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March 18, 2013

Mark Dantonio

MARK DANTONIO:¬† Really when you start off with that, our seventh spring practice, and as you go into this really the goals have remained pretty consistent throughout.¬† Want to be Big Ten champions, want to be a consistent winner.¬† Everything that we're trying to do, go to the Rose Bowl, win in this state, going into our seventh year I think that we may be able to accomplish some of those things.¬† Been Big Ten champs, Legends champs, six straight bowl games.¬† We've won the last two, which I think is very important to recognize.¬† Three out of the last five years we've been in the top 20 or 25, end‑of‑the‑year type situations.
But like all teams and organizations or companies or whatever we have here, I mean, the process continues, and before I really get involved in anything, I just want to publicly thank all of our players, current and former players, who have really made this happen the last six years.  They've done a tremendous amount of work, and I want to recognize those people.
But as tomorrow begins, we continue preparation for really our next phase of this 2013 season.  The foundation has been set.  I feel definitely that's in place, expectations have continued to be raised around here, which they should, and really it's now a time I believe to sort of fulfill our dreams as we move forward here with this next class.
We have 40 players returning with extensive playing experience.¬† I believe here 16 offensively, 15 defensively, three specialists.¬† We've got 17 red‑shirted freshmen who haven't played a snap yet for us, 99 active players or 90 active players out for the spring ‑ I guess 90 is the number ‑¬† 69 scholarship players, so we've got quite a few players out there competing, and it should be an exciting opportunity for a lot of different people as we move forward here.
Winter workouts, when you really critique winter workouts and characterize what's gone on there, we've had 11 of those, seven of them have been 5:30 a.m. straight up, nobody missed, so it's been outstanding in that capacity, four afternoon practices‑‑ not practices but workouts.
We've tried to focus on working hard, rehab, critiquing what we've done in the past in terms of off the field, whether it's particularly with our coaches, but just trying to sort of regather information and restructure things as we move forward.
The next phase begins now in spring practice, and that's really our second phase of preparation as we look at 2013, the focus will be, again, on technique, fundamentals, gaining experience for some of our guys, especially at various positions.  We've got to change some things up in terms of what we do and the way we do things as usual, experiment, got to execute better, find our best 11, 12, 13 players that are next best.  Work on some penalties type things, so we continue to harp on those things, not beat ourselves, have to compete, and then obviously just based on last year, we've got to find the inches, and I think that's very important that we be able to do that.
The goal always is to get 3 percent better as we go, and I think if we do that individually as well as a team, we're going to get better and better as spring progresses.  And really just in closing, and then I'll let you go with questions, but I remember Kirk Cousins talking with me one time in 2009 preparing for the 2009 season, and he was in a quarterback battle, and he felt like he had just climbed up a mountain, and then there was another peak there.  And I think that's the way we are as a football team.  I think that's the way it's always going to be.
We've climbed some mountains here.  Last year after a Big Ten Championship, Legends champion, we got up there and we thought we had arrived, but I think we found that there were bigger mountains and a whole range of them, for which we still have to go.  I think you can never forget where we've come from, who we are, and most importantly, how difficult it was to get there and how difficult it is to stay there.
If we do those things, I think great things can happen for us, but we have to take things one thing at a time.  So I'll take some questions and we'll go from there.

Q.¬† Two‑part:¬† First of all, last year's special teams at times was concerning.¬† Do you plan on making some changes schematically in those areas, and secondly, I know before you've sent coaches to Nebraska to look at their defense.¬† Did you send any coaches out offensively or defensively this year, and where to?
MARK DANTONIO:¬† Well, we did go to LSU this year as a defensive staff, and I think that was beneficial.¬† From an offensive perspective we're a little bit behind in terms of‑‑ because we restructured the staff a little bit, so we felt like we were best suited just to remain in playing, and we'll go to a place after spring ball and look to do some of those things as we get into June or into May during a week off, during a week where we'll take a little bit of time in between recruiting.
I think it's beneficial when we do those things.¬† We're not trying to reinvent the wheel.¬† I think it does focus on‑‑ football focuses on the fundamentals and who really blocks, tackles and plays the ball in the deep part of the field and catches the football and throws it correctly and all those different type of things.¬† That's going to be the team that wins usually.
So the focus will always be on fundamentals, but we do need to change some things.  In regards to special teams, when you look at special teams, so much of it is the specialists themselves, is the field goal blocked, is it a field goal, what is it, but we're always going to try and continue to be very, very good in that area.  I think we slipped a little bit in some areas, but we maintained in others.  So it's a little bit what did we do well and what do we have to change.
We're always looking to try to stay ahead of the curve as best we can and as much as we can.  With that being said, we have to do what our players can do, as well.

Q.¬† How much more important, if any, is this spring with a new‑‑ not only a new offensive coordinator but two offensive coordinators and trying to sort all that out for the players and the staff?
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, we have a starting point from what we've done the last six years.  We do tweak things and change things, so we have a starting point.  The end point is obviously the most important factor.  But every spring, I don't think there's a spring that goes by that's not important.  I look at the last five or six, I guess, spring game formats, and calendars and installs and all the different things we've done, and I still come back to the same thing, every spring is extremely important.  It's very crucial.  We've got some guys that are out rehabbing that won't go through spring, but at the other end of things we've got some red shirt freshmen who haven't played as much, we've got some guys who are inexperienced coming up, some other guys who were experienced and they need to take the next step and build on that experience.
So every spring practice I think is crucial, I think, to the development of a football team.¬† But I guess the short answer to your question‑‑ I don't know if I'm answering it, but the short answer to your question‑‑

Q.  (No microphone.) 
MARK DANTONIO:¬† Yeah, we've always tried to do things as a staff, so everybody is in on‑‑ regardless whether Tread was here or Roush was here, we wanted to be sure everybody was involved and positive in what we were doing.
I think the key thing is what do we change, what do we keep the same, how do our players grasp what we do change, how do we implement it, and are our players able to make that change.  I think a lot of the things, when you lose five games by 13 points, I think of the things really are just very minute things, minute details that we have to play better in the red zone.  We kicked 33 field goals last year, attempted 33, and I think we made 22.
So missing those 11 field goals I think are obviously an aspect that we've got to be a little bit better in, but maybe more importantly than that, we need to score touchdowns in the red zone.  And so there's going to be an active part of that in what we do.  That has to be important.  We have to gear things up to who our players are and how best to use those players.  A lot of that is who's going and catching the ball the best, who's running the football the best, and then we've got to take it all and throw it back up on the wall in the fall and insert freshmen into some of those places and see if they can make a dent.
But like every spring, it's important.

Q.¬† I know you said every spring is important, but with as many open spots starting‑wise on the offensive side of the football, how critical is this spring in terms of trying to evaluate your program, evaluate your roster and improve players and see where things go?
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, when you really look at our offense, we probably have more experience back this year, experience, back this year than we did last year.  We certainly have wide receivers back who have played in the game and have game experience.  Last year we had virtually none.  Last year we had virtually no tight ends back because Sims had missed a lot the year before.  So tight ends still becomes a focus for us.
I believe the F position is a focus for us.  Obviously quarterback is always going to be a focus just by the position itself.  But our offensive line, it's just a matter of where to play the people.  We've got experienced players back, they have to take the next step, whether you're a wide out, quarterback, whatever position, even at tight end we've got experienced players back.  They have to take the next step and solidify their position as to who they are, what level they are, first team, second team, and then how they play.

Q.  How will you approach your three quarterbacks this spring and how is it different from a year ago when Andrew was more presumed the starter?
MARK DANTONIO:  Yeah, we had two quarterbacks last year and we lost Andrew midway through, so we had one quarterback really, and as you remember the spring game was a little bit different.  Never had a spring game like that where one guy quarterbacks the whole way.  But you've got Tyler O'Connor, who starts as a red shirt freshmen with us, and I think he'll be very exciting.  So it's very important that he have opportunities to move forward, I think, as a quarterback.  I think it's very, very important that he work with the ones and the twos, that he has that opportunity.
Obviously Connor Cook and Maxwell are two guys that have played some, Maxwell far more than Connor, but Connor played in the bowl game and I thought did some good things.  You have to weigh those things out, those guys are going to have equal opportunities, I think, but Maxwell starts with the ones.  I think he deserves that based on his leadership, based on him having to take all the bullets that are thrown at him from the press and from everybody else involved, because there is a certain part of being a leader, being the quarterback that you have to be able to absorb those hits.  I'm not talking about the hits from the players, I'm talking about the hits from the general public and the criticism that's leveled towards him in every respect.  I think that goes with the territory.
It's not unwarranted.  It just goes with the territory.  And I think by nature of what he's been able to do in that respect, he stands at No.1.  But with that being said, we're evaluating our quarterbacks, they will be live this year in scrimmage situations, and we're going to give people an opportunity to create.  And I think that's very important and critical for this football team that our quarterbacks be able to create at a high level.

Q.  I know in the spring you always switch guys and sometimes it's more experimental, but a couple I was wondering about is France do you see moving inside?  I know Allen is out; so maybe that's part of that, and then Jairus Jones as linebacker?  Is that more of a permanent thing?
MARK DANTONIO:  Yeah, France will move inside right now because Jack Allen is out for the spring with shoulder rehab, and we want to make sure that Fou Fonoti and Skyler Burkland are both working at the No.1s.  I think that gives us an added ability.  Dan France knows tackle, he can play at guard, can have a learning curve there.  Can also work Fonoti in at center a little bit and that will happen, as well.
We're going to have some mixing and matching there.  Donavon Clark was at left tackle before, he goes to left guard.  I think that's a positive.  He started for us the Michigan game last year if you guys recall, did an outstanding job.
I think Mike Dennis has played a lot for us in the second half of the season, and I think that's a positive.  So we've got seven guys this spring that have game experience, and certainly we'll have eight when Jack Allen returns in the fall.

Q.  Le'Veon represented about 40 percent of your offensive production.  How do you deal with that number?  It seems like a really big number.  How do you manage that and atone for that going forward?
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, you know, it's tough, there's no question about that.  You look at last year when we had I think it was 95 percent of our offense, our pass offense gone with Cousins and our wide receivers and our tight ends.  So that's difficult to gauge.
But with that being said, Nick Hill has got‑‑ this is his third year being in the offense, and it's time for him to shine, Jeremy Langford it can be said to be the same thing.¬† Both those guys are very explosive.¬† Nick Tompkins has an opportunity as a red shirt freshman, and then we'll bring three talented freshmen in in the fall.¬† We've always played freshmen, so with that being said, as I stand here and I look, and I've heard this be said to me, our last three tailbacks, our feature tailbacks, whether it's Javon Ringer‑‑ really four or five, Javon Ringer, Edwin Baker, Bell, Caulcrick, Larry Caper, they've all been very good, and all of them have had the opportunity or will have the opportunity to play at the next level.

Q.  If I'm not mistaken no freshmen are enrolled early, correct?
MARK DANTONIO:  No, no freshmen are enrolled early.

Q.  With that running back position seeming to be fairly wide open and guys coming in and going to have a shot, is it a little bit different to evaluate in the spring when you don't have all the guys there really?
MARK DANTONIO:  Well, I think it's going to be easier to evaluate because you're going to get the touches and the reps.  They're going to be able to carry the football and not have to split reps six ways.  They can split it three ways, and I think that provides opportunities, and you're going to get a good feel for exactly who's in the mix and then who carries it forward to the fall.  And then when fall camp comes, I think what you'll see is these other guys getting some touches and seeing how they react and move forward from there.

Q.  What's the status of some of the guys who aren't on the roster, TyQuan Hammock, Nate Klatt and Jamare Mills, I believe.
MARK DANTONIO:¬† Status of TyQuan is he's decided to graduate and has an opportunity for an internship this spring, so he came to me shortly after the bowl game and sort of wanted to go in that direction.¬† That was his decision.¬† He was able to do that, and he wanted to move on with his‑‑ certainly wanted TyQuan back.¬† I think he's a very good football player.¬† But he just felt like it was time.
Jamare Mills has stepped away to deal with academic issues that he has right now, and Nate Klatt is DQ'd medically because of concussions.¬† He's had three or four, so it's time for him to‑‑ Nate continues to work in our football building and he'll work in recruiting and he'll do a tremendous job.

