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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 7, 2007
COACH DANTONIO: I think of our 100-plus guys that are in camp, I believe that 78 of them had a perfect score on the test, and then the rest of them maybe missed one or two, and then the guys that didn't succeed on that test all passed it this morning at 6:00. So we're excited to be all in. And I think it's important that we are all in with both feet on the ground.
The first four days of camp, shorts, two shell practices with just helmets and shoulder pads. Really what we're trying to do is get back into the football mode I guess you'd say. You've got things you have to critique in practice, whether it's how practice is being handled in terms of the film or whatever it is, players are getting back into the flow of things, running the drills and different things. I thought yesterday's practice, though, was pretty good. We were out there for about two and a half hours.
The next point after that really we get into pads. We start to see exactly who can play, who can carry their pads, who can tackle. Again, we try to put them in as many situations as possible that are game-like situations. I think when you do that, you have a chance of being there -- at least initially, you have a chance at being more successful the next time.
We'll do a lot of live work and probably have one, two full scrimmages and come back with a rehearsal type scrimmage which won't be as thorough as a full scrimmage but a rehearsal type.
And then at that point, August the 23rd we'll break camp. At that point prior to that we'll start getting ready for UAB, but the majority of that will come following the breaking of summer camp.
Really our focus and really what we try and do is talk about things that are critical to our winning. So we have a list of 17 things, and the first thing we talked about yesterday was put the team first. Put the team first. We have to think of ourselves in that respect, whether you're the head coach or whether you're the starting quarterback or the last guy or the manager, you have to put the good of the team first, and that's number one for us.
The second thing today is to share, to communicate, to share. When you're a younger player, you need somebody helping you along. When you're an older player you maybe have position change, it's important that people be together on what we're trying to accomplish. So those are the two focal points I guess in terms of what we think are critical to winning the first two days.
You know, we also go through some things in terms of intangibles. Yesterday we talked about team, today we'll talk about focus, attention to detail. So we're team building as we move through the process, as well, whether it's in the morning, whether it's in the evening. We're going to spend time together and try and move this process forward.
The other thing I think that we want to talk about really initially is our captains and how we're going to go through that process. I believe that your captains have to be elected from within. Coaches will have one vote, I'll have one vote, every player will have one vote. But I also feel like our captains have to prove themselves, and the time to prove themselves is through summer camp. So we give them opportunities throughout camp to speak to our players in different formats and allow them to go in front of our players and speak and carry themselves as a leader.
It's tough sometimes to be a leader. You can't always be popular. But we'll let those things at the end of summer camp, which will be right around August 23rd, we'll know who our captains are for 2007. Whether we take four, two, whatever, we'll take that cutoff point on the votes and go from there. If it's six, it's six, but we want to be representative of what our players want.
Along the personnel front, Michael Jordan, we've got his grades, he's been admitted to school, he'll be back at practice today so that's a very good thing. So we got that done very quickly thanks to our compliance people and our academic staff. We got that turned around very quickly, so that's a very positive thing for us.
With that I will just open it up for questions and we'll take it from there.
Q. How much in these early days, early for us, are you trying to set the groundwork and let your team know this is the way we do things now, or is that old news? Was that all done in the spring?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I think that we're constantly going to be doing that here. I think certainly we tried to do that when we first got here and went into workouts in spring practice, but we're heading towards games now. I think it's important to be consistent, and just because we're coming towards games does not mean that we're going to take an eye off the discipline that's going to need to get done here or the way that we're going to do things. There's going to be consequences when we don't get things done where we can do them, where we have choices.
There's going to be some things we can't control. But we're going to try and be as consistent as possible. I think that's what you have to do in any organization. I think if there's consistency, people know what to expect, and you have a better chance to be successful.
Q. A lot of the players talked about the work ethic that you are instilling in them during the summer camp. A lot of them said they've never worked this hard in their whole football career. Can you just touch on that and what you are doing to challenge them mentally and physically?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Ken Mannie does a great job doing that. We're certainly prompted by what we expect. You know, there's no easy road to success. I think you have to work and you have to understand there's a work ethic there, and anything really worth its salt, I would think, comes after a long amount of work, success, failure, et cetera. You know, that's what we try and teach our guys.
