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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 8, 2011
COACH DANTONIO: As an opening statement I'd like to recognize the passing of Bubba Smith, who I believe is one of the greatest Spartans maybe to ever play here, maybe one of the greatest defensive ends to ever play here. That whole group of people and all the teammates that have played with him, all the people that were on those teams, just a tremendous group of people. I think they're all feeling a great deal of sorrow right now.
So our thoughts and prayers go out not only to his family and teammates, but all Spartans out there who remember those times.
When you look at Bubba Smith, I think you look at almost 50 years of staying power, I guess you'd say, because that name is still associated with Michigan State. And any time you can do that I think you've certainly lived a legacy.
With that, we'll get on with it. I thought yesterday was a great day, good day for us. But I also think it's a day when you get back to football. You get back to meetings. You've got installs. You're trying to overload people and not lose people, if that makes any sense. You're coaching to the guys that have been here three, four years, but you're also trying to stay within a means, I guess, with our younger players and not lose them.
Shorts days are really days where you try to get your legs up underneath you. It's a series of short bursts, it's reaction time, the initial read, the keys. The basis of what you're doing, adjustments, but at the same time it's not playing football. There is an element of tackling and physicality to the game and that begins really tomorrow.
So while it was a good day for us, I think we know more as we move forward.
Message to our football team was team yesterday. I thought we were all in. Our attitude is very good, chemistry remains very strong, and we're looking forward to the future. So with that I'll open it up to questions.
Q. Heading into camp, what is your biggest concern about your football team?
COACH DANTONIO: I would say sort of the things that I've talked about in the past going into this week, our health. I think any football team that wants to have a great season, they need to stay healthy in August. So with the exception of a couple of guys who came into the camp injured, thus far after one day of shorts we're good to go, but we're not hitting yet.
I think your health has to be good through August, and you always have to look for young players to make an impact. We have to find those particular players who have an opportunity to play and drill those guys as we come forward.
The offensive line, I know there is a lot of talk about that because that is our inexperienced area. Our linebacker area is somewhat inexperienced, but we've got a lot of players back. I really don't worry about it because we have the August, we have our out-of-conference games really to get ready for the Big 10 season, and that is the premium thing at the end of the rainbow there is how we're going to play in that area.
I do think, as I've said, we've got ability, we have numbers, we've got athletic ability there. So I think we've got enough guys with experience that have played in that setting and they have -- when I say experience, they know the system. We have enough guys that know our system that will be able to advance pretty quickly to sort it all out.
Q. Is it difficult at all or is it a fine line maybe to see last year as something to be proud of? At the same time not just kind of resting on it, realizing there is a lot further to go.
COACH DANTONIO: I think there is. You certainly want to recognize last year, but you also have to understand 2011 is the next project, the next season down the road. It will always be like that, so you can't live on what's happened in the past. So there is a very fine line in being confident but yet staying humble and understanding that there is work to be done yet. But I think you're exactly right.
Q. Coach, last year you had a player in Greg Jones who played with a lot of hype about his NFL prospects and that was never a distraction? What can Jerel Worthy learn from that as far as how he approaches this season?
COACH DANTONIO: I think it's great. He took a mature outlook on how he handled himself and not only making a statement to come back his senior year, but also defining what his goals were. He wanted to win a championship. He wanted to do these things to become an all conferencer an All American. He was able to do those things.
I think Jerel has to follow suit. You can't put the cart before the horse. He's got to play well. If he's playing well, we'll be just fine as a football team, and that will all resolve in good things for everybody, not just for this football team but for himself as well. And I think he understands that.
This is his fourth year being here, so I think it's sort of engrained in him. But that's what coaches are for too to always push the buttons, I guess.
Q. You're entering your fifth year here. How do you view your program in its overall as to how it was when you started and where it's at now as you approach year five?
COACH DANTONIO: That's an interesting question. I'll answer it just like I answer the seasons. We're in the season 8-0 last year or whatever it is. I think the big thing about this fifth season and how to evaluate what we've done, there are some good things and some things we need to do better at. Hopefully at the end of the time that's when the true evaluation will be made at the end of our time here, whether it's six, seven years whatever it is.
