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August 5, 2013

Mark Dantonio

THE MODERATOR:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to Michigan State football media day.  Here's head coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO:  Thanks.  Sorry, I'm a little bit late here, guys, but it seems like I'm talking to the press a lot here in the last week.
We're in our third practice.  I think it's going well.  I think the key thing is what kind of retention we have.  I mentioned it the other day.  Want to stay safe, want to see what kind of retention we have.  Obviously, want to get better with techniques and fundamentals and sort of get back into that aspect of it.  Then we want to find out what our younger players can do, so we tried to push the envelope there a little bit with some of our younger players.
But we're really two days of shorts in and one day of shells in, so there is not a lot of information until you get into that padded practice and those type of things.
But I'll take some questions, and then we'll sort of go from there.

Q.  A year ago at this time you guys came into a season with a lot of high expectations.  You guys fell hard.  Was it a humbling thing for you guys?  If so, again, does it help the program and you as a coach to try and learn from what happened a year ago?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Well, first of all, I think that we were 7 and 6 football team, so, you know, when you say fall hard, to me, falling hard is losing by a lot of points in a lot of games.¬† We lost by inches.¬† So when we lose at Michigan 12‑10, and come back and bounce back and win it at Wisconsin, it shows you that we have resiliency on our football team, and it shows you we can stay after it, and I think that's a good thing.
But our expectations were higher; there is no question about that.  We're higher as a program.  But, you know, you sort of play the cards as they go, as you flop them down throughout the year.  I'm very proud of our football team, but I do think we had to take a step back, reevaluate who we are, what inches we came up short on and then make the move back into transition back forward, and I think that's what we've done.  It remains to be seen 2013.
But I feel very, very good about the chemistry of our team.  I always have.  We've got to make plays on the field, make good coaching decisions, got to stay healthy, all of those things factor into success, I think.  You've got to get on a roll a little bit too.
But I don't know if I'm answering the question, but I'm excited about this season, very excited about the season, very excited about the attitude of our players.  Collectively, this year, we have 18 seniors, whereas last year we had nine.  Most of those seniors are players and are playing regularly for our football team, and they're sort of established players on our team in terms of the leadership too.
I think the more leadership you have, the better it's going to be, and you just sort of grow from there.

Q.  Can it help a program though to go through what you guys did?  It's very hard for a program to try to establish something when you guys have this, and if people are expecting big things, it can help them trying to go forward?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think adversity's going to help all of us.  When you don't write that great story, you know, and you get ripped for it, then you bounce back a little bit.  But I think that's the same on the field.  You've always got to take everything that you've experienced, whether it's positive, negative or in between, and you've got to try to build on that.  That's why experiences are so important in this game.
We just talked about discipline today, being fundamental, and we try to hit a particular fundamental every day.  Discipline is when everything to me falls down around you and you're in the heat of the moment and the emotions are very high, can you sustain?  Can you have an attention to detail at that point in time?  And that's what we have to do.
We came into the last season with a very limited amount of experience on offense, at the quarterback position, at the wide receiver position; we've got some guys hurt on the offensive line early on.  We came in with an experienced defense and it showed.  So we just need to pick all the pieces up, put them back in the puzzle, and move forward.  And I think that's what we're doing.
As I said earlier, my MO is you've got to chase those things down right now, so we'll chase it.  We've had two great practices in terms of enthusiasm.  It's not a perfect practice, they never are.  Not when you're playing against each other, it's never perfect because there's always going to be a winner and a loser there.

Q.  You've talked about retention, trying to see how much they have retained.  Three practices in, are you happy with the amount of retention you've seen?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, we really have a lot of things in.  We've put a lot of our offense, a lot of our defense in.  We've just sort of thrown it at them, a multitude of offense and defense, which is tough for the freshmen.  But we want to try to get everything in in the first five or six practices, so we can scrimmage on Saturday with the full dynamic of who we are a little bit offensively and defensively and special teams.
So there is a lot of football being thrown at them.  It's 15 hours a day of football right now.  So in between that we have media day and some different things you have to get done as well, so it's a busy time.
But I'm very, very pleased with the retention.  Our players know what they're doing, our receivers our first three running backs, quarterbacks, these experienced players have great retention.

Q.  When you're over watching the offensive line and Coach Bollman specifically this year, what are you seeing differently than maybe you didn't see in the past?
COACH DANTONIO:  When I'm over there watching technique and watching how they fit up in there, I'm not going to sit there and say that Bolls is coaching them any better.  I think Coach Roushar did an outstanding job coaching our guys as well.
But it's just change.  There is always change and you always look for little subtle changes as you move forward relative to hand placement and things of that nature, and sometimes change is good.  When you have the opportunity to change or when you're forced to change, you hope that change becomes something good for us.  I'm very excited about our two new staff members.

