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BIG TEN CONFERENCE MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 12, 2011
THE MODERATOR: We have Coach Dantonio. Coach, thanks for joining us.
COACH DANTONIO: Thank you.
We'll be halfway done with spring ball here this week. I sense a feeling of enthusiasm, confidence, sort of a sense of purpose among our players right now, having a great spring thus far. We're looking forward to the 2011 season in the new Big Ten Conference.
Our winter conditioning program went very well. We're continuing trying to get better and critique what we've got to do and go about our business.
So I'll just take some questions.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go to questions.
Q. I have an easy one for you. Can you talk about how you replace Greg Jones and Eric Gordon?
COACH DANTONIO: That's going to be one of the biggest questions on this football team. I don't think you'll ever replace those two guys. They played a tremendous amount of football for us. Both of them had over 40 starts. Eric Gordon had more starts than any other player in the history of Michigan State football as a position player. It will be very difficult to replace.
With that being said, John leaves as well. We have three linebackers that leave. With that being said, we did play numbers last year. We played quite a few different guys in there. So we have some experience. Max Bullough is a young man who played a little bit for us. Steve Gardiner returns finally healthy for his first time and he's having a great spring. TyQuan Hammock is a guy that moved over from the fullback position, weighs 230, has been very good in the spring. Denicos Allen is a guy who played a lot for us last year. I think he has great big playability for us. Those are the guys you'll probably see. Jeremy Gainer is coming on as well.
We did recruit an outstanding class of freshmen linebackers. I think some of those guys are going to be on the field immediately for us.
Q. Traditionally one of the issues Michigan State football has had, it would take a step forward, then take a step back. You've been around for some of that in the past. What do you do this year? How do you move off of last year's great step forward and continue moving forward?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, the fact remains we've been to four bowl games in the last four years. We've lost some close games in '09, lost some close games in '07. But '08 and 2010 were what I would say good football seasons for us.
So I think what we have to do is maintain what we've been able to accomplish and then build on some of the successes that we've had.
Usually what I've seen is when we've had an inexperienced quarterback, we've lost a couple close games. When our quarterback has been experienced, again we'll have Kirk Cousins back this year for his third year, also as our captain, and our backups are also all back, you have a chance to have a good football team. That's sort of where we are.
We're going to have to replace certain guys. You mentioned two earlier. We've got some other guys we have to replace. But the nucleus of who we are as a football team is back. We have a very good blend of experience. We still are a relatively young football team and that spells great things in the future for us.
Q. For a variety of reasons returning starters, coaching turnover, Nebraska joining the Big Ten, you are perceived as the favorite in the Legends Division. Do you embrace that role? Do your players embrace that?
COACH DANTONIO: I don't know if we've embraced that because I think it's such a great conference. We've got to play better away from home at Iowa rather than how we played last year. I certainly think we'll have confidence moving forward to be able to do things in a very positive way.
I think we have an opportunity to win every football game we play, just like everybody else. I think we're going to be in the hunt for things.
To say that we embrace being the favorite, I really don't put a whole lot of stock in that. We know our deficiencies, our weaknesses. We need to strengthen those areas. We lose some great guys. We lose our punter, which is such a great part of every football game. We've got to replace some people. But we will be poised.
Q. Did that loss to Alabama change at all how you felt about last season?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, as I just said, you know, we won 11 football games, we lost 2. We can look at the positives and we can look at the two losses and say we need to get better. So that sort of sits in you. Sometimes you think you're pretty close to being able to play with everybody in the entire country and have a great, great program, and other times you feel like you need to take a step back and say, Are we really there yet?
We're somewhere in between there. It gives us pause to understand that we need to do everything right and it gives our players a sense of reality. It also gives them a sense of - what's the word I want to use here? It gives us a sense of work ethic I guess as much as anything. Our players come to work every day.
Q. I wanted to get your thoughts on the schedule this year, especially some of the road games you have. Pretty challenging.
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, that October stretch, we play at Ohio State, have a week off, Michigan comes here. I think Wisconsin comes here, then we play at Nebraska. So we have a very tough October. Notre Dame is in there. We have a tough schedule, there's no doubt about that.
But, again, we will embrace that. I think if you want to be the best, you've got to play the best. So we're on par with doing that. We're looking forward to it, but understand the challenges that go with it.
Q. What do you think is the next step for you in terms of getting through that tough schedule, going to a place like Iowa, having different results than last year?
COACH DANTONIO: We need to play better on the road than we did at Iowa last year. I think usually when you go away and you turn the ball over, you're going to have things tough. That's what happened in that football game.
So rather than playing close, there were a couple turnovers that turned into big scores for Iowa, we were unable to win up front, run the football effectively. Those two things had a large result in terms of what happened in our football game. We've got to learn from those things and understand we have to play up when we go there.
Q. What have you learned so far about the offensive linemen you're plugging in to replace the three starters lost?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we're very talented up front. We're young. But I see great athletic ability. I see big guys that can move. I see guys that are very intelligent players and are athletic. A lot of these guys have three years to play yet. So that's a very big positive for us.
On the opposite side of that, Joel Foreman is not participating in spring ball this spring because of a wrist. Jared McGaha comes back. Those are two senior guys that we have that will give us experience as well. We're bringing in a very, very talented junior college offensive lineman who is going to be a factor and some very good freshmen offensive linemen.
I think the future looks very bright, as bright as it ever has here on the offensive line. That creates a lot of excitement here because if you can win up front, you can run the football effectively, which is what we're going to be about, we're going to be about balance, then you have a great chance.
Q. I wanted to ask you about your jersey scrimmage that you just had. Is there any sign from that that you are going to be able to get the four-man pressure from your defensive line that you've struggled to get at times?
COACH DANTONIO: I think on our defensive front, we've got a pretty formidable front at this point. I think William Gholston is growing into himself now, is a full-time starter for us. Healed from his shoulder surgery. He's about 6'6", 275, a very active player. I think Tyler Hoover is a guy that's come on. You've got some good young players in Denzel Drone and Marcus Rush as well coming that look to be very, very good players. Rashad White is having an excellent spring, defensive tackle. Jerel Worthy, this will be his third year starting. He's always been a play-maker for us, a very good player.
We could possibly be as good as we've been up there in some time. That gives us a good reason to feel very positive about that, as well.
As far as the scrimmage was concerned, I thought defensively up front we won the scrimmage, but when you're playing against an offensive line, one little mistake can create a problem. We had a lot of things we threw at our offense. We'll see how it shakes out next time we go. At this point the defense won that past scrimmage. There were some positives on offense, as well.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, coach. Appreciate the time. Best of luck the rest of the spring.
COACH DANTONIO: Thanks again.
THE MODERATOR: We now have Kirk Cousins. Thanks for joining us.
KIRK COUSINS: Thanks for having me on.
THE MODERATOR: Talk a little bit about how spring football has been going and then we'll take some questions.
KIRK COUSINS: We're six practices in, finished up with a scrimmage last Friday. It's been a good start. A lot of excitement and energy at practice. We're hoping to finish even stronger down the stretch here in spring ball. We have another scrimmage coming up at the end of this week. With the defense winning the last one, we're hoping that the offense can get the upper hand in the second scrimmage.
THE MODERATOR: Let's go to questions.
Q. Traditionally at Michigan State football is the program may take a step forward and then a step back. Building off of last year's great success but disappointing bowl effort, what do you have to do, what are you doing this spring to make sure that 2011 is a step forward from 2010?
KIRK COUSINS: What we have to do we've already been doing since we got back from the bowl game, that's to not rest on success, but work even harder, to keep investing in our season for next year. We did that all through January and February with off-season workouts. Now in spring ball, six practices in, we've had great excitement, great enthusiasm. Guys who had success last season aren't acting like they had success last season on the practice field, they're working hard, keeping an attitude of the humility. They're also staying hungry, ready to learn and coachable. When you have that, I fully expect us to sustain success next season.
Q. You've worked hard to cultivate chemistry with your receivers. Can you talk about how good you feel the chemistry is moving through this spring.
KIRK COUSINS: It's very, very important to be on the same page when it comes to receivers and the routes, the depths of routes, the angles you take, all that. So it takes time. It doesn't come overnight. Right now we have a few freshmen receivers that we're trying to break in. Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery were guys who performed very well on the scout team last year, they're going to be redshirt freshmen this fall, they have a lot to learn. They know that. They're working hard to pick up as much as they can. There's chemistry that needs to be built there. It's getting built as we go.
Six practices in, we're still not there. You could see it in the scrimmage last week. We'll get there in time. With the attitude those guys have, with the effort they give, we'll be just fine. There's a lot of ability there. I think you can say that not just about our receiver position, but a lot of positions across the board. Although we are a young team, there's a lot of talent at the freshman and sophomore level that we'll be counting on to continue to have success but we think also bodes well for the future.
Q. I know you have been busy preparing your own team during the spring. When I say the words 'Nebraska defense,' what does that mean to you as a quarterback?
KIRK COUSINS: I think of the black shirts. I think of teams that I grew up watching a lot on television who had a lot of success. I grew up a huge fan of college football. So the names Grant Wistrom, Tommy Frazier, Eric Crouch, Carlos Polk, those aren't unfamiliar names to me.
There's a lot of tradition, obviously, just like there is at any of these Big Ten schools. Now that Nebraska is on our schedule, we get the opportunity to go to Nebraska, is an exciting challenge. Something we're working hard for now because it's not going to be very easy to go out there and get a win.
Q. You talked a little bit about some of the other positions surrounding you on offense. Could you touch a little bit on the runningbacks you have lined up behind you.
KIRK COUSINS: Runningback is obviously a position of strength. When you look at who we got coming back, Edwin Baker, Larry Caper, Le'Veon Bell, all three of those guys had tremendous seasons last year and we expect them to do the same this year. We also have a runningback Nick Hill, who redshirted this past season, but provided even more depth, has looked very good in the spring. With those four guys, we feel awfully strong at the runningback position.
Jeremy Langford will be a fifth guy who played well in this past scrimmage. When you look at the runningback position, it's not an area of concern for our offense or for our team, but a position we'll be counting on a great deal. We need those guys to turn two, three yard runs into five or six yard runs and turn six or seven yard runs into huge home run touchdown runs. If they're doing that, we'll be able to move the football and have a lot of success because the times where we are running the ball is the time we're having success throwing the ball as well.
Q. When Coach D talks about 'measuring up,' what does that mean to you as a player?
KIRK COUSINS: Well, it's a vague term in some senses (laughter). What he's trying to get at is the fact games where we have to measure up are games that he views as a test for our program, to see where we are. Sometimes when we get in those games, we don't measure up, and other games we do. I think games where he mentions that are games where we're really going to be tested and we're going to be asked to see what we're made of.
I look at games like the Wisconsin game last year, the Notre Dame game, games where we did measure up in those situations, and the Iowa and Alabama games as games where we did not. Those games are always going to come. Your program is going to be somewhat defined on those type of games. People expect you to win certain games and they don't expect you to win others. When you line up in the ones where the chips may be stacked up against you, that's where Coach D is looking for a team that can measure up. That's something we're going to have to do a great deal of next season if we want to have the type of season we had this past year.
Q. When you look at the schedule, how does that kind of help the process of measuring up?
KIRK COUSINS: On the road is the biggest thing. We have tough games every year. But last year many of those games were at home or down the road in Ann Arbor. This year a lot of those games are going to be in Columbus, Nebraska, Iowa City. We have to be ready to play in hostile environments a long ways from East Lansing. Every single one of those games, including some at home, are going to be opportunities to measure up.
Q. Is a turnover on the offensive line a concern to you?
KIRK COUSINS: It's definitely an area of focus right now in spring ball. Guys who are young are having a lot to learn. We have very talented players as we looked at the scrimmage film. There was some missed protection. There are times as there is every spring where you feel the offensive line has a lot to learn. At the same time you saw a lot of promise. I saw a lot of guys who were really able to move, as Coach D alluded to, very athletic, strong, worked hard, care about this game and have passion for the game.
Although there's going to be somewhat of a learning curve as there are at some other positions, we are going to make some mistakes throughout the spring, even through fall camp, times next season. But the fact of the matter is that they're working hard, they're going to give their best effort. We really feel that we do have a lot of promise for the future.
I wouldn't call it an area of concern. I would say it's an area of focus right now that needs to get developed. I don't know that there are too many positions that don't need to get developed or aren't an area of focus right now.
We do feel good about the future with the offensive line. Our coach has done a great job of recruiting a lot of talent to come in here. Right now that talent is still young. It's going to take time. When we look at this season, next season, the season after that, a lot of those guys who are learning right now in the spring will still be playing for us at that point. That's exciting to think about.
Q. You've always been very critical of your own performance. Can you give us an idea what your off-season looks like. Is it a situation where you're watching film? Did you watch of every snap of last year? Have you done some work on footwork? How much more organized do you feel now coming into your third year?
KIRK COUSINS: Well, you're constantly trying to get better. I viewed this off-season as a chance to really improve and take my game another step forward from where I was at the end of this past season. Part of that comes down to trying to develop other players.
While it's very, very important for me to watch film, I did go back and watch the entire season on film to evaluate what I did, what our team did offensively, what we were successful at, what we weren't successful at, then I also went out over spring break and did a lot of work in California throwing and working on footwork and whatnot.
Beyond those things, I think it was very important for me in the off-season to focus on building relationships and developing young receivers, as I talked about earlier, young offensive linemen, getting snaps with new centers, things like that that we can bring other guys along because, as I said before, a quarterback is only as good as the guys around him. I'm very dependent on an offensive line to have success, dependent on receivers to get open and runningbacks who can keep a balanced running game so we have success when we throw the ball.
If I'm not pouring into those guys at the other positions, investing in them, developing their passion, abilities and talents, I'm not going to have success. A lot of the focus, while it was on me, improving my own ability, I think from my perspective now as a fifth-year senior was to bring around a lot of young players who are still learning.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Kirk. Good luck the rest of the spring.
KIRK COUSINS: Thank you.
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