I think that there are life lessons in that, and hopefully our players understand that as they move through their life that those things are going to happen, too. So there's no shortcuts. Everybody works hard, everybody thinks that they work hard. It's just amazing how you can reach a little higher. So we just keep pushing and pushing, and I hope that our players appreciate that fact. I guess they said it all; you can use their comments.
Q. How do you make the distinction between young players who have a lot of talent, like you have some very talented players coming in, but to the older guys who maybe don't have as much talent but they might not make as many mistakes? How do you make that decision on who to choose?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that you put them in game situations as much as possible, see if they can move ahead, and I think you'll see younger players -- I remember when we were here in '95, we ended up playing -- that was our first year with Coach Saban, and we ended up playing -- I think we went to Illinois midway through the year, we had five true freshmen playing on defense. Those guys were not playing early on, but they played a little bit, they played a little bit and they gradually moved into those situations.
All things being equal, we're going to play the older players. But we also want to give opportunities to younger players. Now we've gone through spring practice with younger guys. We need to see if our freshmen players can catch up our new players can catch up to see where they are because you always try to evaluate them, and in all fairness to them you need to try to bring them along and give them opportunities.
But how do you do it? It's pretty apparent at times. It's pretty apparent when you get out there and you see a guy that has exceptional ability if he can play on that level. That's a positive.
I do think that there's a huge curve in terms of experience. I'll talk to our team today about you can take two guys with equal ability and the one guy who's a young player has never been in this environment is not going to play probably as well as the guy who's been out here for four years in a row. So I think experience is a huge, huge learning curve for our guys, and we've got to try to give them that as we move forward.
Q. Does it mean much to you or do you care that the players not only seem to respect you but they also seem to like you despite working harder than they've ever been worked?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think they appreciate that, to be honest with you. I think as long as you're consistent with people and fair with people, the best that you can be, you're always going to do your best in that area. If you do that, you'll be appreciated.
It's not just about them playing football. If I can say anything about me as a coach, it's not just about them playing football. It's got to be about other things in their life. You've got to have a genuine care for those people, and if you do, I've said it many times, and somebody once said it, they don't care really how much you know until they know how much you care. And I think that's important; I think we need to care about our players, and I think if you do that you'll get their best.
If you can compare that to a family and a mother and a father who are very tough on their children and they know that they love them, they'll go to the wall for their mom and their dad, and that's what we want to do. We want them to go to the wall here. We want them to play with passion, and if they do that, do everything that they can do, I can accept the results and I'll shoulder the results. So we'll be fine.
Q. Less of a philosophical question, more of a personnel question. You've only had one day of practice, I understand that, but is there any area, whether it be one player or one position on the team, that has come back maybe even a little bit better than you expected after summer, coming out of spring, maybe more maturity or anything like that?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that's tough to say after one day in shorts, so I'll just refrain, I guess, from answering that.
But I will say this: There's a lot of retention. There's a lot of retention from what we've done in the spring. You see guys communicating out there, making calls. There's a tremendous amount of retention, and guys just in shorts doing things at a much faster pace than they were able to do in the spring on the first day of practice. That's naturally to be expected.
You take that, put that two, three years down the line, it's amazing what they're able to do, as long as you have consistency in what you're teaching them and who's teaching it. That's why continuity is so important. I talk about that all the time. It's our coaches. All of our coaches are doing a great job.
Q. I know it's just been one day, but anything that you've seen from some of the newcomers just on the first day, any guys that stood out in particular?
COACH DANTONIO: Let's see. I think that just right off the -- I look back there and see Mark Dale doing a nice job catching punts. I think he'll be an excellent receiver here. I thought Aaron Bates did a nice job punting the ball yesterday. Our quarterback situation, Kirk Cousins looked sharp yesterday, and I think Nick Foles is a guy that's got great ability, as well. Warren Wilson looked good. But we're in shorts.
But as far as how they ran around out there, Greg Jones did a nice job, Antonio Jeremiah, there's a lot of guys out there that you can say, well, we recruited the right guy. But how they're able to play consistently as we move through this, can they stay healthy, can they -- when the pads come on, that's a big unknown, I think.
Q. I was hoping you could just talk about Jon Misch a little bit, what he brings to the defense, and just how nice of a surprise was it for you to come into spring ball and see a guy that maybe wasn't really on the radar but who obviously made a lot of play during the spring?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, Jon is a guy who in spring practice, he went out there and every time you put the film on, he was making plays, playing with 100 percent effort, extremely intense player, very intelligent player. It's important to him. And he's young, so he continues to grow. He's got good height. He's a little bit thin but he's continuing to get stronger.
You know, he's a football player. That's all I can tell you. He's a football player. They come in all sizes and shapes.
But I can tell you that he will give his all out there, and that's what we're about. We're about playing every single play like that. Very heady player, as well.
Q. A lot of players brought up a statement that you made early on, weeding out the weak. Is that a motto that you bring with you?
COACH DANTONIO: I think I said pull weeds.
Q. Is that something you bring with you?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, the winning number is 17, okay? Pull the weeds. It's a privilege to be here, it's not a right to be here. Our guys need to understand that. They need to understand that.
So when I say pull the weeds, it's basically not separating the strong from the weak, it's separating the people that really don't respect what we're trying to do, our workplace, or are going in a more individualistic way. I hope we don't have to do that. We have to, I guess, try to send some messages, but we have not done that as a whole, cut somebody off like that completely, and I don't want to do that. I want everybody to be included.
But I do think everybody is different, and as you move through it, because this is a big process, as you move through it there needs to be life lessons for everybody, young and old. But it's pull the weeds.
Q. What challenges have you gone through in trying to transform this from a spread offense, that mentality, into the smashmouth approach that you want, and where do you think you kind of are in the process now after spring?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that first of all, offense is everywhere across America. They have a certain aspect of spread offense in their philosophy, which we do, as well. So there is that in every single offense. If you look across the board, there is that spread in there.
There's also that aspect that Northwestern brings to the table where they're running during the gun and they're running certain gap plays with that. So there's that, also.
I think what we have to try and sort of set into motion is more of a power running type game, as well, because that will just complement the entire offense. It doesn't mean we're going to be aweless over here. I do think it's important -- football is a tough game. The guys that I've worked for, the Earl Bruces of the world, Jim Young, at a young age I'm talking about, it's a tough game. They've taught me that.
And I think that you have to be able to run the ball at some point in time. When they know you're going to run it, you still have to be able to run it. It speaks to your toughness as a football player if you can do that. You need to take -- at some point finesse comes out of the game and it comes down to man on man. So we want to make sure that our players understand that and have the ability to do that.
So that brings an attitude with us to this football team. I also think it's important defensively that we be able to defend every kind of attack that we see. So we'll have the spread part -- on our offense we'll have that spread philosophy somewhat.
We also need the ability to run the football because we're going to play against teams that run the football. So we'd better understand how to line up and play those type of offenses and play defensively. It's a game of toughness out there at times.
But there's different schematics for different offensive schemes, but we need to be able to play against that. So every day when we're playing against a two-back offense, we're practicing against people who run two-back offenses or one-back power-type offenses. Conversely if we're playing against spread, we're working against those kind of people. Across the board I think our players can become familiar with that on defense. So I think it makes -- same thing on defense, we want to be multiple in terms of some of the things we do because they'll see those defenses.
Q. How do you deal with the monotony of camp? You have the entire spring and now guys are just playing against each other and they probably get a little sick of that?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, it doesn't get monotonous I think in probably the second week. But we try and change it up as much as we can. We try and put little things in there to provide competitive situations, and if you saw our scrimmages just last year, I guess you saw one of them, we scrimmaged for the jerseys.
It becomes very, very competitive, because guys want to play for something. I don't care what it is. People want to play for something. And if you can give them something to play for in every situation, even if it's a couple up downs here or something there, they're going to respond and play more competitively.
I think we can also keep things moving and keep it a little bit different by things we do away from the field, whether it's build a campfire and go out and talk in front of a campfire or go to the swimming pool and have a relay race. We lost last year; the coaches lost, okay. But whatever it is, we'll keep it moving like that, and we'll just try and make it -- it can't be all work. It can't be all just -- it can't be a drift. We'll keep changing things up and looking for ideas.
