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March 12, 2007

Mark Dantonio

THE MODERATOR: We will have Spartans open spring football practice next Tuesday and concludes spring drills on Saturday, April 21st, with the spring game at 1:30. Here to talk about his objectives this spring, first-year head Coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, I want to congratulation our basketball team, Tom Izzo, our players, just in terms of the 10th straight opportunity to go play in the NCAA tournament. I think that's a tremendous accomplishment. From what I understand, that's the fourth longest in the NCAA currently. I want to congratulate them.
Spring goals: I thought, as always, I'll just be very forward in terms of how we're approaching this. We've got an agenda. We've got a mission that we're on basically. It's got to take small steps. We move forward at a very small pace sometimes. Sometimes you see things moving ahead; other times you see it sort of stagnant, taking a step backwards.
Our goals are very, very quickly, A, we want to continue to build relationships and trust among our players. I think our attitude, we've tried to work on that from a standpoint of getting to know our players. I think that's first and foremost what we had to accomplish in January. We've had 11 winter workouts, 5:45 this morning was our latest. I can tell you 5:45 this morning everybody was back for spring practice, spring drills, for spring classes.
That was a commitment that every player made. Whether they were coming from Florida, wherever they were coming from, they needed to be back. That was a commitment they made to the football team in general. From that standpoint, we were very, very pleased with that. There were no excuses. None were offered.
I think sometimes you look at recruiting lists, you look at opportunities for people to go wherever they're being recruited. You have a guy a so-called five-star player, has an opportunity to go play at University X. I think sometimes the people out there, I guess this is what I'm talking about in terms of trust, relationships and attitudes, I think sometimes people fixate on that individual as a player and only look at one aspect of that individual.
So much of it becomes when they come to a university, how they handle adversity, what kind of relationships they have with their peers, are they willing to work through tough, tough times, all the intangibles that you gain from knowing the person. Just when you hire a reporter, you don't look for a guy that just as ability and then say, what kind of person is he going to be. It takes relationships, trust within the organization. Those are things that need to be built. Those are the things that we will continue to move forward on. But that's objective number one, continue to build those relationships and trust factor.
Number two, implement the system. We need to start at Point A and build. Vocabulary, you know, just talking with safeties, talking with defensive players, talking with offensive players. The entire vocabulary is changing. While there are still some things that remain basic for a football player, a football team, so many of those vocabulary and terminology issues are going to be changed.
We have to start from a very basic block and begin to build. That's going to take a little bit of time. We need to implement our offense, defense, special teams as a base and build on top of that.
Third thing, we need to evaluate player ability, character, work ethic. Certainly our ability as a player is crucial. There will be no roster or no depth chart, per se, as we come into this. What I said when I came in here, everybody would have an opportunity. We would begin to formulate who people are, what they can do based on what they do in spring drills, based on what they do off the field, based on what they do in all of the other areas.
Then we'll formulate who is on what depth chart as we go through, who is first team, second team, et cetera. I think to sit there and say we have a first-team quarterback, first-team linebacker at this point in time doesn't send the right message to our football team right now. Every position is up for grabs. Certainly there are some guys who have proven their worth. We've watched the game films, there are certain people you know are going to be in the lineup, but there are other aspects of the program that are still really up in the air.
We'll hand out a roster and we'll begin to make those assumptions as we move forward. But we want to find the players that can play, obviously.
The last thing I think that we need to try and establish this spring is find the impact player, what player can impact our football team, then feature those players. I know when I was here in '99, Julian Peterson was a guy that was an impact player. Again, figure out ways to use him in a defensive scheme. We need to find out who those impact players are throughout spring practice, figure out ways to feature them, then build our program from there.
Where we're at right now, winter workouts, fourth quarter is what we call it, call it the fourth-quarter program. We have sort of a system in place. I think it's a pyramid of success for us. Right now at the bottom of the pyramid stands five blocks. One of those blocks is our fourth-quarter program, run by our coaches. That has to be a foundation of who we are, we've got to be able to come through that process and be able to begin to build there, put a strong foundation under that.
The next foundation, next block of success, would be our spring practice, what are we going to do there to formulate who we are. That's got to be our next block. The next one is summer conditioning, then fall practice, then our first game.
It just doesn't happen that you just go out and play. Everybody in America now is going through this process. Many people start spring practice about the time we do. We're starting early this year. The NCAA has passed new rules. We'll take five weeks, go through 15 practices, spring ball. That's a long time. But that should be a good time to evaluate, implement, critique, reassess all those things as we move forward.
We have the first two practices next Tuesday, Wednesday. They're in shorts. We'll start with that. After that, we have a clinic put on by the Michigan State High School Association in conjunction with us. It will be Friday, Saturday. Friday will be the first opportunity to be in pads. We'll also have high school coaches there from around the state. Saturday, as well.
Dean Pees is our featured speaker, by the way. Dean was here when I was defensive coordinator for Nick through '97, I think. Now he's the coordinator with the Patriots. Does an outstanding job. I think he'd be a guy you'd be interested in talking with.
The fourth quarter is just passing us. We have pro day starting on Wednesday. Pro day will be for outgoing seniors. I think that would be something that would be interesting to cover as well.
Spring quarter classes. I think we're amiss if we don't talk and focus on going to class, being academically sound as students here as well. Everybody else on this campus is doing the same thing.
I think it's important we also integrate our new commitments. We'll have our new committed players coming to practices. A lot of them are coming to the spring game. I think it's important we integrate them into our football team and bring them in, let them meet our team, let them meet our families. I still haven't met a lot of our players' families that are current here. I now our recruits' families better than I know our own players' families. We need to do that.
All those things are still taking place. So it's still a very, very beginning of who we are as a football program and we will just continue to stack the bricks on top of each other, continue to build that road to success.
Next week starts spring ball. Ought to be exciting for us. We've given our players a week off this last week over spring break. I think everybody came back with an attitude.
Fourth quarter, everybody gets to go out and run. I know Hondo and some other people may have come out there, watched a little bit of fourth quarter workouts. Everybody gets a chance to indulge themselves in that. You get a chance to see their attitude and work ethic when they're pushed.
Now we'll have a chance to look at the players when they have to stand on the sideline or maybe they don't get the ball thrown to them, they don't get to run the ball, they're not making the tackle. We'll get a chance to see how they're going to handle themselves when truly adverse situations come to them. Has nothing to do with being on the field; it has to do with right here, has to do with right here. Where are they at in terms of team, with a focus of who they are as people, because I do believe that you win with people.
The last thing we'll do this spring is try to get as many juniors up here as we can. I have to use that as a recruiting tool. We'll get our top juniors up here on campus, show them who we are as people, show them our facilities, what we're trying to do here to move forward, to progress towards a championship.
Without taking anything away from our basketball program there, I just want to end it right there and answer any questions that anybody has. We can be more specific at that point.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: We will have an opportunity to look at different players in different positions. I think that's what spring ball is always for, to change people around, move in a different direction a little bit, to give people opportunities.
You'll see some different players out there, different positions. Obviously we don't use a banded position. That's just a little bit of a glorified outside linebacker or glorified defensive back. Depends what formation you're in.
We'll use a Will linebacker, Sam linebacker, Mike linebacker. Some of those players will move into those positions or into a safety position. We're obviously going to use two tight end type situations or F position, move guy or fullback stationary sometimes. We need to put people in those positions to also help.
There will be some guys moving around. Offensive line I think is pretty much interwoven there. You'll see some guys playing different positions.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Dwayne Holmes will be moved to fullback. Right now McPherson, we've moved to fullback. Played a lot last year on punt team. I think those two are the guys right now that stick out. We recruited a couple guys for that.
That's a position that will move forward as we progress. You know, you're always going to play I think offensively and defensively with your players, put your best players on the field, do what you do best. We'll move forward with that whole dynamics of our offense and defense as we see our players in action. We're always going to put the best players on the field.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: SirDarean as a Will linebacker, Tom Dance as a Will linebacker. Those guys can definitely run. I remember when I was at Ohio State, we had Grant at corner one year, and the next year he played Will linebacker. He had a tremendous year. Drafted fourth round.
One thing we want to make sure we have in that position is guys who can run, guys who can blitz, guys that cover some, but guys that can move and fly around.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Right now we've had a couple of individuals that sort of have been held out, but we have not lost anybody who has quit the team, no. Nobody has transferred, nobody has quit the team. I'm just going to let you guys figure that out.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: I would expect that probably at the end of spring, if people opted to move in a different direction. You know, I don't want to come into a program assessing it like that. I want to come in the program trying to give everybody opportunities, embrace everybody. As I said the first day I came here, change is very difficult on people. I think we all need to understand what people are going through, try to work towards success.
Success is going to involve everybody, not just the guy playing on the field, it is going to be the guy behind him, who is his best friend. How are you treating him? I think that makes a statement to those individuals that are playing as well. We're going to give everybody an opportunity. That's why I don't want any depth chart right now. I just want everybody to feel like it's open. It's open, there's opportunity, and we'll get as our work is deserved.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: A lot of guys are impressive. Otis Wiley, Ross Weaver, they impress. Travis Key impresses in the secondary. We got some guys we ran at linebacker. A lot of different guys at linebacker, but they all move pretty good. Defensive line, Kershaw has had a good spring, fourth quarter.
Offensive line, quite a few guys need to stay healthy there. Brian Hoyer has done some nice things. The thing that I like right now that I see is our attitude. Our attitude is strong right now. But, like I keep saying, we're on the honeymoon. There's going to be adversities, there's going to be growing pains. We're all going to get those. There's going to be decisions made, people that are happy and sad both. It's going to be how we all handle that.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: You'll be invited to practice, but I'll ask you to leave when we start doing team things. You will be invited to practice to do individual things, you'll get plenty of opportunities to see a little bit of what's going on. I really feel like we need to sort of guard a little bit what we're doing, from a team perspective, for the sake of ourselves, but for the sake of our players, too. I don't want to put them in situations, Why are you not playing, why are you playing. You will be given opportunities to see an entire practice before the spring is done, as well.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Well, if you don't do too much for two months, I'd say we were not in running condition. I'd say we're farther along now. I think mental toughness, we're growing. You know, I don't see anybody begging out.
I like where we're at. I like our attitude. We grade every single workout. We're going to grade the workout either it's a Big-10 championship workout as a person. Everybody in this room, if you were a player, you'd get a grade. You get an injured grade, working for the goal, or you get a losing grade or you get an average or you get a winning or you get a national championship grade. Every day we're going to evaluate every single player on our team top to bottom and give them a grade.
I like where our players are attitude-wise. A lot of it is attitude and character under duress. I like where our guys are at.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Absolutely. We'll tackle it in spring ball.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: You don't have a (indiscernible), you try to get everybody else to play up. We've got to find guys. Everybody has talents. We need to feature their talents. Everybody has talents. We need to find those players. They will come either from within or from outside. But we'll get there. We'll get there.
And Julian, how many people heard of Julian before he got here? Just a guy coming out of junior college. A guy we recruited when he was a high school senior. I think it was Syracuse, West Virginia and us.
Some of those guys are made; some of those guys are found. But we'll get there. I'm confident we have some guys like that currently.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: I think we have Eric Andino who has played, we have Davis who played, Kellen played. Dwayne Holmes has played. I mentioned McPherson is a guy that played linebacker. We have guys that we've recruited - four guys maybe, three guys, four guys to that extent. We can place people in there. We can get guys moving.
Also had a couple big offensive linemen that played that in the past here so they can also fly in there, become a 280-pound guy moving, too. That's always nice, too. But we'll make things work.
Like I say, you have to feature who we have. Until we get out on the field and start evaluating, critiquing everything that we do, it can be a little bit of an unknown.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Offensively and defensively we have watched every game, and we have assessed the talent. It's hard to assess because sometimes you see what they're doing, you don't know really what they are asked to do. But you try and assess, are they able to make a tackle, able to make a play on the ball, their effort, play off the blocks, try and assess their physical ability as much as anything. We've watched them all.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: In talking with many people around the Big-10, our talent level is somewhere in the middle I would say basically right now from what I understand, talking with other people. I didn't play a Big-10 schedule last year. It's hard for me to assess where that is, but our players feel good about where they're at. To me that's a huge step. You need to have confidence in yourself.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: We're not going to talk too much about injuries. We'll evaluate Bobby's situation once he finishes the entire fourth-quarter program. Some things have happened in the past. I want to try to give people opportunities. I want to try and provide people with opportunities to the best of my ability. We're going to evaluate things as we move forward.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's important we take that attitude. Obviously it's important. Sitting over here, I've learned when you're the head coach sitting over here on this side, sit over here and ask me what days it is.
I think you just need to have an opportunity to show how physical you are as a player. Everything else will work out. Certainly I don't think we're going to be able to do that.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: I think leaders identify themselves, rise to the top. As I said, everybody has had an opportunity to be out there running, working out. Leaders have risen a little bit there.
But I think the true measure is where it's going to be in spring ball, then during the season, during tough times. I think that's what you're going to find out, when we have some tough times. There's some players that have some tough times, whatever the case, we're going to find out.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Team will select the captain. I'll have a vote, just one.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: Very excited. Very excited about all our players. As a matter of fact, I was driving from Cincinnati up yesterday back home from the break. Called every one of those guys. Called 21 guys. They're excited. They're very excited about the opportunity to come here. There's an opportunity to play, there's an opportunity to be involved in something from the ground level, build a foundation.
But very excited about both those guys. Played on a championship team, 2,000-yard rusher. I've never seen anybody catch that guy from behind yet. 220 pounds. Then (indiscernible), said it before, reminds me a lot of things that Drew Brees has done. 6'3", 180, plays all sports, excellent student. Very focused individual. Has a knack of delivering the ball from all different angles. Very good arm. I'm very excited about those guys.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: I think my biggest surprise is, you come into a situation, there's been a change like there has been, and I think the players have stepped forward in a united way. You don't see people fragmenting, you don't see people hanging on the edge. You see everybody trying to be involved. I think that's a credit to the staff that was here in the past and I also think that's a credit to Ken Mannie, Mike Vollmar, Dan Enos, the guys who remained here. They've kept the guys tight. I think it's a credit to our players that are forging ahead to try to build something special.
The thing that's been most impressive to me has been the attitude of our team. They've come out and competed. It has not been easy. For those of you who wandered out there, it has not been an easy deal. We pushed them. Basically I've gone out there and told our coaches, Try and break 'em. Every day, Try and break 'em. What can we figure out this week, today, to break 'em down, to try to get them to quit in terms of quitting the drill. I think that's a positive.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH DANTONIO: I think special teams controls the vertical position of the field. That's the biggest drastic difference maker in the game of football. What I saw was obviously you got a pretty good kicker, decent long kicker, punter was decent. He's gone. We need to have a better return guy on the punt returns.
I think we had a lot of different guys hustling. A lot of guys played special teams throughout. You got a chance to see younger players. It gave us an opportunity to see. We'll see some of these guys playing all the time. We got to see them playing on special teams. I think it's been a good thing.
Certainly it's a critical part of the success or failure of a football team. We'll take a lot of time on that as well. We will work it in live situations this spring, work live with special teams.

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