to spring ball or whatever, a little time off, and you're back on it.
But I've been blessed to be here. I've been humbled to be here, and there's been a lot of great players here and a lot of great moments here. That's really why we've sort of adopted chase the moments because we've had some great moments. We want those again. We want to chase those down and become part of that. Yeah, it's gone fast in some ways, and other ways it's sort of gone slow, much like life. It's been a great experience.
Q. As far as Jayden Reed, I know you said in Chicago you didn't think he'd be eligible. Is there official word yet or not?
MARK DANTONIO: I guess it's semi-official, but I'm going to keep trying. I'm going to keep trying to look at all the different ways and possibilities, but we'll see how that all works out. I wouldn't close the book until we close the book because I think he's a very good player, and we want to do what we can do, but we'll see.
Q. With running backs, last year with L.J. out most of the season, you have Connor and La'Darius, two guys who are relatively new to the position, how much have you seen those guys grow? Connor saying that was the most carries he's had in his life, and La'Darius obviously never playing the position before getting here.
MARK DANTONIO: You know, Connor is two years into this, he's in his third year, so he should be adjusted to it, and also La'Darius is now in his second year. Basically, Muskegon High School used him as pretty much a running back. He ran for over 2,000 yards. So he had plenty of opportunities to do the different things he needed to do.
With that in mind, we also have the other guys. I think Elijah Collins is a much improved football player. We've got a couple of freshmen as well. So it's going to be interesting to watch those guys in terms of how this plays out in summer camp.
Q. You mentioned the limited number of guys who are moving into new starting roles. You've got a lot of starters back. From the other side of that, guys like Xavier and maybe Antjuan and some of the guys moving into new roles, what's critical for them to, I guess, mesh and blend with guys, especially on the defensive side, that have had success?
MARK DANTONIO: Antjuan Simmons had a lot of opportunity last year to play, and he played very well. He was probably in there one-third of the time at the very least. He's played extremely well, really in the spring, and he's picked right up where he left off. I think that hopefully there will be no dropoff there, and he's very motivated. And then Xavier played a lot as a true freshman in a nickelback situation. Also, he's another guy that's a very fast learner. Khari Willis is a great player back there from a leadership standpoint and a great tackler.
So we'll see how it all sorts itself out as we go forward. Xavier has a lot of talent. He's put on another ten pounds. He's 205 pounds plus. He can run very well. He's got great range and vision. He's got great ball skills. So he should have a tremendous career here. I think he's one of those guys that could be a next level player at some point.
Q. Anthony Williams is a guy that's really intriguing at running back. Is 205 kind of a goal number you have -- if he could get to 205, he could be a bell cow type of player?
MARK DANTONIO: I would say he's over 200 now, but he's close to that. He reminds me a lot of Jeremy Langford, a lot of the ways he runs and things he's able to do. It's going to be the little things outside of carrying the football are the things that really will finally define him. How does he pass protect or catch the ball out of the backfield or whatever we ask him to do.
He's a productive player. You can go to any practice and see that he produces. So it will be exciting to watch him grow.
Q. Coach, the defense is obviously the strength of the team. The pass rush took a step towards that last year. How important is it for the pass rush to take another step this year, and who are maybe the key guys in those roles for you?
MARK DANTONIO: It's always important to continue to get better and continue to overachieve. You have a foundation. As your foundation grows, I think you have to be able to continue to surpass that. Our guys are doing that. I think we're deep at that position. Jacub Panasiuk's come back. He's down in his weight. He's in the high 240s. He's much quicker, much more explosive. Gives us another guy, much like Kenny, probably on the other side. So that's exciting to watch.
Then we've got some young players coming. So we'll see how that sorts itself out. But I've been impressed with our defensive line. Again, I think you build a foundation, and you have to go past that. I think our entire defense and our front, especially really, have leaders on there, and they're self-motivated people right now. So that's a big positive.
Q. In the couple of times I've spoken to Brian working in the last month or so, he seems to talk with a new sparkle, a confidence and almost a motivation to prove that he's worth who he was. In the early days of camp, do you sense a confidence in his play?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, I do. I think that he's bouncing back. He was hurt some last year, but really beyond that, I think it's tough when everything is going so well for you as a sophomore, and things don't go quite so well and things start to crumble around you from the media. Not that I'm on you guys, but it's human nature. You've got to be able to stand back up. That's part of it, and I think he's got that.
I've been impressed with how he's handled things. He's just one cog out there. The quarterback is so important, but, hey, if you put the ball on the money and the guy doesn't catch it, all you can do is put it on the money. Get it in a different play and that play is supposed to work, you know, that's not necessarily a fault either if you're running the football.
So there's a lot of things that are out of his control. There's a lot of things that are in his control. The thing that I look for is can you lead and will you lead? Right now he's doing that, and I've been impressed with that, and I've also been impressed with Rocky Lombardi in that capacity too. Both guys have more experience than they had last year at this previous time, and that should pay dividends.
Q. Mark, it's rare to have two starting cornerbacks returning for a team, but when you have two guys who had starting experience but interrupted injury seasons last year, what did Josh and Josiah, I guess, bring in terms of experience and presence at that position, and how much better can they make the pass defense?