Q. I was curious, kind of a two-part question. I think you said before that the punt was the most important play in football. I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit, and kind of your general philosophy of special teams, how much time you spend on it during the week, game planning and practicing and that kind of stuff?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, this is the first time this is a special teams meeting coming over here, I think in the last four years I've been a head coach. So it's very important.
But punt itself I think controls the vertical position on the field the most. Either you get a 40-yard gain, or if there's a block, it's a big play the other way. I think if you look at the statistics, I think I want to say -- don't quote me on this, but I want to say that it's very, very difficult -- I'm not sure, the percentages might be 85 percent, that if a punt is blocked for a touchdown, you have about 85 percent chance of winning that football game. Major momentum changes, special teams and punt, punt is probably -- when you look at it is probably the most worked-on play that we do because we do it every single day. There's not a lot of variance in it. So it's critical. You've got to have a guy that can hang it up.
Conversely I think on the punt return team you have to have a good returner. If you have one, you have immediate excitement on your football team. Every time that guy lines up back there, people are thinking, hey, he's going to take it all the way. Much like when Teddy Ginn lined up back there, people really didn't know what was going to happen. So that's a critical play in football, both ends of that.
As far as special teams, we basically have one coach in charge of each special team. Mike Tressel coordinates all the special teams, but he has one person in charge of kickoff, Harlon Barnett, and he runs it. But we have every coach coaching, every coach on defense, including myself, coaches kickoff. Every coach on offense has positions on kickoff return. Everybody on the entire staff coaches a position on punt.
So everybody is involved. Same with on the punt return team. Field goal, extra point, you know, again, we look at aspects that are critical to winning, and there's a huge -- the field goal percentage, there's a huge indicator, I think, in games in the NFL and in college that if you miss a field goal, the chances of winning -- it's a four-point swing sometimes when you look at it a lot of times, when you look at it across the board in the NFL, so that's critical, as well. So we spend a lot of time doing that.
Those guys are important. Ed Wagner had a great spring game, punted well yesterday, Aaron Bates punted well yesterday, so we're in good shape there.
We've got a couple of snappers that are just as critical doing a nice job. Our holder is important. Swenson is obviously very important. So we've stressed that an awful lot.
Q. A two-part question first. I'm curious if there are any lingering effects of losing eight out of the last nine from last year, whether positive or negative, and second of all, I'm curious if your wife makes you pull weeds at home.
COACH DANTONIO: I pull weeds on Sunday night -- no, Saturday actually. Yes, she did. I only do it once a month, so not often.
But as far as the lingering effects, I really don't know that there are any right now. I don't think people have looked back at that too often. I hear some people say they don't want to lose. Well, nobody wants to lose. But players play on the field. It's going to come down to how we play on the field, it did last year, but we've got to -- I keep saying this, we've got to handle adversity.
I said at the Big Ten meetings, the word that I sense from our football team right now is resolve. Resolve I think is a big word because I feel that among our players. I feel like they feel like they have some things to prove, and they're going to do their very best to do those things. But it'll come down to things on the field.
Like I told them, Big Ten meetings, everybody has got a plan. There are 11 coaches there, they're very good coaches, they've all had success, you're in a premier conference in America, they've got guys on scholarship, they do a nice job recruiting, everybody has a plan. They need to understand that it's very, very competitive.
Q. Some of the players talked about how you moved them back into Case Hall for camp and how you paired them with teammates from the opposite side of the ball. Can you speak to how that is involved in team building and hope that translates onto the field on Saturdays?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I thought it was a little bit unusual that some of our guys had never been in camp, that -- there's different ways to do things, I understand that, and it's a little bit difficult here because of the timetable and when the students are coming and all that kind of stuff.
But I think that -- we think that if you have a chance to room with somebody from a different position, somebody that you usually don't hang with, a young player, an old player, whoever it is, I think it just allows you to get to know those people and draws you a little bit closer. That's what we want to do. We want to live with each other for 11, 12 days in and out and we want to get to know each other as people and respect that. I think if we can do those things it'll bring us closer as people.
Q. Kind of a follow-up to Lisa's question, a lot of your players were asked today about three years of losing, and as much as you try to weed that out, they hear it. As you try to move this team to a new level, not just in terms of winning but in terms of your testing today and so on, how concerned are you that these players you inherited don't know how to get there because they haven't been there if that makes any sense?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm really not too concerned about that. We've got guys who have won championships in that room at the high school level. We've got guys who expect to win. I don't really worry about that.
As I said earlier, I think sometimes you just unravel as a team. We may do that. There comes a point where you may lose a senior player or he may get hurt or you may lose a captain or something happens, and you can't control some things and it unravels.
I do think that our players have confidence. I think that they're showing a sense of commitment. We need to be able to see some of that. All the things that we talk about, all the plans that we have are positive steps, I think, but it needs to be seen in that stadium for them to understand that -- there needs to be proof I guess is what I'm saying. So we'll see. But I'm not concerned about our players in that regard at all.
I think that -- I would not say that I inherited guys with a bunch of losing attitudes. I feel good about the guys that I've inherited, and I think they did a nice job in terms of bringing some of these players here, got some guys.
Q. You touched on this a few seconds ago, but in regards to team chemistry, some of the guys expressed that they felt one of the biggest problems last year was that they often felt distant from their teammates. I know you've done some team bonding activities like going to see 300. How do you feel it's served as either a motivation or chemistry building tool?
COACH DANTONIO: That movie, or do you just talk about in general?
Q. The movie, the living --
COACH DANTONIO: Oh, the different things. I think that's huge. I think that it's very, very important to draw people together. You can't be just an offensive lineman and hang with offensive linemen all the time. You have to see yourself as a football team.
That's why even if every day, hey, it's a pain sometimes to bring our guys in and set them down for ten minutes and then move them again to another place. But we've got to bring ourselves together as a team every single day, one or two times a day, because that's what it is. It's not about us having the best offensive line or us having the best quarterback or us having the best running back or whatever. It's about us having the best football team. So they need to understand that.
So all these little things that we do I think help to move them forward. I don't know if I'm answering your question or not. But everything that we do is meant to be towards that. I want a football team, I want people. I've said it over and over, I want people that ten years from now will pick up the phone and call a coach. That's what I want.
I know if I've done that, we've created a team atmosphere, we've created a great atmosphere for our players, and if we can do that, then we're going to be successful. The rest will follow. If we can create a great team, I don't care where our ability is, the rest will follow, because we'll win games we're not supposed to win, we'll overachieve, we'll do those type of things. If we don't become a football team, then it's going to go the opposite way, even if we have great players.
Q. We touched on this in Chicago, but with the kickoff being moved five yards back, does that maybe change your philosophy on kickoff and kickoff return?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, we're fortunate to have Boleski as a kicker because he's been able to get it into end zone, deep into the end zone. He needs to continue to do that.
Certainly from my standpoint them changing that rule and moving it back to the 30 means you've got to run five yards farther as a defender and the ball is going to come out more often times than not, so there's two problems there if you're a defensive coach. If you're an offensive coach you're feeling good.
We're fortunate to have Boleski because I think he can get it back there. We're going to put our best players on there.
I always ask guys, it's amazing, I say, well, why isn't that guy on the kickoff team? He's good enough to be a starter for us, but you're telling me he's not good enough to be on the kickoff team? So a lot of times we'll have some of our better players on that, and certainly in the flow of the game we'll be able to put them in there.
For example, the National Championship game versus Miami in 2002, I think we had our three linebackers and our five defensive backs that played a lot, they were all on the kickoff team for that game because it's critical. So we'll be able to move in that direction when we need to, but I'm interested in seeing the guys that are our best players on defense, the best skill players on defense, they need to be involved in that.
Q. What's your philosophy on do you let freshmen talk to the media? Will they be available?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I will let the freshmen talk to the media. I think it's a learning process, isn't it? Definitely. So yeah, I want our older players to come over today, but we are going to allow our freshmen to be able to talk because I think they can give you a little bit of insight in terms of what they're experiencing. They're experiencing things that are completely different from our older players.
Again, I talked about focus today, and they could be sitting there saying, man, I miss Julie, and not paying attention. Or I miss home, or this is way over my head or whatever. But you'll get a completely different perspective from them than you would talking to a third year player. We are going to allow that and ask them to be mature, but I think it's a learning experience for them. It's part of growing up, and that's what's so great about being in an environment like this.
That's a life experience for them, having to talk to you guys, having to stand up and do something like this. Things like that, they'll be better people for that and it'll be something they won't forget.
Q. Several former players have commented you guys not only want them back but you expect them back. Would you talk about that open-door policy you have for players?
COACH DANTONIO: We have an open-door policy here. I think we are blessed, I guess -- blessed, that's how I would term it, to be in a great environment here in terms of the tradition that's been here in the past. We're just people passing through. You guys know who the great players are and the great teams. You've been here. Hopefully we can make somewhat of a mark.
But those guys deserve our utmost respect in every avenue, and then also I want them to rub off on our football team. I want them to be around and have -- so they know they've walked beside a guy that's played in the NFL or they've walked beside a guy that's won a championship here or been involved in a great game or been to four bowl games or whatever it is. I want them to experience that. So we're going to try and have that be a part of who we are.
As I said before, we're going to have a captain every week, guest captain who will be a former Spartan, and that guy will have an opportunity to talk to our football team.
Q. This is the first year in your program which is going to be a long process I assume, but how do you get across a win-now attitude and convince your upper classmen, your seniors especially, that this isn't a transition year or a throwaway year, that you want to win now?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I hope that they understand that we're not doing all this stuff to go through the motions for next year. Every single game we will approach as a separate life basically. Just like right now, I'm not really concerned about who we're playing, UAB or anything. Those things will come, and there will be some huge challenges ahead, huge challenges ahead. But we'll worry about those challenges when we get to that week.
What's important now is the very next step. If you're going to make your goals or if you're going to try and realize your dreams, then you'd better take small steps to get there and don't overlook things as you move through the process.
We put things up on the boards in there. A lot has been made of the time clock. But that's something when -- to keep it as a focal point for us when there's nothing else there.
Right now the most important thing is we have until August 23rd to complete summer camp. That's what's important. But before that it was the bottom line. So we'll keep taking small steps to get to our goals. There will be no game that I go into or we go into as a staff or a football team that we don't think we have a chance to win that game. This is too crazy of a game, the ball bounces, there's big plays, it's a game of execution certainly, but it can be done. You can look across America, every year there's teams that do it, so why not us?
Q. Are you going to continue to show clips of that movie? Have you found it to be positive, or is that just a one-and-done deal?
COACH DANTONIO: The 300?
COACH DANTONIO: I leave that to our video people. I empower our people to do their job. The guy in charge of doing that, he can think those things up. I just look at it beforehand and say, that's good, or we need to do a little better, okay? But one of the two -- but they do a great job with that, and I think there's some strong messages there.
You know, we've got a great -- Spartans are -- it's a great name for us. It speaks in terms of a lot of different things about people. So any time we can use that to benefit our football team, we will.
Q. I just want to get a quick Brian Hoyer question in. How has he matured and progressed from the beginning of spring ball until now?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Brian came in with a great spring the very first day, and throughout winter conditioning and then spring practice, he's got -- a lot of these questions I continue to answer the same way. He's got a presence in the huddle. He's very confident in the huddle. He's got a quiet leadership about him. He's not afraid to say something to people. He's got a great grasp of the offense. He's intelligent. He makes good decisions at the line of scrimmage prior to the snap. He's got a strong arm. He's got enough mobility to get out of problems. He's got experience from this past season. So he's been in games; he's thrown the ball numerous times.
So I think all those things are very, very positive. If you had to rank where my biggest concerns would be as a football team, it would not be at quarterback, not at the starting quarterback. My biggest concern would probably be the backup situation at quarterback and how that's going to play out. But it's not in terms of who is the starting quarterback. I think he's solid.
Thanks, guys, for coming. Appreciate it.
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