I do think that this program is moving forward. Maybe more rapidly than people would have thought. But as I said, you've got to play 2011 and see how that shapes up, and after five years people will start to define you a little more clearly maybe.
But, hey, we've won a co-championship. We've gone to Bowl games. But, with that being said, we wish we would have done more in each of these years. So I think we're always trying to push the envelope here. We're not going to sit back and say we're there yet, we've done this, we've done that. We're not going to sit here and make allusions to that.
We're a work in progress. I always believe as long as you take that mindset, that you've got a chance to get better. That's what we always want to do. We want to get better.
Q. What was going through your mind in Chicago when you watched Kirk give that speech?
COACH DANTONIO: Business as usual, to be honest with you, not surprised at all. Very proud of him. I think he made a big statement not only for all college players in the Big Ten Conference, but for Michigan State as well.
He makes those type of statements or he has that -- he doesn't make those type of statements, I guess, as much as he has that kind of impact on our players and our staff. Whether it's in the locker room, whether it's cracking a joke, whether it's on the field, whether it's how he goes about his work off the field, whether it's him taking snaps, whatever it is. He sort of has an impact on people. He has that ability to do that, and I think that showed in him that day.
I was not surprised that he did an excellent job. I think that he was able to get up there, and he's got a great ability to just stay composed, and he did it there very well.
Q. A year ago Larry came into camp as probably the number one back, had the injury and had to fight back from that. What do you think the last year did for him and where do you think he is now in that running back mix at the start of camp here?
COACH DANTONIO: I think any time you have things that happen to you have, you have to go through adversity that makes you stronger inevitably. I think Larry matured in that respect. I thought he played very well as a freshman, obviously. He was a lead guy in the spring probably and broke his hand last August that sort of set him back. Had a hamstring pull, those type of things.
But from my perspective, we really have three number one running backs. I really don't care who is in there. But whoever is hot, that's the only thing I'll say. That guy's hot, get him in there.
So if it's Le'Veon Bell, let's go. And there were times last season where I was saying put Le'Veon in there, especially when Larry was down. There were times when I said Edwin's hot and he's ready. I have said on occasion that you know when a guy's ready by the way you look into their eyes. I've been able to look into Rock's eyes, Edwin Baker's eyes and see that he's ready on a consistent basis.
But I feel like all of our players are ready to play. I think our football team has great confidence in them, and I think they're all extremely functional, not just in running the football, but in pass protections and doing the different things they need to do.
Where's he at in the big scheme of things he's right there. As far as I'm concerned, he's the number one. I would say the same thing about Le'Veon and Edwin. They all have the ability to play in this league and be the guy in this league which is comforting.
Q. Even though you've got a new offensive coordinator, he was on the staff. Do you envision any subtle changes or any differences in how you do the offense this year?
COACH DANTONIO: I'm sure there will be subtle changes as we move forward. But one of the reasons that we always look to go within is first of all because from the learning progression for our players, it's always going to be easier for them to grasp things. They talk the same vocabulary, the same terminology.
There are twists and ways of doing things. There are different maybe mindsets and turns in the road. But I think Coach Roushar, Dan has done an excellent job so far in the spring. You saw the spring game. Couple different guys called it. You saw how Coach Staten called it compared to how Larry was calling the other side of it.
So there's going to be some small things, I'm sure. But I don't really think that this is the time or place to talk to them. Really our philosophy sort of remains the same so it's going to be decisions at game time that will impact how that's going to transition and translate. Did I answer the question?
Q. There's been a lot of talk about going from Roushar, but Staten and follow up after Roushar. I know Dan would like to get his first five and six with them. Staten said he'd like to change eight or nine guys. How do you expect there to be differences there on the offensive line?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, much the same. Mark has worked with Roushar the last six years. So usually when you work for somebody that long, you almost take on that guy's personality in some respects in terms of your basic beliefs and your basic beliefs in what fundamentally is important to every offensive line. So there is going to be no difference in that respect.
I think the nature of where we're at as an offensive line, lends to that thinking that we have more pieces, we have more guys that are physically able, I think. But at the same time we have some youth in there and you'll mix them around and move things around and see how all that works out.
I don't think it's as much of, hey, we're going to say with these five or work this six or eight. That might be this year because of the inexperience and youth there, but over a period of time you're going to find that we're going to stay with the guys that pull the load, really.
Q. Could you address the tight end position? You have three viable options there. Will you use more two tight end sets to get them all in there?
COACH DANTONIO: Last year I felt like we had much the same situation. Although last year Charlie was the guy that really -- Charlie Gant -- was really the guy that remained healthy throughout the whole process. Linthicum was banged up with his knee a little bit, and he was hampered by that knee, but he looks completely healthy to me.
That is one of the things I said yesterday, Brian Linthicum is back to running very, very well. There is no limp. There is no issue with his gait, so that's very positive. Dion Sims is back. He's a physical specimen at 270-plus, or whatever he is, pounds and he's able to run.
So, yeah, it's a luxury to have three tight ends. Garrett Celek returns for his fourth year playing. He's been a guy that's been very consistent for us as well. So I think we're in good shape at that position, and you've got a couple of young guys like Derek Hoebing who saw the field last year. Derek weighs 272 pounds as a fourth tight end.
And Andrew Gleichert is a guy who is in his second year. He's grown as a player, a non-scholarship player, but he's grown and he weighs about 250 now. And Paul Lang comes in as a true freshman, and it looks like he'll be a great player for us. So that's a position where we've got some depth. But we'll lose some of those guys next year as they are seniors. A number of those guys are seniors, but it's exciting to have that depth.
I think you're correct. We'll be in a lot of two tight end sets. We were last year, and we'll continue to do so.
Q. I'm curious where do you put your Big 10 Championship ring and how often do you look at it or do you just throw it away or do you bring it out for recruits? What do you do with it?
COACH DANTONIO: I put it in a little case that when you open it there's a light that flicks on and it shines on it. That's where I put it. It's in my whatever they call, my great room. What do they call it, a great room or living room type thing. That's where I have it.
I have taken it out on occasion to look at it or to show it to a recruit, but I feel like it's best served sometimes to stay focused on the task at hand so I haven't worn it. Plus I ask how big they want to make it, and it sort of dwarfs my hand. I'm sure I'll wear it at some point.
Q. In the bigger picture of the five years, do you think with four straight bowl games, an 11-win season, a co-championship, beating Michigan three years in a row that this program has a little swagger now? Is that healthy?
COACH DANTONIO: I hope that our program has confidence. I would rather refer to it as confidence. We need to get ready to playa way this year, go to some tough places to play. I hope that when we can compete with everybody on our schedule, and even though we won 11 games, there were two games I felt like we fell short. So when we're there, I think everybody will know we're there.
I'm not trying to dis' our players or downgrade where we're at. I think we've come a ways. But I think you have to look forward, and you have to understand, as I said earlier, I guess at the Big 10 meetings, there is another mountain to climb, and we better focus on that mountain. If we start looking at what we just climbed up, I think bad things could happen to you.
And I've always tried to look ahead. Whether it's coming off a loss or a great season or a win, we've tried to look ahead to see what's on the horizon for this program. I think good things are on the horizon. We're poised, but we need to stay focused in this process.
Q. All the guys talked about Trenton and the way he's stepped up, his leadership in the huddle, talking and all that stuff. What have you seen from him? Obviously he had a nice season last year. What do you expect out of him?
COACH DANTONIO: Trent Robinson is a very emotional, fiery guy. He brings a lot of emotion and gets himself ready to play in every practice, every game. He's very, very big competitor, he's an extreme competitor out there. I think people sort of rally behind that a little bit.
So the biggest thing with Trenton is he has to remain -- when you are thought of as a leader, and I think of him in that respect, I think it's how you handle the tough times that are going to define you. So when there is a tough time, can he bring you out of that tough time? Can Kirk Cousins bring you out of that tough time? Can your position coach or head coach, how are they going to handle the tough times? Not so much the good times, but those tough times.