MARK DANTONIO: They're very confident players. I thought they both played extremely well in the last part of the season, especially the Bowl game. They're very impressed with Gervin and with Shakur Brown as well. Both those guys are playing well. But if you have lock-down corners, if you can play well on the edges, everything else becomes much easier. Thus far they've played very well, so we'll see how it all shakes out.
It will probably come to game time and see how they're doing game in and game out over the course of the season, but they're good players. They're experienced. They're confident, and they've got toughness, mental toughness as well. I think you've got to be able -- at those corner positions, you've got to be able to respond after you've gotten beat. That's part of it.
Q. Mark, I know we've talked to Tom Izzo a lot, and when he's talking about injuries, like they can be used as excuses, but sometimes it's just reality. When you look at, especially your offense last year, and the number of injuries, I don't know if there really was a position that didn't deal with some sort of injury. How difficult is that as it's happening? And can you now at this point look back and say, well, a lot of this is because we had to play inexperienced guys and be able to kind of put that behind you a little bit.
MARK DANTONIO: Well, we had guys play with casts on. We had somebody told me that we missed 96 games, guys missed 96 games, something to that effect. So I didn't realize it was like that. But I think as a coach and as a player and as a group of people, you just next man up. We really don't have time to say this happened or that happened. You're not really judged on that. They don't put an asterisk there after your record and say, but they lost this many guys.
So it's a bottom line figure, and we've never made excuses for it, and I'm not going to make excuses for it now. It's a physical game. Guy's going to get hurt. Most of those guys got hurt. Almost all of them got hurt in a game. Some years you have things like that that happen. Other years you go through, and you don't have anybody get hurt, much like the '13 season. I don't think we had many injuries.
So you've just got to deal with it. That's part of it. Some of them were nagging injuries. Some were injuries that put guys out for a couple weeks, others for the season. Most of them happened on offense, as you said, and I do think it affected us, but nobody really wants to hear that today on August the 5th.
Q. Coach D, you recently added longtime Mason coach Jerry Van Havel onto your staff this year. Why was it important to bring him on, and what qualities does he have that you think swell into your program here?
MARK DANTONIO: Garrett Briningstool went to basketball in that capacity, in a capacity, administrative capacity. So we had an opportunity to bring in an on campus recruiting coordinator, and he was doing that at Mount Union, but what I was more impressed about was he had 29 years experience at Mason. He was a guy that a lot of coaches felt good about, who had recruited that school over a course of time, I'm talking about over a long period of time. He was a guy also that had success.
I just felt like he knew Michigan and he knew the Midwest. He knew a lot of coaches in that area, and he was extremely thorough and had a great attention to detail, and I think you need to have that. Then from my perspective, the way he, when we interviewed him, he did a nice job in terms of interacting with the various people. So I thought it was a positive.
Q. Going into the second year with the four-game redshirt rule as a possibility, I'm just curious what you learned as a staff last year and how it changes, if at all, anything as you go through August and into Game 1?
MARK DANTONIO: I think it's very beneficial for everybody involved. I think it's beneficial for a guy to play four games and still continue to redshirt. It helps with his graduation, first of all. It helps with his graduation percentages. Second thing is it gives him game experience which allows him to be more confident the next time, the next year when he comes and is able to play. So I think it's a very big positive.
I mentioned at the Big Ten meetings in Chicago, I think they ought to do that with the transfers. I think they should have an opportunity to play four games. I think it would help in their graduation. Usually, when you transfer, your opportunity to graduate -- if you don't have to sit, your opportunity to graduate really goes down just because the nature of losing credits as you transfer in. So hopefully, they make a decision at some point in time to remedy certain things with the transfer situation, but that would be my recommendation.
Q. Mark, special teams question. One, with the kickers, you bring back veterans. How much confidence do you have in Matt and the way he's progressed? He's obviously been very consistent. And then with Jake coming back missing most of last year, just given the final year and the experience he has.
MARK DANTONIO: Jake's looked very, very good, as has Matt, in these four days of practice. I'm not sure, Matt's maybe missed one, really way out there. But I've been impressed with both those guys. It looks like we should be good at those positions. Those guys have experience. They're as good as there is in the conference.
Q. You mentioned about the injuries. The three receivers that look -- I imagine looking pretty good right now -- Cody White, Darrell Stewart, Jalen Nailor -- each battled injuries last year. If they're fortunate enough to stay healthy, how good is that unit, and how does it compare to maybe other wide receiver groups you've had in the past?
MARK DANTONIO: I think experience, Nailor is a sophomore, but the other guys are very experienced. They fit right in with those great wide receiver groups we've had in the past. They've got to be able to make plays -- make those 50-50 catches, and I've seen them all do that on a continuous basis. We look forward to that being a strength on our football team offensively, and it should be.
Beyond that, C.J. Hayes has taken a step forward. We moved Julian Barnett over there. I think we moved Cam Chambers back, who's got experience. Julian Barnett is over there, and he's impressed. Laress Nelson has game experience, made some plays last year, another guy that was injured. I think all of our wide receivers were injured at some point in time.
So looking forward to that being the strength of our football team, and a lot of young guys as well.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports