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August 11, 2009

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO: First of all, I guess, to just basically have an opening statement a little bit, I think that first day of practice is always very, very exciting for everybody, for our entire football team. I don't care really whether you're in high school, college, the NFL. I think any time you have an opportunity to go practice in your first practice, I think it's going to be special, sort of renews that fire in you a little bit that you had maybe as a youngster at some point in time. So we were very, very excited to get back out there yesterday and really just get back to basics.
You know, we have a lot of freshmen out there that we just have to teach how to practice, the type of tempo that we want, the different practice formats that we have, the different drills that we have and those type of things. That was basically the whole gamut yesterday.
The quarterbacks got back into the thick of things. It's timing, as I said yesterday before practice, the timing of the receivers, the timing of our quarterbacks. All of those different things play into this. So very, very exciting first day. No big problems came out of it.
I think staff continuity is important. Some people weren't there, I guess, at the Big Ten meetings. I think staff continuity gives us an opportunity to continue to critique what we have and try and get better, take our younger players and our freshmen, I guess, is what I would say and try and say is that player better than the second team or third team player and try and get them into that mode as opposed to trying to find out what all these players can do. So we have an experienced staff, and I think that that has helped greatly in our early success here in the first two years.
Senior players, again, it's about finding leadership. We want to make sure that we don't pick our captains until the end of summer practice, so we're going to find out who they are then, do some different things throughout our summer practices that allow us to try and figure that out. If you're going to have a great football team, your seniors have to play best in their final year. I think that's what happened in '07 and '08; we had great individual performances by our seniors and that's what led to that success.
I guess the concerns that we would have or the issues or the things that we really have to look at as we go through practice throughout the fall camp really is our quarterback situation, how that's going to play out. I'm sure everybody is interested in that. I guess some of our tailback situations, we lost star power when Javon Ringer left, there's no doubt about that. It looked like he had a great game the other day in the Hall of Fame game, the preseason game.
But somebody has to come to the forefront there. Somebody has to emerge, and really when you look at it, it's going to be an opportunity probably for two guys to get 150 to 200 carries each or for three guys to get 100 carries each, but whatever the situation dictates, that will play itself out.
I think the important thing is realize we have a senior there, A.J. Jimmerson, so that's why I had him come to speak to the media today because he's the one guy, he's the off returner on the kickoff, but he's the one guy who is a senior, and everybody else is sort of in the thick of it, including our two freshmen. So we'll see how that all plays out here in the next couple weeks. But that should be interesting for everybody.
Our freshmen, the opportunities that they'll have, getting caught up to speed, the learning curve, who's going to emerge as some of the freshmen that are going to be playing, that's always interesting to me. We had six play in '07, I believe, and I believe we had six or seven play last year, as well. Those young players I think will make their mark. We've got some exciting guys, I can already see that, who can do some things.
We need to play up, win the close games, continue to win the close games and play when we have a great opponent in a marquee game, and then we need to continue to try and build the foundation and build on what we've got.
I'm going to open it up for questions here in a second because I think that's probably always the best way to do this, but really in closing before I put it up to questions, I want to address the Glenn Winston situation again. I've made a public statement about that, and I'll stand by that statement.
I also do want to add, though -- I've tried to put myself in that situation which the two families were in a couple of times. I put myself in that situation a lot. I've tried to feel for them and see where they're at with things. So it's important to recognize that we deeply regret the situation. I'm sorry for any pain that has been caused to the two families, to the Sturges family or A.J. or to Ian Montgomery and his family. It should have never happened.
But with that being said, we have to support Glenn. He's a player. He's got -- he needs to have somebody to support him, and I try and support our players in that regard. He's got a lot of work to do before he even plays. But that's sort of where we're at with that whole things, and that will be the end of the discussion with it.
But I'll open it up for questions. Our goals will always be our goals here, be to win a Big Ten Championship, compete in a BCS game. To do that, we have to focus on the task at hand, and the focus right now is summer camp.

Q. Several players, including Danny Fortener, commented that it seemed like yesterday -- the first two years you were here, opening day you went back to basics but that yesterday you started installing stuff almost as if they were ahead now. Could you just talk about that, that shift?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, we installed a lot yesterday from a defensive and an offensive perspective, maybe only one run but various formations and shifts in motions, defensively base fronts but a lot of different -- some zone pressures. Things have really -- we sort of had put those in the first two times around, too. I think now, though, our players are a little farther along maybe in how they handle things, so I think they understand it more thoroughly, so they look at it and say, yeah, we've got all these things in and they're doing them well.
There is carryover, that's good. That's always good for our football team. But it is back to basics. It's back to -- there's getting yourself in running shape, then there's getting yourself in football shape with a lot of change in direction and drills and that type of thing. Glad he's recognizing that, I guess.

Q. It's easy to chart the team's success Michigan State has had since you've been here starting with this year, third year. I'm just wondering do you ever take stock of the way you've coached over the past three years? Can you kind of chart where you think you're a better coach now than you were three years ago?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think what we try and do as a staff is continue to critique everything that we do, so hopefully we're getting better. It doesn't mean that we make the right decisions, but we do the very best we can in every regard with the team in mind. And that's what I've tried to do as a head coach, always tried to put the team first and look at it in that respect.
But in answer to your question, we go back and say, this did work, let's continue to do that; this did not work as well, let's change that. So that's what we've tried to do. But I haven't sat down and said, okay, I'm doing better here than there. Hopefully maybe I'm doing a little better in press conferences. Maybe not.

Q. Kind of as a follow-up to both of those, public expectations always increase, especially when you win and go to Bowl games. But don't your own expectations for your team in your number three also increase? Don't you expect more now than even you did a couple of years ago?
COACH DANTONIO: Yes, I do. In answer to your first question, I think that -- I was here for six years prior to coming back here, and I think that I know the history of inflated dreams. I know the history there. So I want to be careful in terms of how we approach things and be very dogmatic in terms of the way that we're approaching every single thing that we do and not get ahead of ourselves and understand that we have to play the first game, but before we even do that, we have to get ourselves ready to play. So there will always be that perspective of me. I've always tried to do that in everything that we've done, whether I was a coordinator, a position coach or a head coach.
So there's that answer to that question. And the second question I think is, yeah, the expectations I think continue to go up, but it's also important that we recognize that we're building a foundation here. I don't want this to be built so that we've got a real 10-and-1 season or 10-and-2 season and all of a sudden we go flat. I'd like to continue to build that base so all of our players have experience in terms of how to play in bigger game, et cetera. I think we gained some experience last year by having an opportunity to compete for a championship on the last game of the season, 9 and 2 going into that situation, playing in a New Year's Day Bowl game against a quality opponent. I think those are great experiences and we need to grow from that.
But I also hope that when we talk about our program, I hope that our program grows not just in a football way, but I also hope it continues to grow socially and I hope it continues to grow academically, as well.
This is not a perfect world. We have a lot of society's problems, as well. We deal with 105 people, but we want to continue to grow in that area, as well.

Q. You talk about that you have experience in the history of inflated dreams with this experience, but don't you also want -- do you take comfort in that there seems to be a growing sense of confidence among people connected with this program that you have indeed established a good program here? No one seems to be running away from that.
COACH DANTONIO: No, I understand that, and when we first came here, the key component that we wanted to get back was respect. That's what we wanted to try and work towards, some respect, some sort of respect out of that football field and in other areas.
Like I said before, it's not a perfect world, but we're working towards doing that. I think we're making strides in that, but I've never believed that we're the finished product. When we won a National Championship at Ohio State, we were 14 and 0, we went back and looked at the things we could improve on. That's just the way I'll always try and go about our business here.
But I think we're making headway by year three. People have always sort of been, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type of thing. That's just the way the world is made right now. We need to take care of business and reflect on those things after the season. But I think we're more confident. I think you are right there.

Q. Is 10 the magic number for you this year?
COACH DANTONIO: One is the magic number. Just one. Because that's how you get to 10. But one is truly the magic number. We need to play every single game, and as I said last year, two of the biggest things that we did was basically come back after disappointment, and that's the true test is how you handle yourself after disappointment; when everything is against you, when you've had setbacks, how are you going to handle yourself and play from there.
I don't put a magic number out there, just try and win one at a time and really focus one at a time.

Q. I have a follow-up question to that. Do you have an idea of who is going to replace Javon Ringer and Brian Hoyer as far as the leaders on your team?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I think those are the things that we have to find out here in camp. We have some great leaders. We have some great young people that will do an outstanding job, but that's up to our football team to pick those. You know, the things that we're doing right now will allow people to, I guess, display their leadership, and then our team has to make that decision and our coaches also have a vote. But my vote counts one.
So that's ongoing, but I have no idea. We have a lot of good young people, though.

Q. You can tell coaches and players are already excited about how physically mature some of these freshmen in this incoming class appear in practice. How do you think that can affect just the day in and day out operations that go on during the season?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think that they're physically mature, they've done a good job academically coming in. We've got all of our freshmen here. All of them have qualified. So that's a positive.
But they need to learn how to practice at a collegiate level, and there's something to that. They need to know how to focus on really the specifics of that one particular play that allows them to be successful and then stack things on top of that. They need to learn how to play every single play. If you're a defensive back or linebacker, run to the ball regardless of whether it's on the back side or front side. So those are the type of things I think we're trying to address with them.
They have ability, but it was interesting, I spent some time with Wharton Anderson, and he talks about those stages of learning, and I think that there's four stages, and you don't know what you don't know; and the second one is, hey, you know what to do but you can't do it. That third stage is you know what to do and you can concentrate and do it at times, and that's a big stage; and then there's that last one, the highest stage of learning, where you know exactly what to do, it's habit, and you do it very well. So it takes time to get to that fourth stage.

Q. Speaking of freshmen, do you anticipate any of these guys on the offensive line having a chance of being in the two deep, and then also, what are you looking for from the offensive line the next two weeks?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's difficult for an offensive lineman to get in there in the two deep as a freshman. But with that being said, they're going to have some opportunities, but there's so many different moving parts for an offensive line with all the pressures and fronts and different things that you tend to see in the different protections which complicate that even further.
And then there's the physical -- even though you may have the physical side, you may not have the physical strength. Ishmyl Johnson now benches 470 pounds. He's strong, okay? You're benching 320, still strong for a high school player, but there's a big difference there. So you're talking about the physical maturity of a young person.
So sometimes it takes a little bit of time. I do remember in '98 we played Paul Harker here as a true freshman. So there are some times out of necessity, which that was out of necessity, and then he was a young man who was able to do that. So you don't see it happening too often. You saw it happen, Ohio State had a guy last year, I think two guys played, Michael Brewster played and maybe one offensive lineman, but that's unusual. We'll know more here in the next couple weeks.

Q. Do you expect to have a clear starter at running back and quarterback by the time the season starts, and if you don't, are you okay with that?
COACH DANTONIO: Next two weeks, three weeks will tell the difference, tell the story there. But if not, I'm okay with that. I think we have -- I don't think the quarterback situation is a problem. I think our quarterback situation is as strong as it's been since I've been here. We lack game experience, and that's a big deal.
But I think from top to bottom we have three guys that can play. Last year we only had two on scholarship that would play. This year we have three players. I think they all have great ability, they're all quick learners, and they're all extremely gifted, great leaders.
So I think that's a positive. It'll play itself out.
The running back situation, again, I think we have talent there. We're deep, but somebody has to emerge. We have to give people opportunities and allow them to get into a rhythm a little bit to see what they can do. But we're going to find out. I guess if you asked me that question mid-year I'd be a little concerned it hasn't solidified itself.

Q. On paper you have eight starters back on defense. This is a solid secondary, solid line backing corps, a good talented group. If need be, can this defense carry this team for one or two games while we try to find out what's going on in transition with the running backs and the quarterback?
COACH DANTONIO: I think if you're going to be a great football team usually your defense is going to have to carry you at some point in time, usually early. Usually at the beginning of the season the defense is sometimes ahead of an offense.
But in answer to your question, we have a lot of players back, a lot of good teams that we play, so I think right now we're building that defense to be a superior defense.
We're not there yet. We've played well in the red zone, we've improved, we've done some very, very good things, but we still need to mature there. I think we have depth in our secondary; we've got eight players back alone in our secondary who have started for us. We've got some depth at linebacker, guys that make plays, defensive line, got guys back, returning some starters and a lot of guys who have played.
So it certainly is an area where we should know what we're doing. Now we need to function and play as one, but I think we do know what we're doing, and I think we'll be well coached. I think the defensive staff does a great job.

Q. Just to expound a little bit more on defense, obviously with Greg Jones, Eric Gordon, the linebacking corps is strong, but could you talk about some of the newcomers who can break into that, get some playing time like a Chris Norman?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you have Greg Jones back; you have Eric Gordon; you have Brandon Denson who had a great spring, 230 pounds, can run very well; Adam Decker has played significantly; Jon Misch has played significantly; and then you start seeing some of the younger players after that. It's hard to say, you've got one guy out there in shorts. So you're going to know more about that. But Chris Norman, Jeremy Gainer, TyQuan Hammock, those are our three freshmen and I think they're very talented, but we're going to see what we have when they put the pads on. There's still a learning curve there. Steve Gardiner is a young man who was sidelined with a toe injury before that's been sort of keeping him out pretty much the whole year, so he's going to have an opportunity to show what he's got.
Then you've got some other guys like Drew Stevens. We've got some young guys back there. But it's tough to say in shorts.
But I do think that if you look at them and watch them in terms of the physical ability, how they move and how they run, they'll have opportunities. They'll have a chance.

Q. You restored some of the luster to the running game when you first got here, made a 1,000-yard back kind of a priority, and then you got some marketing mileage out of a 1000-yard back, 2,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard receiver. Is that important this year when you have so many options at running back? Is that a tradition that this program needs to maintain, or is it not that big a deal if you still get cumulative numbers?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we need to get cumulative numbers to be able to be successful. In the end we're going to look at how many yards we rushed for and how many yards we passed for, and we want to be balanced. But I also want our players to understand -- we just finished our new meeting rooms, if you have a chance to go over to our meeting rooms and look at them. So in the running back meeting rooms you have everybody that's been All-Big Ten or an NFL draft choice, and you have a collage of the people there. And you know there's been some great running backs here, and they have an opportunity to be one of those guys. So when we're recruiting I want our players to understand, they come here, they do their job, they've got a chance to be a 1,000-yard rusher or probably more like a 1,500-yard rusher.
But what we did in '07 I believe is 2,700 yards rushing with 850 by Caulcrick and 1,500 by Javon is probably what we're shooting for. Now, can we reach those, is it three tailbacks, is it two, that remains to be seen. But somebody will emerge.

Q. In addition to talking about summer workouts, your two quarterbacks were talking about going to organic chemistry class and statistics class. Can you talk about how unique they are as people and how uniquely they're handling this journey and this competition together?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, they're two young men that are extremely gifted, and not just athletically, but they're very gifted in terms of how they handle people from what I've seen, and they're very gifted in terms of how they handle their academics. You know, I think they're very solid from a moral standpoint.
So what you've got in both these two young men -- and spiritual standpoint, both these young men. I think what you have in them is guys that you're hoping for the best for both of them. And that's why I keep coming back to that same statement; our job is to provide an opportunity for those guys to grow as people, being in situations like this with the cameras all on them and also on the football field. They've got a minimum of 36 games. That's if we don't go to a Bowl game. They've got 36 games here as a Spartan, 39 if they're going to Bowl games, and that's a long journey. This is just the beginning of that journey.
You know, we will give them those opportunities. There will be no favoritism, and we'll see how it plays out.

Q. You've got a lot of talented experience returning on the wide receiver crew. Can you talk about what they'll bring to the passing game and also the leadership that Blair White brings?
COACH DANTONIO: Our receiver group is pretty much back intact. We lose one player, but Blair White comes back, Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, those four guys are back intact. I think last year they had 120 catches for 1,900 yards, sort of took what Devin Thomas had done the year before and did it collectively, so we'll look to build on that.
Blair, when you talk about seniors and possible leadership, he's not a very vocal guy, but I think very well-respected young man. He's already graduated. He'll do an outstanding job at whatever he does for a living, whether it's pro football or whether it's as a dentist.
I think what he brings to the table is an example of hard work, a guy who's come from walk-on to a guy who now possesses speed, jumping ability, hands, toughness, to be able to play at a high level. Players see that.

Q. How about what you're seeing from Andrew Hawken, your fullback?
COACH DANTONIO: Andrew returns for his third season. I think he's a guy that when we first came here we had no fullbacks, had really not recruited a fullback. We intend to make them. But he's a guy that catches the ball very well, knows the offense, again, good leader, very unselfish, and should be another guy that's a catalyst for our football team.
You know, there's so many different variations of personnel in terms of what formations we can create that he becomes a guy that's in and out of the game, as does a couple other guys in that situation, all being seniors.

Q. I predict you're going to get real tired of quarterback questions in the next few weeks, but here's one: With two guys both capable of starting and in the same class, while two-quarterback systems haven't worked many places, including Ohio State, at least for the first three games before you play Wisconsin, could you see both of them playing, even switching quarters, or is that a bad news story if one of them does not emerge and win the job?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don't think that's a bad news story. I think you have to allow a quarterback -- from my perspective you have to allow a quarterback to be in rhythm. Does that mean a half, does that mean a quarter? Depends on how many plays they get. You have to first of all evaluate how August is going to go, and that's our first part of the process, where are we at in August. If we come out of August and everything is like it was, then you move to the next thing.
But I think at some point you have to make a decision and go with one. It doesn't mean the other one is not going to have opportunities, either. And that's a tough call sometimes. But we're going to evaluate this on the practice field, in the meeting room.
I think it's also important to note because if a guy comes out here and has a bad scrimmage that that doesn't knock him out of the box. It has to be somebody putting together good scrimmages, good practices, or somebody having poor practices and a string of them to separate themselves.
But I just go back to what was going on in Cincinnati in I guess '06. We had two quarterbacks, Dustin Grutza and the other guy, and Dustin was the quarterback, and at the end of it Nick Davila quarterbacked us for the Rutgers game and did an unbelievable job and sort of set that program on its course.
We can exist as long as we're mature in how we feel with people and are fair and create opportunity. Once again, that's what we'll do. These are great young people. They understand the deal. But they're competitive, too.

Q. Mike Tressel said that last night when everyone went back to go to the dorms to go to bed that three freshmen linebackers asked him to stay and teach them and watch film, and finally he just said, guys, I've got to go to bed, and left them and they kept watching film. He said that's kind of a reflection. You've always got good players, but now they're stepping up with guys that are hungry. Could you talk about that?
COACH DANTONIO: I think our freshmen are hungry. I think all of them are. They're used to being high achievers, high achievers on the football field and in other areas of their life. So when they come in and now they're a third-team guy, they want to get themselves up to speed, they want to try and beat that learning curve, they want to understand what they're supposed to do so they can play add a high rate of speed. You always talk about everywhere you go in our facility it talks about playing with great effort, great toughness and knowledge. Well, to be able to do those first two things, the effort and toughness, you have to have knowledge to be able to play fast. It has to become a habit for you, has to become instinctive for you, that fourth stage as I talked about, learning.
They're going to try and catch up, but it speaks to the type of people they are. That's what we've tried to recruit, and hopefully we're seeing evidence of that.

Q. There doesn't appear to be any kind of Cousins camp or Nichol camp on this team. It took 17 rounds before the players even picked quarterbacks for the spring game. How rare is that on a team to have that kind of unified support of whatever happens, and what does it say about the guys you have going into this season?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's probably rare, but I'll go back to when I was asked about what kind of people they are. That's the kind of people they are. They're competitive. They want to be the guy. I know that. But at the same time, they're unselfish, and they have not created that situation. They haven't chosen sides, either.
And so I think that's what's made it a positive, and that's why I continue to say this is not a problem, this is a good thing. We will have more experience, and like I said before, this is the beginning; this is not the end. We're not talking about this going into their senior year, who's going to be the quarterback.

Q. Kind of going along with that, Kirk Cousins said earlier he doesn't really consider it a competition they're going against each other, he considers it more of something they're going at together with each other. In what ways in the off-season did you see them help each other grow because obviously they both have different skill sets?
COACH DANTONIO: I would agree with him first of all in terms of that they're not going against each other, they're going for a common goal, and the common goal is to quarterback our football team and to win the first game, okay.
But in terms of how they help each other, I think the biggest thing they do is they compete, and that's what they do. They're competitive young men.
You know, are they all buddy-buddy and do we have them rooming together and all that kind of stuff, no, because there is some separation there. But I think they have a mutual respect for each other, and that's important. And then I also think that on a daily basis they compete. So they're in the same meeting rooms, and they go through a lot of the same things that everybody goes.
But you also have to remember it's not only the quarterback position for this competition, there's the corner position. We've got corners that have played and started on both sides. We've got safeties that have played and started. So there's competition going on there. There's competition going on at the tight end position. Charlie Gantt had a great year, but Brian Linthicum is a very great player, and so is Celek. So you've got a lot of competition going on throughout our football team right now, and that's a positive, and that shows that we have some depth right now. But we need to stay healthy, too.

Q. I'm not trying to worm another comment out of you on Glenn Winston, but can you clarify your opening statement? You said he's got a long way to go before he plays in a game. He's on the team, he's practicing. Is he not going to play in games right away, or is that still to be determined?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I guess it's to be determined. I think he has a long way to go in terms of getting back to playing football. He's not played football really since November, nor has he been involved in any football activities, and that's a long time away from the game.

Q. As regards to Keshawn, we saw a little bit of the direct snap thing, and on a national level you're seeing that Wildcat stuff a little more. Do you see that growing nationally, and what about as regards to your own program?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I do see that growing nationally, and I think that in regards to that, every program will have a part of that in their repertoire and will be no different as we move ahead. But I think that we also have to make sure that we do basic things first, very basic things.
The thing about Keshawn is he was a true freshman last year, so we want to allow him to grow in his receiver position, as well. But I think those are the type of things that we heed to practice for, to be able to practice those things we need to have our offense be able to perform those things. Whether we use them in a game or not depends on how proficient we become. Is that a roundabout way of answering it? People have to prepare for it, but I don't know if we're going to use it.
Thank you very much. Have a good day.

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