Q.¬† I think it's safe to say that having the two cornerbacks you've had over the past two or three years have been a big reason for your success on that side of the ball.¬† Just how critical does it become to replace Johnny Adams, and does it help‑‑ help wouldn't be the right term, but are you going to get a good look at a lot of guys with Denard out this spring?
MARK DANTONIO:  Yeah, first of all, Darqueze will probably be able to participate towards the latter end of spring, probably maybe the last two weeks.  That's what we're hoping for.  Obviously a great football player, and as you said, very important to our defense.
Johnny Adams, he had an opportunity to go to the next level.  I think it's important that Johnny graduated, and I think it's important that everybody recognize that fact.  He graduated in January and he has a chance to do it right and move to the next step.
As far as our young defensive backs, probably the most impressive group that we brought in since we've been here, you've got Ezra Robinson who is very explosive, extremely fast, one of the faster guys on the team, very good ball skills.  Mark Meyers, a hitter, great football player; Demetrious Cox would have been playing throughout the second half of the season, but we've decided just try to hang on and red shirt him, but he's going to be in the thick of it and he's an outstanding football player, and he's going to show up in really all respects.  And then Jermaine Edmondson is another guy that can really run ball skills and has been very impressive throughout fall camp.
Those four guys are going to be in the mix, and they all can play.  Jermaine is slowed a little bit by a shoulder surgery a little bit, so he'll make it back a little bit, probably live in the next two weeks, but those other guys will be ready to go, and they're very good football players, they're active, and you saw them make a lot of plays throughout the fall.
So it's going to be exciting to watch them.
I think you've got Arjen Colquhoun will be playing, so he'll be another guy that is extremely‑‑ he continues to move forward.

Q.  In your scheme the tight end and the fullback are extensions of the offensive line.  Last year it's safe to say those areas struggled a bit in helping your running game.  Is that the biggest thing you're trying to get work done on is tight end and fullback in the spring?
MARK DANTONIO:¬† Yeah, tight end is a position that we can play so many of them, so it's an important position right now.¬† Gleichert, Paul Lang, we have two young players, Evan Jones and Josiah Price, they're very important in the whole deal there.¬† But I think both‑‑ all four of those guys are going to have an opportunity to play.¬† Price reminds me a lot of Brian Linthicum in the way he catches the football at times.¬† Both these guys are red shirt freshmen, Evan Jones and Price, and I think they're going to do some great things.¬† Evan Jones is a very good football player.
And then you've got Paul Lang, who came off an injury last year, and he's basically like a red shirt freshman because he missed all of spring, so he's got to get back to where he was when we recruited him.  He was a very active player.
And then Gleichert needs to play better at the point of attack, but he's a great ball catcher down the field.
Fullback, Palazeti, Pendleton.  Pendleton played a lot for us last year, Palazeti, as well.  Palazeti is coming off an injury a little bit so we've got to see how he responds.  We've moved Tyler Hamilton into that position, and LT can always move back and forth, LT Thomas, from the defensive line position to the fullback position.  He approaches 285 right now on a good day, on a light day actually.  He can move in and out of that position, and we're going to find our best guys.
I think it's important that we look and say who are our best football players and get them in positions to play, and that's what we've always done here, so if there's a position move that has to be made at some point during spring to help certain areas that need the help, then that's what we do.
Jairus Jones goes to star by nature of an injury.¬† He can play safety.¬† He's played safety for four years.¬† We want to teach him how to play the outside backer position with as many one‑back sets as we see, etcetera, and he's been a good football player for us.¬† He'll have that opportunity.

Q.  You mentioned the live quarterbacks.  Two questions here:  One, with the experience you've got on the offensive line, will there be more scrimmages than what you've done in past years?  And two, in splitting the quarterback reps, when you say they'll get the same action, will they get to split reps with the ones?
MARK DANTONIO:  First question is we're only allowed to have three full scrimmages by NCAA mandate.  The other ones are sort of you can tackle I think 50 percent of the time.  So while, for example, next Friday we'll go in pads this coming Friday, it'll be padded practice.  We'll do some live things, but it won't be a total scrimmage.  We'll be able to pick and choose when we want these guys to be live, but I think they have to be by nature of what we need to find out, and the only way you can find out is by giving them those opportunities.
As far as who's working with the No.1s, we're going to change up some of that as we go.¬† I think everybody should have that opportunity to work behind a great offensive line or work against‑‑ particularly they need to all work against the No.1 defense to see how‑‑ to evaluate apples versus apples basically.

Q.  You've done a lot of different things with running backs since you've been here.  Do you have a preference between the two styles, and can you talk a little bit about what the pros and cons are of having one guy carrying it all and another guy splitting it with him?
MARK DANTONIO:¬† Well, I think if you have two different styles of running backs that they can complement each other, and that's to me the best way to go about it because if you get one guy dinged then you have another guy.¬† But sometimes it doesn't always work out like that, and so you just‑‑ I've always just‑‑ I've always said, hey, feed the horse that's moving it.¬† Always just said go with the guy who's hot.¬† And that's changed periodically even throughout a season, not just year to year but through a season.
But I think that all those guys that I mentioned earlier, they've all been featured backs at one point in time.  Larry Capers was actually a featured back in 2009.  He was the guy.  And then it just sort of changes as it goes.  That's not to say one guy plays worse than the other, we just try and always ask our players to compete, and whoever is playing the best, we try and put it out there.
I would say that's the same at almost every position, at every position.  I think we've done that and proven that fact.  I don't care who the players are, I care how they play, and it's important that they have a leadership, take a leadership role as they do it, whether you're a No.1 right tackle or you're the No.1 quarterback.  There's value in leadership in both those areas.

Q.  You referenced the close losses from last year and trying to make up those inches.  What do you do during spring practice that could maybe help you carry those things over into the fall when it's necessary late in the game in order to make that play?
MARK DANTONIO:  I think the most important thing is we've got to gain confidence from our experiences.  Both our successes and our failures, you need to bank those and then take those experiences and make them positive ones.  The fact that you don't have success in front of 100,000 people and a national audience, that should count for something, and that's what we're banking on.
Beyond that, what we do in practice is try and simulate those situations, but it's very, very difficult to do that unless you're competing for the position knowing that if you don't perform you go down the depth chart, which I think those type of things will happen.
Obviously the spring game when you put a lot of people in the stands, it provides another opportunity for those guys to do those things.  But until you get to game time, 3rd and 6, tie game, down by two, whatever, and you've got to make the play, one way or the other on the defensive side of the ball or the offensive side of the ball, it's a little bit of an unknown.  But as soon as you start making those plays, I think there's a great deal of confidence that comes with it.  And I think a lot of our players have had the opportunity.  We won some close games, as well, so I'd like to put a little gap in there.
But it is what it is sometimes.  It's a very competitive league, and everybody is working extremely hard.  I don't care whether you're here or down the road or someplace else.

Q.  Are Fou and Jackson all fully healthy and ready to go?  And then Madaras is a guy who's kind of high on the depth chart; what do you look for from him this spring?
MARK DANTONIO:  As far as offensive line, Fou and Travis are back.  They've worked out.  I'm sure that we'll take it easy with them initially, but they're both back, and I would call them 100 percent.
As far as Monty Madaras, had a slow start last year because of a long ankle sprain, but I think he did an outstanding job the rest of the fall.  So I think he's a guy that is going to be in the mix.  He's a guy that catches the ball clean, he can get vertical, he was a highly recruited guy, he can run, he's big, but he's got to learn conceptually to be at the same level as those other guys, and then he's lacking the game experience, like we had said.

Q.  We had asked you about the incoming freshmen on signing day, but I guess this is along the same lines.  Evaluate this red shirt freshman class as they come in.  It appears pressed at a lot of different positions?  Is this as deep a red shirt freshman class as you've had?
MARK DANTONIO:  Our classes have been different in a couple different ways.  Last year's red shirt freshman class, the previous year, was very heavy in the defensive line and linebacker group.  This year is heavier in the defensive backs, probably the wide receivers.  We didn't play Kings, Macgarrett Kings, we did not play Madaras, we did play Burbridge.  It's important that Arnett take a big step forward.  I think he's a guy that could be considered pretty much a freshman last year, as well, just from being in a new environment, things that he was going through.  So those guys are interesting to watch.
Tyler O'Connor is very interesting, offensive line.  We have experienced offensive linemen back, but those individuals like Conklin and McGowan and Higgins will make a push in there to see where they're at.
From a defensive line standpoint, Fennell is a guy that has got to get moving here, see where he's at.  But we really didn't bring in a lot of defensive linemen.  I think Jamal Lyles and Riley Bullough are two guys that are going to see the field a lot.  Then you're going to see them show up on special teams during the season.  They were both very active in the fall, and I think they're two very, very good football players.  It'll be exciting to watch those guys, and I think I hit about all of them very quickly.  It was an impressive group, especially at the skill level.

Q.¬† Since it's spring and apparently injuries aren't an issue‑‑

Q.  I may be way out of the loop, but I know you mentioned Jack Allen had a shoulder.  But Denicos and Ed Davis and Denard, can you talk about what your other injuries are?
MARK DANTONIO:¬† Yeah, they're just ‑‑ I'm not going to really talk about injuries other than to say they're coming off of surgeries from after the season, surgery.¬† So while they're able to do certain things, they can't do live things.

Q.  (No microphone.) 
MARK DANTONIO:  Out for the spring.

Q.  Can you please talk about Ron Burton and Coach Bollman?  What has been their immediate impact?  Obviously they haven't hit the field, but talking to the players, they seem extremely excited.  Can you give us your oversight how you've seen them make an immediate impact?
MARK DANTONIO:¬† Yeah, winter workouts, when you talk about the different things we've gone through and you talk about the critiquing and the rehabbing and the conditioning, getting bigger and stronger, and then you've got new coaches coming in, too.¬† I think Coach Burton has been tremendous out on the field when I've watched him, very active with his players, great drills that simulate a lot of the things a defensive lineman would do without stepping over the line.¬† In terms of‑‑ but a lot of good footwork drills and things of that nature that simulate things that they would have to do.¬† He's been very on task, I think, not just in working with our players but with recruiting aspects, etcetera, that go on.¬† So been very, very impressed.
And then Jim Bollman is probably two weeks behind him, and he's with the offense and with our tight ends and they've not done as much on the field because we had a week off, so he's just been here a week with our players.  But you can look for great things from him.  He's a very, very good football coach, and I think he's brought some new ideas and implemented some new things already.

Q.¬† A couple of comments, I know you can't speak directly on recruits, but when you hear from people about Coach Burton and the relationships, able to build relationships, seems like he really has a gift in that area.¬† I realize it's early, but talking to almost everyone, the relationship‑‑ is that maybe a gift that he has?
MARK DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think so.  He communicates very, very well, and any time you can communicate usually you're going to be a great recruiter, because as I said, he's on task, he's extremely organized, he knows where he's going and he's going to get there, I don't know whether it's on the field with his defensive linemen, whether it's in the staff room or whether it's in recruiting.  He's got a master plan, and I think that's important.  So he's been very, very impressive.
We've traveled to a clinic in Charlotte, a Nike clinic, and I went with him.  He was very active and knew exactly which coaches were going to be at that clinic that had players that were already offered by BCS teams.  It was impressive.
Before I leave, I want to wish our basketball teams all the best this week in the tournament, and as always, it's exciting to watch both men's and women's and where they go.  It's an exciting time of the year, and as I've said many times to our football team, you look through the basketball facility, and you watch the intensity that they practice with and the way they go about things, and they win down the stretch a lot.
That's what we have to do.  We have to win down the stretch.  We have to go at it.  That doesn't mean you're always going to win, but you've got to go at it.  You can't hang back down the stretch.
I see that yearly from our basketball team, especially our men's because I probably watch it more often.  But it's always very, very impressive, and I want to wish them all the best.

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