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August 6, 2012

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  2012 is here.  And it's always exciting when we have our first day of practice.  This will actually be our first day of pads, as shells, I guess, as we go into the day.
But I pretty much said all I had to say at the Big Ten media deal.  So I'll open it up for questions.  We're excited about this season, obviously.  But if we talk about anything right now, we talk about the next day and try and do the job at hand.
So that's where all of our focus is at right now.
THE MODERATOR:  Questions?

Q.  Three rule changes critical to this year:  The kickoff, the onside kicks and then points can be taken off the board for celebrating.  Can you talk about how you're approaching it with your guys?
COACH DANTONIO:  We have refs in our practices throughout the entire summer practices.  We have‑‑ the Big Ten conference sends referees every scrimmage.
So those are things we talk to our players about as we move forward.  And certainly there's going to be an adjustment on kickoff a little bit in terms of strategy, I think, for many people, and also with some of the other things in terms of onside kicks.
And good sportsmanship is all a part of it.  So we need to try to continue to try and implement things to change that.  Obviously a little bit of change, but not too drastic compared to some things last year, actually.

Q.  You're approaching your sixth year.  We ask this question all the time about where you think your program is at.  Now, you're coming off a year, your second straight, double digit victory season, and you finally got a Bowl win.  Where do you think the Michigan State program is at right now?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think we're in a position of contention.  We always are.  I think we are moving along.  When you talk about where we wanted to go when we first came here, what we wanted to try to accomplish, we said want to build a foundation.  We keep trying to build a foundation to try to get to that Rose Bowl.  We're not there yet.  We haven't made it there yet, but that's our goal.
In terms of nationally, from a national perspective, I think we have a little bit more respect, maybe, coming into the season.  But what I've seen every season is somebody rises up and somebody falls out.
So as I said when I started this press conference, I think our focus has to be on the daily tasks.  And if we can keep our head in the game from that perspective and just keep trying to build, trying to keep bring along all of our parts and our components of our football team, I think we have a chance to be a very good football team.
But our schedule is a tough schedule.  There's great teams in this conference.  We play a great out‑of‑conference schedule as well.  I don't know if I'm answering the question.
But we have unfinished business, I feel, and I think we're rising to the top as we move forward.  But it's easy to stand here and say those things.
Where I see our program right now, though, is that it's stronger than when I came.  How is that for a statement?  Nobody can refute that.  So we can go from there.

Q.  A lot of the guys today talking about Andrew Maxwell's swag.  How much do you know about swag?  Does he have it?  He says he doesn't have to work at it, so I guess the third question to that:  What does it mean that he doesn't have to work at it, that it comes naturally?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think Andrew had great success in high school.  He's had great success while he's been here.  He's a fourth‑year player, coming into his fourth year.
So when you know what to do and you're able to implement that, good things can happen for you.  Now, he hasn't taken the game over in a game and made that play at the end of the game, but I think he's a very confident person.
And I don't think he lets things bother him.  When they say he has swag, I think he lets things roll off his shoulders a little bit.  He understands the pressures of playing quarterback.  He also understands the pressures of playing here.  He's seen it firsthand.  He's seen Kirk grow I think in his three years as a starter.
So I think all those things are positives for him and help him in that task.  But I'm very confident in Andrew.  I feel very good about him as a leader, which I think that's what a quarterback first and foremost has to do.  Before he can ever throw the ball he has to lead and has to take control of a huddle.  He can do that and he can do it with confidence.

Q.  The loss of Keshawn Martin in the special teams game is something that really hasn't been talked a lot about.  But how critical is replacing him?  Where do you think that you'll be with that, and how many guys are competing for that punt return job right now?
COACH DANTONIO:  Quite a few are competing for that job right now.  Nick Hill is a guy maybe a little bit overlooked in the whole scheme of things, special teams wise.  He had 999 yards in kickoff returns last year.  Pretty successful.
He's a guy that we really brought here specifically to be a tailback; yeah, we understand that, but also to be a return guy.
So he's been very, very good back there.  If you watch him out there, he does a cartwheel and still catches the punt.  Whatever we want him to do.  He's got great hands.
Beyond that, you have some other guys.  Le'Veon Bell can go back there, which gives you a big guy that can break tackles.  AJ Sims has been very, very good throughout the year coming up to this.  We have some freshmen that look pretty good back there.
So we're going to see about that position as we move forward.  Johnny Adams can go back there.  I know Mitchell White has caught punts in games back there.
We have a lot of guys who, I think, have the ability to do that.  A lot of guys with deep ball judgment.  I've seen Keith Mumphery back there.  I've seen Darqueze Dennard back there as well.
So we've got quite a few guys that have done it but they haven't done it with the success that Keshawn has done it with yet.  And that's the thing that we have to replace.

Q.  The preseason depth chart has been released.  Now, will people have to beat out both guys that are on the depth chart?  Will those jobs be up for grabs, or is it basically still an open competition?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think some guys have solidified themselves obviously just by their past.  But every year we come in and say, hey, we're going to play the best players.  It doesn't really matter who those guys are, they have to continue to perform.  They have to stay healthy.  And we just have to continue to move forward.
But, obviously, you guys know the names.  There's certain guys that have been very successful here and they're going to continue to be successful.
So they're going to go into the season as the starters.

Q.  It's been kind of a step‑ladder approach here.  You came in here talking respect.  Now you're top 15 nationally.  As much as you try to keep it in the here and now and about today.  How much do you embrace the attention.  Fans‑‑ tickets are hard to come by.  Players are talking Rose Bowl and National Championship when they used to whisper it.  Do you embrace all of that?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yes, I embrace it.  I think we have very high goals here, very high standards that we're trying to keep.
And you always want to get better.  That's the message.  I don't care where you're at.  Look at the Super Bowl champions, they want to get better.  They talk about not having a 9 and 7 season or whatever they're doing.
So you're always trying to reach further.  I think that's the nature of sports and athletes and athletics in general.  And that's what we're going to try to do.
But, again, in answer to the first question, I guess, I think we're proud of what we've accomplished.  But I think we want to stay humbled in that fact and understand that this game is very fleeting, I guess, and you can be up here one minute and down here the next.
I think that's the message, whether it's the Olympics or anything that you look at, that message is pretty clear to everybody.  So we have to be keep working, we have to keep our eyes on the prize and we have to do it segment by segment, game to game.
If you get too far ahead of yourself, I think you're destined for failure, to be honest with you.  I think you have to look at what's your next job at hand, your next task.
Right now our next task is let's get through summer camp.  We might not be the same football team if we have a bunch of injuries, just like no one else would be.  We have to take care of each other.  We have to make sure that we're on task and implement all of our offense, defense and special teams and handle all the situations that we run into throughout a season and try and build on that.
But certainly we're going to build on the success that we've had.  And I think that gives us confidence.  And regards to how many people are coming to the games, I think that's a good thing.  The scoreboards are going to be unbelievable.
I think hats off to our administration for doing all that, getting those things done.  And I just think that it builds excitement.  Right now it's a very exciting time at Michigan State.  Football, basketball, all sports.

Q.  You referenced unfinished business.  Does that stem from the Big Ten championship game and being so close to the Rose Bowl but not quite getting there?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think it stems from our basic goal:  Let's go to the Rose Bowl.  Let's see where it takes us from there.  We played extremely hard and things fell the way they fell in that final game.  And that still hurts a little bit.
And we draw from that, brings strength to this program.  So I think, again, you always have to look forward, and you always have to try and accomplish the next thing.  And that's the next thing for us.  When we accomplish that, then we can start talking beyond that.  But until we do that, I think that we still haven't done what we've really set out to do.  But that's the nature of sports.

Q.  It's safe to say that your defense swarms to the ball pretty well.  As practice moves along and Maxwell gets more comfortable, do you allow that defense to really open up and put pressure on him, and what kind of confidence does that build for a quarterback facing an elite defense every day in practice?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think when you're talking about‑‑ you got me confused.  Max Bullough or Andrew Maxwell?  Do we allow them to get after and make Andrew live?  No, we don't go that far.
I always talk about scrimmages and situations are active, which means the quarterback is going to have heat around his feet and he's going to have people at him.  That's the nature of the game.  He's got to be prepared to take a hit.  We'll try to pull off of him as much as possible.
We don't have a lot of quarterbacks, nor does anyone.  So you want to take care of the ones you have.  Those guys will all be in red shirts and it will be active enough so they'll feel pressure.  But we need to take care of him.

Q.  Isaiah Lewis said that probably one of the most deepest times of his life was after he went after the blocked punt, when you hugged him and told him you loved him.  14 games a year if you're lucky you play, but there's 351 days a year where you do that part of the coaching.  Would you talk about that side of coaching, please.
COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, again, just to make sure everybody understands:  I turned Isaiah loose on that.  I told him to go get it.  That's my responsibility.  If you're not going to play to win, if you're not going to take the risk, you know, then you're playing the wrong game.  The things were set up for him to have a clean sweep at the block.  So things happened.
But you coach‑‑ I believe you coach because it's competitive, because it's exciting, all those different things, it's challenging.
But I honestly think you coach because of your love for people and you want to impact young people.  You want to see people grow.  You want to have people graduate.  You want to have people get on with their life, get married.
Joel Foreman got married this year.  Some of our other players.  Sorie Kanu played for us in '95 through '99, married this year.  Rocco Cironi married this year.  We want to wish them all the best.
Those are a couple.  Otis Wiley got married this summer.  So you're looking to them t see how they move in their life.  I think that's what coaching is.  Coaching is just an extension of teaching.  It's just an opportunity to teach in athletics.
As you said, there's a lot of time, a lot of days where you're not actively playing a football game.  You're just getting ready.  But you're getting ready for other things than just football.  You're getting ready for all those challenges that life is going to bring you.  And those are the positive things.
That's what you have to draw from.  Because if you just want to win, there's only 14 opportunities, and you're going to be so driven, and you're going to be very depressed when you don't win.  And I'm not going to be built that way.  Nor do I ever want to be defined here in terms of how many games we won.
I'm not naive.  But I also want to be defined in terms of what we've done for our players as people.  I think that's the way our entire staff is built, from Ken Manning, to our academics, to Todd Edwards, academically, to Jeff Monroe and Sally Nogle in our training area, to our secretaries.  Our program is built like that.  And it should remain like that if we do it right.

Q.  There's been obviously a lot of attention on Maxwell, who the receivers are going to be, all that.  But a year ago we were wondering about the offensive line and who was going to be starting.  This year you have an established line that looks like the strength of the team.  How important is it to have a solid offensive line with all the other question marks on offense?
COACH DANTONIO:  Obviously you've got to win up front.  And last year the conversation was the offensive line and the conversation was our linebackers:  How were we going to replace Greg Jones and Eric Gordon.  And in college, new players come.  They get experience.  They move forward.
And it's important that you train guys up behind them and they have an opportunity to play.  And last year I think going into the season we really didn't know who our guys were going to be and we were going to be very young.  And I think at times it showed early on.
But as we continue to go in the season, I think we got better and better.  If you look at the number of sacks we gave up throughout the entire season, I think we were pretty good.  Now Boise doesn't give up many sacks at all.  But I thought we were good.  Obviously you have to win up front.  If you can run the ball and protect the passer we're going to be pretty successful on offense.  So it's very, very important.

Q.  Along those same lines, how does getting into pads help you figure out how to replace Joe Foreman and who is going to step up to fill that role?
COACH DANTONIO:  You play football in shorts, it's a completely different game than when you play it in pads.  It's going to take on a little bit more of a real twist today and just in shells, and when you get to Wednesday it's going to be even more active.  So that's the name of the game:  How they carry their pads.
But again Blake Treadwell comes back.  He's got starting experience.  Skyler Burkland comes back, starting experience.
Jack Allen's had a tremendous freshman year and traveled every game.  Those are three backups.  Ethan Ruhland started a game for us.  We've got some guys.
Henry Conway is going into his fourth year as a player here.  Michael Dennis into his third year.  Connor Kruse going into his third year.  We've got experience up there and they've been coached and seen a lot of different pressures and a lot of different fronts from our defense throughout this time.  So just those backup guys that I've sort of named that have not started here are also experienced.
So you put that with our guys who have starting experience, we should be solid up there, and we should be successful.  But pressure's on.  It's what have you done for me lately.  So people are going to bring good football teams into this stadium and we're going to play teams across this country that are very good.  So it will be a challenge for every one of us.

Q.  You talked briefly about the new video boards.  What was your initial reaction when you saw the new video boards?
COACH DANTONIO:  I was sort of stunned.  Sort of in awe at the size of those.  I've not yet walked on to the field since June.  And I won't do that until they're fully operational next Saturday.  I just want to do that because that's the way I want to go into that stadium.
But I think it changes the entire dynamics of the stadium.  It closes everything in.  And it's going to be a great amount‑‑ there will be a great amount of excitement for our fans and players alike.  So it should be very exciting.
But tremendous accomplishment, I think, to get that in here this year.  Greg Ianni, Mark Hollis, they should be applauded in getting all this done.

Q.  Could you talk a little bit about Larry Caper's time here at MSU, leading the team in rushing his freshman year.  Ran into some injuries, got lost in the shuffle of a deep backfield.  How has he handled that still having so much success early on and sort of getting lost in the shuffle, how has he handled that as a person, mentally off the field and things like that?
COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, Larry as a person is the best.  Extremely solid.  As a freshman, I think he was the go‑to guy.  Got some injuries.  Everybody takes advantage of things.
And the next year, I don't really know how it went, I guess Edwin Baker became the guy.  And then this last year maybe Le'Veon a little bit.  Things go in cycles.  He's a good running back.  He brings power.  Catches the ball extremely well and understands our offense very well.
And I think he's a leader on this football team.  So this far from what I've seen of him in winter workouts and summer camp, the bottom line program, which is our summer conditioning program and spring ball, I think he's been extremely solid.  So he'll go into the season right there and we'll see how it all shakes out.  But guys have to make plays as they come.  And he's done that in the past.  So he's been a very exciting player here.

Q.  You touched on the depth of the offensive line.  That seems to be kind of the hallmark across the board right now.  You've got depth at a lot of different positions.  Is it where you want depth‑wise, and can you also address the versatility you have with guys moving around to different positions and how critical that is?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think you want depth at every position this year as a football coach.  You're trying to solidify every single position out there.  We've got guys who played variety of positions there.
Treadwell's played center, played center.  Jack Allen, center/guard.  Travis can go center/guard.  Dan France can go tackle/guard.
We've got quite a few different combinations.  Chris McDonald has played guard/tackle.  We've got guys that have been in there, moved around a little bit, and that's a positive thing because it tells you that they understand the schematics of what we're doing, that they truly understand.  And the learning process, the final learning process is when you're able to do things very, very well unconsciously, because it's a habit.  And I think that's what our guys are able to do up there.
They understand our offense.  They understand the schemes.  They understand defenses and fronts.  And they've got experience.  So what they have to do is bring that experience and put it on the field and be very successful and give our running backs and our quarterbacks time and ability to run.

Q.  What are your early impressions of the challenge you face against Boise State?
COACH DANTONIO:  I was just watching Boise this morning.  I think they do a great job, obviously, offensively.  A lot of different things.  Throw a lot of different formations at you.
I think on record we have 178 different type formations that they've run in our breakdown.  A lot of different personnel groupings.  Defensively they're going to be very solid.
I think they're an extremely well coached football team.  When you look at the offensive line, I think they pass things off very well.  You don't really know who the quarterback is going to be at this point, but they have four of them that they're working.  So obviously the guy who comes out of that is going to be pretty good.
But they're a little bit of an unknown at certain positions because they've lost some guys.  But they're an extremely well‑coached team; and all I do is just keep looking at 73 and 6, which is Coach Peterson's record overall.  And you don't have to go much beyond that.  They're going to be a very good football team.  They'll be a great challenge for us our first game.
And we've grown a lot of respect for them just from the time since we've been watching them since whatever, January or February.

Q.  Talk about a guy like Dion Sims and his growth.
COACH DANTONIO:  He's getting bigger and bigger.  He goes 280‑plus right now.  He's had a good two days in shorts.  Key to Dion's success will lay in staying healthy.  But he's firm.  He can run.  He can catch the ball very effectively.
And it's his time now.  He goes in as the number one guy.  And it should be exciting to watch him.  But he has to stay healthy.  And again that's something we have to work towards this summer.  And he has to continue just one practice at a time and get himself ready to go.  But his attitude is great.  And we're excited that he's here and he's with us.

Q.  As that first game starts to come up, starts getting closer to it, how do you get your team working to make sure they don't come out sluggish in that first game the same they might have done against Youngstown State last year?
COACH DANTONIO:  Maybe Youngstown had something to do with that.  They did some different things.  But I don't think anybody comes out sluggish in their first game.  If they do, maybe they come out missing a tackle or not playing to a tempo of an offense and they have to get used to a tempo of that offense or to what that offense does or defense does.
But I can assure you that our guys will not be‑‑ they'll be hyped up.  The first time they run out here, see that board, see the stadium, 8:00, nighttime, national TV audience, Boise State.  Giant killer.  If you can't get ready for that then you need to move on, probably.  But our guys will be ready to play.

Q.  Can you talk about the development of Denicos Allen as a player and person since he came here?
COACH DANTONIO:  Denicos came here as a safety.  Player of the Year in Southwest Ohio, which has about 300 high schools.  But he came and he redshirted the first year, and then he was a guy that got on the field some as a redshirt freshman some.
And then he just sort of took off.  Blocked a punt in the Purdue game in 10, and then this last year he was a starter for us.
But he's the same guy I saw on high school film.  Plays 100 miles an hour.  Very physical.  Can run well.  4.5 40 benches 400 and some pounds.  Can catch the ball.  He was a kick returner in high school as well.
So he brings that to the table.  As far as his personal maturity as a person, you know, as they stay here they grow as people.  So he's still a relatively young player, a redshirt junior.
But so now his leadership will start to take effect as a young player and we'll look for that as we move forward.  But our entire junior class is made up of guys I think that are very, very good football players.
And it's a larger class than maybe some we've had here in the past couple of years, which is good.  Shows a lack of attrition and shows that our guys are moving forward.  They've been in the program.

Q.  Where do you think that these position battles are?  Obviously receiver is one.  The back and forth at safety in spring camp.  How long do you think it will be until it's decided?  Will it be up to the first game, or do you think that someone can show some separation at those spots early?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, they can always show the separation, but I think at receivers we tend to play six guys, four to six guys, depending.
I think it's important that all these guys get opportunities to play in a game some.  Guys who have put themselves in that position of that top four, top six guys, I think they should be playing in the first couple of games and seeing how they play game time.
And as far as the safety position I would say the same thing:  Those guys will show up.  Kurtis has played.  RJ Williamson has not played yet, but he's going to show up on the field.  And it's important he get game experience.
And obviously they have to play to a high level in the scrimmages and in practice to get there.  But once they get to that point, if they're all equal, they're going to play in the games.  And we'll make sure they have game experience.  And I think it also helps to build for the future.
So based on their preparation and their ability to tackle and play in space, those are the things we look at.  We've got some young freshmen obviously that we're going to try to work at the skill positions.

Q.  When you look at Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard at cornerback, where would you rank them in the conference or nationally in terms of that tandem.  And does that make you feel a little better about playing a team like Boise in the opener that likes to spread it out when you have two guys who can cover like that at the position?
COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, I don't think I'm qualified to comment on who are the best corners in the country or the best corners in the conference.  That's beside the point.
What I try to concentrate on is what do I have knowledge of.  And based on what I know, from my past as a secondary coach, my past here, wherever I've been, those two guys are as good of corners as we've had at any place I've been.  And I can't say anything more than that.
They have excellent ball skills.  Tough.  Know what's going on.  Can both run extremely well.  Extremely confident.  And they make everybody around them better.  And when you do that you become an impact player.
So I go back to 30 years of coaching.  So they're as good as they have been.  I always try to say:  Are they on my first team, second team or third team.  If they're on any of those teams, they're there.  And those guys are very, very good.  So we'll see what kind of year they'll have.  But expect big things from them.
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you.

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