I think that's how he'll be evaluated. I think he's ready for that a. I think he's matured greatly in the four years that he's played here. He is a technician on the football field. He's got toughness, he plays with great effort. He's everything you want in a safety in this program.
So, again, he'll be defined in those tough, tough moments and in those environments where things are crashing down around you a little bit and can he rally people. Because we are a football team right now that is relatively young, especially on the defensive side of the field. When you've got Trent, you've got Pickelman and you've got Strayhorn in the two deep that are seniors. Everybody else is an undergraduate player.
Q. B.J. Cunningham is on the verge of becoming the career leader in receptions here. Can you put in perspective what that accomplishment will mean?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I can. We're going to throw the ball. We're going to throw the ball here. We've got guys like Devin Thomas who caught 72 balls in one year for 1200 yards, 2007. We've got a guy that's on the verge of being the all time receiver at Michigan State. That is a huge statement.
When you make that statement and think about the wide receivers that have played here and gone on to play in the NFL, that is a big, big statement. So take it for what it's worth, but for everybody out there that wants to be a great wideout, that is a good place to come. That's my recruiting pitch.
Q. How fine a line is separating swagger from confidence?
COACH DANTONIO: Probably a very fine line, depending on how you look at it. Hopefully we have a quiet confidence about us and we don't show our ass, basically. You know what I'm saying? I've got to say it like I say it to our players. Okay, there is a difference.
Hopefully we carry ourselves correctly and we handle ourselves confidently, and we get ready to play.
Q. Because you guys are getting a lot more attention, the players and coaches as well because MSU football is now having some success. So you tell the players that you want them to be confident, but you don't want them to cross that line?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, it's a very fine line like you said, drew. Our players need to understand. We've got enough players that have been in this stadium, played in a high level or played in a championship game or big bowl game and had a lot of people, cameras and these type of things shown at them. At the same time, you always have that opportunity and chance to mess up, including myself with the media or whoever else.
So I think that they have to be confident. They have to understand what the expectations are of them and how they go about their responsibility. We talk about it all the time. Really, the price of responsibility and price of greatness is responsibility, as Churchill said, and I believe that. The price of greatness is responsibility. The greater you are, the more responsibility you have. As a player, a person, president of a university, whatever it is.
Q. When you came you talked about you had to build a program. You can't just have a football team. Yesterday Joel Foreman was taking Jack Allen aside, a guy he's probably never going to play with, and coaching him and teaching him. Is that what you're talking about building a program where it's not just you guys coaching?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think a program stands and endures. It lasts a lifetime those things.
If you look at Bubba Smith and when he was here, that was a program that Duffy built that has endured the course of time. And I think that's what you want in your program. You can look back at the great teams here or look back at Coach Perles' era, and I think he built a program here. It's not like you're always going to not have a dip. But at the end of everything when you leave there is a feeling that you've got things done.
So for me a program is players giving back, and feeling like they're part of this even when they've left. That's a program. A Justin Kershaw coming back and talking to us as the honorary captain last year or one of our other players, Javon Ringer, whoever. It's somebody from the past coming back and being part of what we've done here in the last four years that makes it special, and we hope to continue to do that.
Q. We'll sneak in a defensive backs question for you. Lot of options there, obviously. But with the cornerbacks in particular, Denard and then also Lewis, they both got some experience last year. How much can that help? It's not much, but it's something, at least.
COACH DANTONIO: It's big. Jaquez started for us last year a couple of games, went down with a knee injury little bit at that time, but he's fully recovered. I thought he played very well in the time that he was out there.
Isiah played really at the nickel back position throughout almost the entire season, so he's got great experience to both have a really good spring under their belt. I think they're poised for great seasons. You've got a couple other guys on the other side. Certainly you've got Johnny Adams, but the other guys on the fringe there I think are Tony Lippett, Mitchell White. I've seen glimpses.
We've moved Jeremy Langford over there, and I thought -- it's shorts, but it looks like he can play very well over there. You've got guys like Trae Waynes who has just had one practice under his belt. So we've got some guys.
Very impressed with R.J. Williams yesterday who is a freshman, in terms of how he moved and caught the ball, his ability to pick up things. Kurtis Drummond, Mylan Hicks is almost 200 pounds now and he was a highly recruited guy, and I think he'll be a great player for us.
So those are the guys behind the starters, really. So very encouraged about our secondary. They all have good ball skills and the ability to run. I think they all have toughness. But, again, we're out there in shorts. They'll define themselves if they start to tackle the Larry Capers and the Nick Hills and those guys will find themselves out there.
Q. You talk about confidence and swagger. How does Jerel Worthy walk that line now?
COACH DANTONIO: I was just talking about that with him coming over here. I said I bet I get a question about you, Jerel. Interesting question, I think Jerel just like all of us is learning as he moves forward. He's being thrust into the spotlight, and I think there is a learning curve there.
But I think Jerel will do a great job as he moves forward. He's got to slow down the Twitter, we'll be all right. But I think he's a very good person. He plays extremely well for us, and I think that -- I do think Jerel is a giver. There is a difference. When you recognize a guy who takes, takes, takes all the time, you can recognize that very quickly. When you recognize a guy who gives all the time, and I do think Jerel gives.
It will be interesting to see how he handles his transition in the limelight here this season because I'm sure he'll be involved in that. But we're looking forward to great things from him.
Q. How do you like his Michigan tattoo?
COACH DANTONIO: I haven't seen it. I'm going to take a look at that. I've heard about it though. This is really about Michigan State today, so keep it on that, but I guess it's personal. So I can say we drill into people the games that are important around here, so obviously he's put it on his arm for life, so it's personal.
Q. Address your health, if you would. Also, this is going to be year five for your program. Do you look at year ten and think we accomplish this much? Do you look that far ahead?
COACH DANTONIO: The last question first, I don't look at year ten right now because as I said we have to be focused on what we have to handle today. So my main thought right now is to try and tune everything out and focus on what's going to happen here in August. What's going to happen here these first days we're acclimating to practices and then what's going to happen the rest of August. That's my fain focus. We'll worry about Michigan State, then we'll worry about Youngstown State next. Ten years from now we'll worry about that, I guess.
As far as my health, I feel great. I feel very, very good. So I'm fully healthy, exercise every day, and good to go.
Q. Looking at Will Gholston and Tyler Hoover, they're bigger this year, and they both talked about playing and making the D-end spot, bigger spot, more physical spot. Can you just talk about that philosophy and they still want to retain quickness, but be bigger and be able to handle guys with more physicality?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, both those guys are bigger. Will is probably 275 or so. You've seen both of them. Big guys, 6'5" guys. They're good athletes. Both those guys were very good athletes coming out of high school. They've trained their body just through maturity has gotten just bigger, and I guess that's a good thing.
They've got to retain their quickness, which based on how they moved out there yesterday, it seems like they have. But, again, we're in shorts, so we'll define it as we go. Behind them I think Denzel Drone is poised for a great season as well. Really those three guys are really all co-starters for us. Guys behind that, Corey Freeman, Marcus Rush, be interesting to see how they plug into this. Taylor Calero is a red shirt freshman. We'll see how he moves into that.
I'm sure I'm forgetting somebody, but we have some depth at the defensive end position. And our freshmen, our incoming freshmen, Joel Heath looked pretty good yesterday. Calhoun probably needs to put on some weight, but a very, very good athlete.
Q. As well as things have gone over the past four years, it certainly hasn't been perfect on or off the field. You always seem to come back after overcoming adversity. How much have all those little things, good or bad, sort of shaped the program and sort of your tenure here?
COACH DANTONIO: I think they've shaped it, hopefully as I said earlier, you learn something from the things that you've gone through. Whether it's my health or whether it was somebody getting hurt, another guy playing. If he gets the experience or whether it's even an off-the-field thing. Hopefully you're learning things there, and it makes you stronger as a program and makes you more vigilant.
So I think it points towards just discipline and the maturity should rise as you get older. Whether you're a player or whether you're a program, it should rise. Hopefully that's what we'll do as we move forward.
But that is the thing I always ask them. Show discipline, maturity, and if you do that, we're going to be just fine. But it's easier said sometimes than able to do, especially in emotional moments, I guess.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports