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March 12, 2008

Mark Dantonio

THE MODERATOR: To preview his second spring, Coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO: We're into the next phase of football. It's a little bit unusual for most jobs, is that you go from a season to recruiting to critiquing things, now into spring ball, then spring recruiting, then reassess again and then start all over again.
Our phase right now is spring football. It's exciting for us to be there. I think what we have to do is take another step forward. Our message to our football team throughout has been that we did take I think two steps forward with this last year's program. Our seniors did an outstanding job as I said many times. It's important now to take another step forward. So it begins really with this.
What we have been doing thus far is critiquing really what we've done this past year, whether it's in recruiting, whether it's how we run our meetings, whether it's what we did during the season, what we did in special teams, et cetera. I think that's the norm for most places right now. We continue to ask ourselves: Is there a better way to do things?
Winter workout will really conclude after Monday. We have Pro Day today, which I think will be exciting for a lot of people. Hopefully you'll be able to come over and see some of our guys work out. I think we had four guys in the combine, Jehuu Caulcrick, Nehemiah Warrick, Devin Thomas and then Kellen Davis. We've also got other guys over there running that I think will have an opportunity to play at the next level as well.
I would anticipate, from what I understand, probably about 60 NFL scouts and coaches and probably some various head coaches over there as well, as I do think there are a couple guys that will go early in the draft. That's exciting I think for the whole program. Got March Madness around the corner, the Big-10 tourney this week. Want to wish our basketball team well. Exciting time at Michigan State athletics right now. Enthused to be a part of all that.
Our goals basically as a spring program, as a football program, which we enter the 2008 spring, really is to, again, develop a foundation of who we are. I think much like high school football that changes every year, we have to adapt to who we have as players, adapt our system a little bit, concentrate on our strengths, feature certain players, find out who those players are going to be that we need to feature, fill in the gaps, the holes where we've lost players.
I think the second thing we have to do is develop senior leadership. Again, that was as key as anything last year to the amount of success we did have. This year's seniors, Otis Wiley, is a guy, Justin Kershaw, had an opportunity to meet with both of those guys, Brian Hoyer, Jesse Miller, just a couple guys. But everybody will have an opportunity to lead. So it's important we identify those people and allow them to move through the process to form that leadership.
I also think spring is about providing opportunities for young players or older players who might not have found their way into the starting rotation right now.
If you look back at last year, you have a guy like Devin Thomas, who really well could be a first- or second-round pick. Here is a guy who caught six passes the year before, didn't play as much maybe. All of a sudden he has an outstanding season, he's vaulted into a position where he can do some things for himself and his family. That could not have happened last year without a great spring. So you have players like that that are going to have an opportunity.
There will be position experiments, experiments in what he we do. It's sort of a feeling-out period for everybody involved. I think it's a huge spring for our freshmen group, some guys who played like Mark Dell, you know, Aaron Bates, the guys that will play as true freshman, Antonio Jeremiah, Greg Jones, Oren Wilson, those guys. But the guys who have not played that were redshirted, I think it's a big opportunity for them to see where they're at in the big scheme of things and to really get their feet in pretty deep in terms of what we're doing out on the football field.
We want to critique and master what we do fundamentally, whether it's defensive back or offensive tackle. We want to get better fundamentally. The game is played I think at a ground-roots level. The game is played from the ground up with bent knees, power positions, catching the ball, blocking and tackling. We need to continue to work towards this and mastering those fundamentals.
Had a coach when I played at South Carolina who used to always say, You need to try to get 2% better every spring practice. If you use that little formula, you have a chance to get 30% better over the course of time. I think that can happen. I've seen that happen with players. So we'll work to try to do that. That will be a message we send to our players. It's been a message I've tried to send, whether it's the defensive backs, whether it was a unit when I was a coordinator or a team when I was a head coach. We want to continue to try to emphasize that.
We'll grade our players daily, give them a graph at the end of spring showing how they did throughout the year, throughout the spring, have meetings with them, go to the Nth degree to try to let them know exactly where they're at in the program. But there will be an opportunity for everybody.
I think the spring practice will provide excitement. From the inside it's an exciting time for our players. They get to go out there, put on a helmet, put on pads, play football, which is what you do. You do the weights, you run, you lift, you do all these different things in order for a chance to play the game. So they have an opportunity now to go out and play again. And I think that's exciting for them.
I also think it brings excitement outside the program, whether it's to the fans or to the administration or just the student out on the street. So it's a little bit of that. It will end with our spring game, our Green and White game, which I want to make mention of George Webster for that game. I think we want to make that a memorial tribute to him. It will still be known as the Green and White game, but it will be special in that regard because we do want to remember him and what he gave to this program.
Position by position, I would say right now that basically if you look at our football team, our offensive line, we have a nucleus back, three guys, some other guys who played, but we have three starters back. We'll look to Jesse Miller, Roland Martin, and Joel Nitchman, we'll fill in there. We have some very good players, Brendon Moss, Rocco Cironi, other guys that will meet the needs in there.
Tight end, we'll work Michael Jordan in there as an experiment. We have two young to it ends, Charlie Gantt has got to make his way to the top of the depth chart, as well. We have four guys who worked that position.
Wide receiver position, we have a couple guys back that played significant amount of football, Mark Dell, Deon Curry. We've got to look at some of the other guys, BJ Cunningham. We have some outstanding freshmen coming, Chris D. Rucker, David Williams, guys that will have an opportunity out there.
You look at quarterback, last year quarterback was a little bit of a who, what, where, who is the backup. We basically had two quarterbacks on scholarship in the spring, Connor Dixon and Hoyer. Connor was a bit injured. This year we'll bring three into spring. Connor will not participate in spring drills because of a shoulder injury. We'll have Hoyer, Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins. We'll look to see how Cousins and Foles have raised their game.
Runningbacks continues to be a strength for us. You know Ringer is back. He'll probably have limited contact this spring due to some surgery, but he will participate towards the end of spring. And you have some good young freshmen there as well as A.J. Jimmerson, who will provide obviously depth at this position.
Defensively, our defensive line, we lost a couple good defensive ends. We'll continue to work towards solidifying those positions. Trevor Anderson will be playing for the first time. He's an outstanding player. You'll get an opportunity to watch him. Our defensive tackle position is pretty solid. Our young players, Oren Wilson, Antonio Jeremiah, Ryan Wheat need to be involved in that. We played eight linebackers last year. We lose three. We have five returning guys with experience. Same in the secondary. We lose two guys, but we actually played nine guys in the secondary last year. We have a lot of experience back in those areas. Our kicker and punter are back as well as our kickoff guys. We have a nucleus back. We'll look to improve in those areas and fill in the voids and then, again, do the same thing in the fall.
Again, practice calendar will change. We'll start on Tuesday rather than a Monday. I just feel like from a meeting standpoint and from a class schedule standpoint, we need to make sure that everybody -- that we have a hundred percent participation in it. We were going to have certain guys miss that practice due to class so we needed to make that change.
With that I'll sort of open it up to questions or go to the round table.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions here.

Q. I know you can't talk specifically, but could you address the start you've had so far for the '09 class in recruiting?
COACH DANTONIO: I think recruiting is something we work on daily. We're not going to take anything for granted, whether it's in this state or outside of this state.
I think we've got a great start. It shows we're doing some things right around here in terms of how we're handling ourselves as people and then also the progress that the program is making.
But we're very, very excited about it. We'll continue to fill out that class as we go.

Q. Could you talk a bit about Pro Day, what it offers, with the players being able to be at their school?
COACH DANTONIO: I think there's got to be a little bit -- you're going to be more comfortable in your home environment. You have an opportunity, again, to show what you can do, if you messed up on a little thing, they have questions on this, they can get those things ironed out.
For some of the guys, they probably had excellent combines and maybe they'll have limited work here. But it's just another opportunity I really think to interact with people at the next level. Some guys will do certain workouts, maybe run a 40, other guys won't, they've been tested already. It provides everybody an opportunity.
I think it's an exciting time for everybody's program when that happens. Everybody aspires to play at the next level. Certain Michigan State has had many, many players go on and play in the NFL. This is just another example of really the tradition that's here, the past. Just further provides opportunities for players down the road. It shows that you come here, you're going to have an opportunity to play in the NFL.
Thank you.

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