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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 23, 2010
COACH DANTONIO: Appreciate everybody coming today. First off, I just want to congratulate our basketball programs, both our women and our men's basketball program.
I think that -- I say it all the time. You don't have to look too far to see championship programs in progress, especially our men's basketball program and what Tommy has been able to do. I want to congratulate Susie on an outstanding job this year and any time you make the NCAA Tournament and move through one game, you're playing at a high, high level of competitiveness, and want to congratulate her.
So how they win is amazing to me. You know, it seems like every year that I've been here, you have an opportunity to come up, stand up here and talk to a bunch of reporters and that type of thing and inevitably, it's always right around the second round of the tournament, of the NCAA Tournament.
And last Saturday's game was unbelievable to me. Just exactly what we are trying to capture on the football edge of things. Have an opportunity to see your basketball team play very, very well and respond to adversity, and then comes back down to crunch time and you see them have to respond again at the end, and that's what champion teams are made out of. So just want to congratulate them on what they have been able to do, and then move on now to spring practice.
Spring practice since I've been playing college football, which goes all the way back to the mid 70s, I've always tried to take this attitude in whether I was a position coach or coordinator or head coach; it's about getting better. You have 15 practices to do that. The first thing that we have to do as a football team or an individual football player is we have to make each practice. So we put a premium on making 15 out of 15, in that area.
Want to try to get two percent better, every practice. So you have 98 percent of what you've got going into practice, you need to try to improve your game two percent, and that takes a little bit more for older players than it would sound. But if you can do that on a daily basis, or whether it's learning certain things about schematically what we are doing and or improve your technique, you'll get better as a football player. Two percent is our goal every single practice. Some may improve a little bit more but in the end that's what we are looking for.
Winter workouts, really have not talked since that time in January when Greg Jones announced he's coming back. Winter workouts have gone very, very well. Our guys, we went through 14 of those, many of them at 5:30 in the morning. Guys did an outstanding job in that area, and I think that at this point in time, our players are showing great leadership in a variety of ways across the board, not just older players but young players, as well, and I think that will be key to our ability to sustain towards the end of the year and to make improvements.
Our strengths as I see our football team right now, obviously Greg Jones coming back is a big exclamation mark. When he made that decision to come back, you know, he set our defense, really the way I look at it. You have your Mike linebacker back, your guy who is second leading tackler in the country, a guy who is an All-American player, a guy who is trying to do it the right way in every respect. It's a great example for a lot of our players in terms of how to respond when you do have success.
And so Greg Jones returns, Eric Gordon as well. Defensive side of the ball, I think linebackers, the strength for us, when you look at us entirely on defensive side, we have 13 players coming back who have substantial playing time, whether they have started or not, but you know, I have four guys I think in the secondary returning. You have four linebackers actually with starting experience, and you have -- with Pickelman and Worthy and Hoover coming back on defensive front and some younger players up there, as well.
So 13 guys are back on defensive end of the field. On the offensive side of the ball, you have a quarterback returning who has actually two of them, who have substantial playing time. Obviously Cousins played the majority of the time and I think offensively when you look at us as a team, for a football team that's generally thought of to be a team that runs the football a lot, we led the conference in passing, threw for over 3,000 yards, 28 touchdowns as I remember, a lot of that is due to our quarterback situation.
So we return our quarterback and we return an outstanding group of quarterfinals with Pickelman, Cousins, Maxwell will get an opportunity to play a lot this spring, and Joe Boisture, a brand new freshman coming in. So I think we have four quality quarterbacks, and probably most importantly we have a quarterback back in Cousins that excelled at a high -- that excelled at a high achievement level. So I mean, any time you bring back a quarterback that's seasoned, good things are bound to follow I think. So that's exciting for us.
Our wide receiver and our tight end position comes back with a lot of depth. We'll move Keith there so he'll be a slash-type player, play at wide receiver probably 70, 80 percent of the time, but also take reps at quarterback, too, because I do still think there's a place for him at that position. He's an exciting player and again brings experience at that position, game experience having played through the Michigan game and starting the Illinois game, game experience and he's had great success as well.
Our offensive line needs to be rebuilt but our punter returns and snapper returns and I think you have to look at our snapper situation and say a very consistent, guy coming back for his fourth year.
As far as any other strengths, I believe we have an outstanding freshman class, this past year's freshman currently on our football team and you will see many of those guys get an opportunity to show forth here, and I will talk about them here with a couple names here in a minute.
Our freshmen class I believe is a strength through this football team. A lot of our guys if given the opportunity to take a red shirt off of them would have played in the bowl game by just sheer ability. Our new freshmen obviously will always have an opportunity to play. On the average, we have had six new guys play every year every year we have been here. I would say that's been the norm; even when I was at Cincinnati, we have been able to have at least six young players play, and I expect that to continue.
Our objectives really, when you look at our objectives throughout spring practice here, our offensive line, while we return three guys that have a lot of playing experience, including Stipek, that would be the third guy; it would be a young offensive line and we need to make strides there this spring, so that will be very important to us.
Our defensive line when you look at us as a defensive line, I think we have players back, capable players, but I also do think that we need to improve our defensive pass rush and be able -- when I say that, we need to be able to transition from run-to-pass as the play develops, and that will be something we continue to work on. Our kicker, obviously we lose Swenson, huge loss for us, and so again Conroy, along with Kevin will return to compete at that position and we expect to get a the low of reps, but that will be a very, very important position for us as we head into the fall.
We want to get back to running the football more consistently, I think that without question is what we want to do. We have our two tailbacks back, in terms of Caper and Edwin Baker. So that will be exciting for those guys to continue moving in that direction.
Want to play better in the red zone defensively, and then come up with more turnovers. And then our young players, again I think we have to see where we go and how we start to develop some of those players. Fowler was unable to play last year with the foot injury but has been exceptional. Maxwell put on probably about another 15 pounds and has done a great job last year and did a great job as well. When you look at guys like Denzel Drone, Corey Freeman; I'm just throwing these names out, Jairus Jones, Dana Dixon -- I need my glasses a little bit.
Some of these young players like that have really turned some heads in winter workouts and then also last fall. Sonntag (ph) would also be a guy. We will also experiment with some position moves. In nickel, Keith will obviously start wide receiver and go into the fall as No. 1, going into spring as No. 1, and I think that he did a nice job in the bowl game. He's a guy about 6-2, 220 pounds, runs a 3'97 shuttle, jump out of the gym, 10'6 long jump, and runs very, very well and he's tough so gives us an added feature there.
Obviously guys like Keshawn Martin coming well and Micajah Reynolds we move to the defensive line at 300 pounds or so, extremely athletic and red-shirt freshman. And we worked there last bowl practice and I was very impressed with him so we will move him to that position and see how that experiment works as well. There will be others but I'm sure right now that's the focus of that.
In regards to our players, our suspended players, we will reinstate Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham, J'Michael Deane and Chris L. Rucker at this point in time. It's been four months since these guys have taken part in any football activities. So without question, it's been a very long time. I feel like they have endured, endured on the football end of things, endured the judicial process and also endured the public, you know, I guess the public -- I'll call it ridicule or whatever you want to call it, but I think that they have also endured that. So we will reinstate those four guys and we will move from there with that.
On the basis of general statement with those players, I think it's important to note that guys make mistakes, guys pay the consequences, we move forward. All of the players that have been involved with this, every one of those players, are still my players, whether they are here or elsewhere, and I will stand behind them and try to support them in anything that they do because I want them to be successful in life.
The fact that some play here, some transferred there, whatever the case, that's how life goes sometimes. But we wish them all the best, and we need to move forward.
And with that, I'll just throw it open to questions here and try to keep it positive and move forward.
Q. You mentioned so many players; you have Spencer?
COACH DANTONIO: Donald Spencer, yes.
Q. So those five?
COACH DANTONIO: Donald Spencer was reinstated immediately.
Q. Nichol, No. 1 Q and No. 2 QB, do you need to define that and too good of an athlete to let him stay at Cousins backup?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that's accurate to say. He needs to play football for us. As far as what he did in the bowl preparation, opened eyes, every day Coach Treadwell walked and we tried to keep as quiet as we walk through the process but every day as he walked in there, he talked about Heath and his progress as a wide receiver.
That will be something very exciting to watch. I think he still has to be to be in a position to play quarterback and put the ball in his hands at times. But I also think that what allows us to do that is Andrew Maxwell's progress as a quarterback, and then you have Joe Boisture coming in and we'll see where he's at. But Maxwell has been very impressive, as well, and this will allow him to get more represents as a quarterback especially with our twos, and that will be important, as well.
Q. (No mic).
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's good for a lot of chemistry things. You try to put your best players on the field, your best athletes, and I think both of those guys, Cousins and Keith, I think both those guys have leadership qualities, and I think both those guys have done a nice job balancing things. There's room for opportunities there.
Q. You have a lot of young talent on your offensive line. Do you expect that to maybe be the most competitive this spring?
COACH DANTONIO: I would think that that's the case, especially without a lot of players coming back. I think it's important to note that, you know, offensive line takes so long to get guys ready to play. Incoming freshman has a very difficult time playing. I think in my 30 years of coaching, I've seen three players play as a true freshman on the offensive line. One of those was Paul Harker when I was here before, and he was forced into that. The other two were two guys at Ohio State and they only played the last three games their freshman year, and they played due to injuries.
So we have been living with the past staff's offensive line -- not living, but we have been prospering with the past staff's offensive line. It's now time, some of our guys are three years in, it's now time for some of these guys to start going. That first year's recruiting class, Foremen and McGaha; Arthur Ray, is still out medically, and you know, I believe we brought one guy in who left before camp even came, just, you know home stick.
That next year we brought some guys in and they need to start playing. It will be a big spring for Chris McDonald. He's performed well in winter workouts, very athletic. He's a very intelligent player; it's his time. But when you look at some of our guys like McGaha, McDonald, you look at Henry Conway, you look at Zach Hueter, 330-pound guy with a 32-inch vertical jump that runs 5:02 and he's 6-5, it's his time. He needs to start playing.
They are dinged up a little bit. Some guys are dinged up because Zach, for example, came off a shoulder surgery but he will have opportunities this spring to get involved at one extent or another. But it's their time to make a move, and I'm probably missing somebody in there. But you'll see Nate Klatt in there, Nate coming off a surgery a little bit, but he should also be able to respond, so it will be exciting for these guys.
Q. On defensive side of the ball, Worthy and Callum (ph) not there, injury-related?
COACH DANTONIO: Correct. Right now they are coming or shoulders they had repaired after the season. They may be able to do some things in spring practice, but to list them as full-go life right now would not be fair to them. Jerrell (ph) was a freshman All-American and I think he'll only go from there. Colin Neely had a nice year; he'll respond as a senior leader here this next year.
Q. Obviously you didn't want to go through it, but in what way did the whole off-the-field situation maybe make this program stronger, maybe make guys value the opportunity they do have?
COACH DANTONIO: I think every time you get put in a corner where you can pull out of something or you have tremendous amount of adversity come your way, whether a sense of program or a sense of player; if you have an opportunity to respond, and a lot of times you grow from that. And I think that the adage about, you know, becoming stronger under fire, I think that's important to note. So I think that it can give our program a greater understanding.
We have worked extremely hard at trying to correct these things. We have tried to be proactive. We have had a five-week seminar, basically, where we have had different people come in and talk to our players as a team about certain aspects and not just dealing with how you act, but how you -- about different things such as the law or about someone coming in talking about society in general, or someone coming in and talking about what brand they want to be known as individually, how people -- how do you want to be thought of as a person; or having ex-players coming in and talking about the value of education.
But we have spent five weeks working with players and talking with them and just being a family and just having dialogue. And I think it's been good for our football program. There's been a healing process take place there. But we have in a society right now where you're an inch away; you're in a fishbowl. You're always an inch away of making a bad decision or being put in a bad situation. You have to be careful and understand the consequences involved are going to be steep and severe, publically and internally.
I think that just goes with the media presence, which is a good thing, which is what I would call a resource for our football team and our program, because we do have a lot of high media attention. But with that comes great responsibility. I think that's the message here.
Q. (No mic).
COACH DANTONIO: It concluded last Thursday.
Q. Do you think it -- we are talking about getting an improved pass rush on defensive line, are you seeing that as something that will really be able to help your secondary? Do you expect some real improvement from the secondary on its own?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, absolutely. I'm not saying that our pass rush was the reason. You know, we have four players back in the secondary. We have gone over the films, our defensive staff -- one of the things I guess would you consider a strength of our football team continuity. Our defensive staff would have been together seven years; so we are constantly critiquing and trying to evaluate what we do and we have watched the films, and in a lot of cases, we had 36 sacks which were the second in the conference, so you're getting a pass rush when we pressure.
What we have to do is be able to transition when we are in those downs where we are not sending a lot of people, being able to transition the four defensive linemen from playing against the run which we were are 25th in the nation against the run to forcing the pass rush, a little bit better.
On the back end where we have to play better is in the red zone, which is what I said, and there's too many missed opportunities in turnovers. When you look at our defensive football team and say where did we rank in turnovers, and sometimes these things even themselves out, but we are 117th ranked in turnovers, and three of them we got on the kickoff team. And you know that just shouldn't happen.
There's too many balls out there being flipped around and popped up in the air. We have got to come away with some of those, and a lot of times, that's a pass rush or a tip pass or something of that nature. So we have got to come up with turnovers and how to play well in the red zone, and that's the difference probably between 2008 and 2009, those two statistics. Because when you look at yards-per-game passing, you are playing in a different -- the 90s were different than 2000s, and late 2008, 2009, there's just a lot of balls being thrown. When we throw for 3,000 yards, you know, a lot of yards.
So it's not always the yards; it's third down conversions, getting off the field, it's the interceptions. It's the play in the red zone; it's what we call, or what you see measured up as pass defense efficiency, which has to do with third downs, which has to do with interceptions, which has to do with sacks, third down efficiency and that's what we need to get better at. That's a team thing, linebackers, front, defense and secondary and we need to play better in the secondary as well.
Q. Two players who got a lot of talk, Jeremy Gainer and Dana Dixon, you had bemoaned your first couple of seasons that you did not have depth to compete. How important is it this spring more than others that there's going to be major competition at every spot?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's extremely crucial when you have an opportunity -- you look at our linebackers, we go three deep right now, in terms of guys being able to line up at least -- four of those guys are seniors.
But you know, we go in there with an idea of having a linebacker group that have been there a little bit, been there a little bit and they have an opportunity to play. Jeremy Gainer comes in, Denesco (ph), Alan is a guy, Max is a guy that walks in the door and he'll able to compete. He's a young freshman. We have four freshmen as I talk on recruiting, when we had the recruits in, Max being one of them, that will have an opportunity to get involved and understand the system. So much of it is learning how to work within the scheme of things and then revaluating and then coming back in the fall and not feeling like you are there for the first time, really helps. So Jeremy will have an opportunity, as well, and we have got some guys nicked up a little bit. But our linebacker group should be -- as you said, it should be competitive.
Q. There are some suspended players that are not listed on this depth chart. What is their future?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you have to be more specific than that. How's that? Some of our guys are in the process of transferring, and again, I'm not going to say things up there that are going to hurt our football players regardless of whether they are in this program or out of this program. I am not going to say things that are going to hurt people.
Q. (No mic).
COACH DANTONIO: And so in (inaudible) case, he's in the process of transferring. Fred needs to take care of his judicial responsibilities first.
Q. (No mic).
COACH DANTONIO: In the process of transferring.
Q. (No mic.)
COACH DANTONIO: Transferred. Making me go through all this stuff. If I didn't name them off, guys, there's probably a situation there where they are in transition. And I want to make sure we understand, too, some of these transitions, which I'm not it going to go into for personal reasons on their part, is because they wish to transfer. Because sometimes people need a second start. They need another opportunity. They need a clean slate to be able to move forward. And sometimes with all of this, as I said in the media stuff, it warrants those guys wanting to look at another opportunity, too. So it goes both ways.
Q. Two other transfers, what's the status of David Rolf and Cameron Jude?
COACH DANTONIO: David, you know, is a great young man. He played for us a lot last year, and David, his family moved to Utah; they are Mormon. It's been a tough transition for him since they moved. So every time they have come out of the locker room, there's been really nobody here, so he's made the decision to go back and try and find a place back home. He's got a lot of cousins and a lot of family, a close-knit family, and one of those things.
You know, it speaks again to how difficult it is to play away from home, because your family is such a huge contributory think to your happiness. You see your family when you walk out of that stadium, regardless of what happened or you played, there's support there and if that's not there, there's a void. I think that's what David has been feeling for a year and a half, and he's been trying to work through these things and that's where he's at.
Cameron is working through some personal issues academically and some personal issues.
Q. But he's with the program still?
COACH DANTONIO: He's in transition.
Q. He's not off the team? He's with the program?
COACH DANTONIO: I just said what I said.
Q. Trying to make it clear?
COACH DANTONIO: I know; you did that to me the last time.
Q. You guys used Keshawn a bit in the single-lane a few times here and there. His versatility is obviously there, is that something that you think you might delve into more?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, Keshawn Martin I think is becoming a star. He's got star player quality. Every time he touches the ball, something is going to happen. He needs to improve his pass catching skills down the field I think, and he has that ability, he has shown that and he needs to be more consistent, so you need to get the ball in his hands without question.
He's got big play capability on kickoff returns, punts returns, our kickoff returns are No. 8 in the nation here, he was No. 1 in the conference, which we returned back to what we have done in '07, and actually used four or five different guys. So Keshawn would be a guy that we would continue to focus on and try to get the ball in his hands. We have a number of players like that, Keith would be another player like that. We have quite a few skill guys we need to experiment with in those types of systems.
Q. (No mic.)
COACH DANTONIO: Wildcat?
Q. (No mic.)
COACH DANTONIO: We are going to experiment with different things.
Q. Johnny Adams getting a chance to red shirt, he played well as a freshman but talk about how he's advanced.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think Johnny Adams gives us a guy who started at corner, had big plays as a true freshman. He's a young man who lost a grandmother, grandfather -- he lost his grandfather, I believe, this past fall. Sat out a couple of games because of that because it was very emotional for him. He had the ability to play and would have played a lot.
So we get a guy back as a starter that I think will pay great dividends in the end and will be a very good player for us.
Q. You started talking basketball, since it is March, you said you were amazed with the victory, what do you see in Izzo in March, not friend-to-friend but coach-to-coach that amazes you?
COACH DANTONIO: I think without question coaches work extremely hard but he seems to get results. And when it comes to crunch time, I can't say this -- this is what I said to him when I talked to him after the game on Saturday, you know, when it comes to crunch time, whether it was last year, whether it was when I was here before, his players deliver.
And that's coaching and that's a belief in his system and that's a belief in -- that's a coach knowing who to put in a position. Players make plays and at the end of the game, players don't necessarily think about play, think about the player that's making that play. They have done a great job doing that. And somebody always steps to the front, whether it was Corey in the last game or whoever it's been, somebody has always risen to the challenge and to do it on a consistent basis and that points towards coaching.
That's what I would say looking 300 yards across the field, the ability to win under pressure when it's all on the line; when you look at us last year as a football program, you know, five games in the fourth quarter, I'm looking at the scores as I watch these tapes, we are 7:02 whatever it is, and we didn't get it done in those crunch times. We have to be able to do that to be able to reach that next plateau.
We did it to a large degree in 2008. In 2007 and 2009, we are right there, but we have to tip the scales, and that comes with experience and that comes with on the field presence. Our basketball team has it.
End of FastScripts