Q.¬† You set an early wake‑up call for your team on Saturday, and then you said, "eat the frog."

Q.  Now at first that reminded me of the alligator somebody wrestled at your Outback Bowl practice a couple years ago.  But in regards to this camp, what's it mean to "eat the frog"?
COACH DANTONIO:  I got a book from a friend of mine, and I think the title of it, I want to say this right, "Can't bring a duck to eagle school," okay?  So this is just a lot of little stories in there about successful people, and one of them talked about eating the frog.  What that meant was whatever you do, whatever your big rocks are in your day, your big thing that you want to do in your day, get it done first.  Get the big things out of the way first and allow the day to move forward from there.
We've sort of changed up some of the things we're doing in terms of practicing, and what we're doing and our meeting times, just to make sure the emphasis and the freshness, when are you most fresh, when are you not tired is going to happen at this point in time during the day and then we'll take advantage of that.
So it just seemed like the right thing to say at the time.  I don't know if it was or not.

Q.  Have you ever eaten frog?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, I never have.  Thought about it when I was down in Texas this last Tuesday, but I stayed away from it.

Q.  You put your corners out on an island, and you like Trae Waynes.  Can you specifically talk about his skill set and his approach, what you like about him?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Yeah, Trae Waynes came here, he was a safety in high school.¬† But he was a sprinter, a 100‑meter guy.¬† He has great speed.¬† I think he was 10.6 100‑meter guy.¬† He's gotten taller.¬† He's got very long arms, and really the thing to watch and what we waited for was for him to sort of move forward.¬† His first year a little bit of transition issues in terms of transitioning to corner and just having that attention to detail and that sense of urgency may be a corner that you have to have.
Last year he played as a back‑up pretty much for Johnny.¬† Adams had the opportunity in the bowl game to start and play most of the game and did a tremendous job.¬† He had an outstanding spring.¬† He's long, he's got tremendous ball skills.¬† He's got skills and could be a receiver.
I'm not going to say who the fastest guy is on our team, but he's in there.¬† He's in the 4.3s consistently, which is something I'm almost trying to slow the clock down on him.¬† But he is fast.¬† He can jump.¬† He's a 37‑inch vertical jump guy, so he's got a lot of skills.¬† What he needs is experience, and what he needs to do is take those habits that he's developing now and take them on to the field and be successful.
But I really like where he's at, and I think he'll have a break‑out season for us.

Q.  When you talk about the inches from last year, how do you get the inches to go your way this season?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think the first thing you've got to do is believe that they're going to come our way and be confident, make sure that we're confident in what we're doing and make sure that we use our adrenaline and our emotion and enthusiasm to carry us through and momentum.
Momentum a lot of times carries you through sometimes.  But we're just trying to find them everywhere.  That's sort of the things we've talked about.  You've got to find them in the film room, you've got to find them in your coaching technique.  You've got to find them in your individual technique.  You've got to find them in your play calling.  You've got to find them in your execution or toughness.  There are so many different places, I think, that you can look for those inches and you can find them.  Really, that is the difference.  That was the difference last year.
I mean, really, the difference is does Michigan get a first down when Dennard goes like this with the ball or doesn't he?  Is Le'Veon Bell over the goal line against Northwestern by that or is he not?  You know, and on and on it goes.  They were just all around.
So we have to come up with those inches where we fell short, that's pure and simple.¬† The Nebraska play or whatever, it's just little things.¬† It's 31‑17 if we don't have a penalty on us.¬† Just little things.¬† So we're right there.¬† We just need to find them and keep moving forward and continue to be resilient and be positive with our players.

Q.  A couple days into practice you talk about the retention.  Having the new coordinators, does that make the retention different for these guys coming in this year having some tweaks in the spring, or is it still a pretty good base from what's been done previously?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Well, there is always a great base when you have a foundation of where to grow with.¬† We have a foundation in terms of terminology, play calling, alignments, things of that nature.¬† Then we have some new things that we've subtly involved with our offense as well.¬† We've repped some of those things in the spring.¬† We'll continue to work on those things.¬† But they're are cut‑ups of them and different teaching tapes of those, so I think that the consistency and the teaching is very, very good.
So retention is there.  A lot of it is the foundation, terminology, players being in a system.  Players can adapt when you've been a player, whether it's Conner Cook or Maxwell, they've been in the program for three and five years.  They're used to change a little bit, and they can adapt.
So if you have experience players likes Max Bullough, he can adapt very easily.  As long as the terminology and teaching progression stays the same, he can adapt subtly.  I think the biggest thing is you want to continue to be simple as a football team.  You have to be, but comprehensive where you can cover all different things and all different angles and all different issues, whether it's situations or types of concepts are all covered.

Q.¬† Just wondering how you've divided the reps at quarterback so far?¬† What is your plan for that?¬† Does everyone get first‑team looks?¬† Is it mostly Cook and Maxwell trying to split them up?¬† How have you and how are you going to do that?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, we're into our third or just finished our third practice.  What we've done so far is getting those three guys the majority of the reps with Maxwell and Cook sort of taking ones and twos a little bit.  We have worked Damion Terry in there a little bit, because I think it's important that we see what our freshmen can do.  We've had our freshmen tailbacks run with the ones a couple times today, so they've got a couple reps with the ones.
It's very important we see what they can do and how they do it for the learning curve.  But a lot to think about at quarterback.  So you've got to sort of take that a little bit slower, maybe, because not only does he have to execute the play called, he has to have rhythm in his throws and he can't forget what got him there.
Sometimes I think as a young player you forget what got you to this level.  It's playing with power.  It's throwing the ball with power.  It's bending your knees and doing the different things you have to do.  Sometimes the game speeds up on you and you've got to slow it back down.  So we've got 29 practices, 28 before our first game, so we'll be ready.

Q.  Was the offense last year, every time it started to get a rhythm and you had another offensive lineman go down, was part of the reason they struggled last year was because of the constant injuries at offensive line?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, we had injuries, so we have Skyler Burkland who had a hand infection and he misses all of summer camp, and he comes back and he's practicing on Tuesday, and Fo gets hurt on Thursday and he starts against Notre Dame.  You have situations like that.
You have a situation where Jack Allen ends up as our red‑shirt center, but he has to play guard because Blake's out, Blake Treadwell's out and Travis goes down, and he's still playing guard and then we make the transition to center, I think in the Michigan game, full‑time.¬† Then we get Blake back.
So there are some things like that.  But we have to play football, and there are no excuses.  There are no excuses.  We've just got to get ready to play.  Everybody's got injuries.  You've got to prepare yourself for injuries, and you have to have a plan on how you're going to address things when people go down.  I mean, it's just the nature of it.  It's going to happen.

Q.  A year ago this was kind of Maxwell's team, at least his offense.  Has that changed?  I know he's the starter, but is it accurate to say the margin of error is narrower or the lease is shorter?
COACH DANTONIO:  I wouldn't term it the lease is shorter; I just think we need to prepare another player to play.  If he's capable of playing to a level of winning football, then that's going to happen.  I do think it's important.  We have two quarterbacks the opportunity to play early in the season because I didn't like the way Andrew had to come in with no experience and perform, and we're going to see how it all shakes out.
But what happens out on the field, our players understand we're going to do the very best we can to play the best players that gives us the best chance to win.
So he's got to perform, the others have to perform.  I was impressed with O'Connor.  Actually the first two practices threw the ball very well, he's a lot further along than he was last year when he was a true freshman.  So all three of those guys look good.
Damion's behind the curve there a little bit, but you're three practices in.  And keep in mind, you're putting in five or six or seven or ten different things every day so those things just add up on you very quickly when you're a young player, offensively and defensively.

Q.  I'm going to surprise you and ask you about quarterbacks here.  But when you think back to Connor Cook, his first spring here, he had to play both ways that game.  How much has he grown?  I mean, the playing time has been a little limited, but where have you seen him grow the most in that time since then?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think what I'm seeing Connor do well is create.¬† He's got a‑‑ in the pocket, he's got a little bit of maturity in the pocket and he's composed.¬† He's more composed in the pocket.¬† Obviously, you have to make the plays, and like I said, we're one day in the shells and shorts is shorts.¬† So it's very different in shorts.
Anyway, we get through this week and into next week, and these first two weeks are key, because after two weeks you start to really cut everything down and start focusing on who we're going to play.
Like I said, we've spent 15 hours a day.  These days go by slowly, so there is a lot of football every day that's evaluated, looked at, and they have to respond.  But I think Connor has progressed greatly.  I think he's a good quarterback.
Like I said, I'm extremely excited about our quarterback position.¬† We've got four guys with big‑time talent.¬† They have talent.¬† They can throw the ball 60 yards and they can put it on a rope.¬† What they do though in terms of decision making and creativity will define them.

Q.  You had mentioned the other day about the receivers having some drops early in the first couple practices.  But is that something you had mentioned earlier about developing confidence?  Is it something physical with them or just more mental?
COACH DANTONIO:  I said that after the first practice; second practice they had a great day.  Today's practice I thought they played very well.  I see MacGarrett King is making catches.  I think DeAnthony Arnett is making catches.  Tony Lippett looks good; Fowler looks good; guys get nicked up, hamstring here, little tweak there.  Though Burbridge has caught the ball well, so I've been excited about our wideouts.
They're catching the ball well and caught the ball well two straight days.  Good route running.  If you come out there and watch practice, if you watch ABCs, you guys can assess that.  You can assess their catching ability and their moving and things of that nature, and that they look like a Big Ten football player, and I think they do.  They have to make the plays out here.

Q.  I know it's still early, but what have you seen from tight end?  Do you expect one or two guys to sort of settle in there or do you expect a bigger rotation at that spot?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Early on, so we're one day into just‑‑ we just started putting our hands on people today, really.¬† So that's key.¬† They can catch the ball and things of that nature, but they've got to get movement.¬† They have to do the things they have to do in terms of run blocking and some of those type of things.¬† But they're just young.¬† We're young.¬† We're young at that position.¬† We'll be fine.¬† We'll grow.

Q.  First of all, can you talk about Geiger, how he's done?  You said you want to get some pressure on him early, has that happened?  And Andre Sims does punt returns, but has he done anything in the slot?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, Geiger's looked good.  I don't think he's missed yet.  We pushed him in there with the ones to put pressure on him, and he's kicked with the ones and he's alternating with the ones.  He and Cronin are sort of rolling back and forth with the ones.
Cronin's pretty good, but I would say after this morning's practice, you know, I would say Geiger's the guy right now.  But like I said, three practices in he still has to prove it.  But he's got a strong leg, good technique, and he seems poised.  Cronin's been good as well.
A.J.'s looked good in the slot.  A.J.'s going to catch the football.  Got to do the other things sometimes a little bit, get loose, block, those type of things.  He's going to catch the football very consistently.  Again, another guy his third year in, so, you know, very functional.  Knows the situation.  He's got to get loose on the outside sometimes, but he can catch the football and he's about business.

Q.  How would you say you've evolved as a head coach after your first six years here?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Well, it's going on my seventh year.¬† Read the Bible, that's the word or number for completion, so we'll find out.¬† I don't know. ¬†You guys can assess that.¬† I feel more comfortable.¬† I feel more comfortable, I guess, allowing our‑‑ hopefully I don't micromanage as much as a position coach or coordinator.
You know, I tend to try to go over and watch the offensive line.¬† Which, if you're a defensive back coach, the offensive line is far away as the other side of the world.¬† You have to cross a whole ocean to get there.¬† But try to do that, try to be in different meetings where I'm not‑‑ I'm not the expert in that meeting.¬† So hopefully I grow with doing that, and I try to put myself in situations where I'm not feeling too comfortable as well, like press conferences.

Q.  Do you find yourself a little more hands off now than you were at the start?
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't know if hands off is the term.  But, for example, I was with the DBs today because that's where I always try.  There is a magnet with those guys and it just pulls me over there.  I just think that maybe I'm progressing a little bit.  I can't watch every snap of film from every single practice.  That's not possible.
I've sort of given up a little bit and said what is the most important thing I need to do as a head coach, and I do that.  I have sort of a list I go down.

Q.  Also, you were equating a year ago to losing by inches.  Is that the hardest jump to make for a program, that last inch?
COACH DANTONIO:  I don't know.  We've had some different years.  I think we've come here in '07 and we lost by some inches.  If you look back to '07, we lost in double overtime to Iowa, and there are some close games that I remember.  Then after we bounced back in '08, and in '09 we lost in very close games as well.  Iowa, Central Michigan, I don't even want to talk about them, okay, but then we bounced back again.
This is a very competitive game.  I think that the competitiveness is pretty equal.  One thing can sort of spin the game your way, turnover or whatever, decision, whatever it is.  I don't know if I'm answering the question to be honest with you.  I just know that we're going to move forward.  I feel like we have an edge to us.
Are the inches the toughest?  Yeah, but there's a light at the end of that tunnel.  We're close.  We've been close.  We've been very close when you look at us as a program.
We played the last game of the season, three of the six years we got a chance to win the Big Ten Championship.¬† That's all I can tell you.¬† One time we're co‑ and two other times, one we would have been co and the other we would have won it outright.¬† But there is still room to grow for certain.¬† We're not a dead horse.

Q.  At center and guard, what are you set on and what are you still looking to have developed in that area of your line?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think depth.  We're looking to depth, which we have.  I think we're set Travis Jackson, Blake Treadwell and probably Jack Allen are in there, pretty good fixtures in there.  Good football players.  I think Dan France can move in there, Jack can play center, Donavon Clark can play in there.  Connor Kruse has been in and out a little bit.
But we've got some different pieces we can move around there a little bit that I think helps us, and I think Kodi Kieler is a guy and Jack Conklin is a guy that's got tremendous upside.¬† I think Henry Conway is a guy that's had a good spring and came back in shape for this summer.¬† He's a huge man, 6'6", 6'7", 320‑something.¬† Who knows.¬† He's in his fifth year, and he can be a good football player.¬† So a guy that benches 400‑plus pounds and jumps 27 inches at that size, that's pretty good.
So we've got some guys.  It's just a matter of staying healthy and finding the right sword.  Fo can go in there a little at center some, so we've got a couple.  Blake's played center, Kyle Lints played center, so we have some guys, four or five guys, but I think you can't practice all of those guys in there.  You have to decide and sort of say, these are our ones and twos and et cetera.  But I'm happy with the depth in there.
We know what we're doing.  Do we have to do it better?  Yes.  We always do.  The fullbacks, tight ends, part of all of this play selection concept, heart of all of it, maturity.

Q.¬† You came up a six and seven win season and followed up with two 11 win seasons, and this year you're coming off a seven‑win season.¬† Is there something that you can take from that season that you had the six wins to get to the 11 wins that you've had for two consecutive seasons and apply to this group and this team and use that to bounce back and get into double digit wins again?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think there is.  You always learn, as I said earlier, you always learn from your successes or your failures or whatever it is.  Your experiences sort of drive you.  What I've learned is we're resilient.  We'll come to play.
Our emotions will be high.  Our players understand.  Again, if you're seniors and don't want to put pressure on the seniors, but if the seniors had their best year, which is what our 2011 seniors did, they had their very best year in their time here, you have a chance to have a great football team, and that's what happened.  That's what happened in 2011, and that's what we look to have happen here in 2013, and I think our players generally have that mindset and carry themselves as such.
Darqueze, Dennard, Isaiah Lewis, Denicos Allen, Max Bullough, Tyler Hoover, Micajah Reynolds, all seniors.  The offense, Blake Treadwell, Maxwell a senior, Fowler is a senior, Dan France is a senior, Fonoti's a senior, so we've got a little experience.  Those are just guys right off the top of my head.  Also have Kyler Elsworth and Denzel Drone, we've got a lot of guys.

Q.  What is it about Riley Bullough that tells you he could be your guy at running back?  What is it that he does that maybe stands out?
COACH DANTONIO:  He's a hard driver, that's what he is.  He's a football player.  Made a great catch on the first day of practice, has great hands, pass protects, runs with authority, trains for it, works towards it, watches film for it.  He's just going to drive forward and make himself whatever it is.  If he was going to be the Mike linebacker, that is the same way he was going to approach that.  If we put him in a different position, that is the way he approaches that.
He's just a football player in the mold of his brother, and probably in the mold of his dad that is just going to find a way and try to be very, very exact in the way he goes about his business in attacking.
I think Nick Hill and Langford both had a good day of practice today.  And we've got some young players, Shelton and Holmes and Delton Williams that looked pretty good out there too.  Nick Tompkins sort of tweaked a little bit his leg, so we held him out.  But we've got some guys there, got to make plays.

Q.  You referenced it today as well as in Chicago and at practice on Saturday that the players as well as the coaches this year have an edge about them.  Can you just be a little more specific and maybe elaborate on what that edge is or what that edginess is?
COACH DANTONIO:  That edge could be a lot of things.  It could be not very tolerant.  It could be a little snappy at times.  It could be a little bit more hitting.  It could be a player in the film room a little extra.  It could be that coach keeping his players a little extra, whether it be in the weight room or whatever.
But I mean, that edge is just the feeling that things got by us last year and they shouldn't have.¬† That is the edge.¬† That edge is 7‑6.¬† You know, we were 7‑6 in 2007.¬† We've grown since then.¬† That's not the expectation.¬† I think it's just the way people are approaching whatever they're doing, I guess, is the best way to say it.

Q.  At fullback, could you talk about what you're seeing out of guys?  Obviously, no pads, and that's when those guys really come in and thump, but what are you seeing?
COACH DANTONIO:  Niko Palazeti is healthy.  He looks like he's healthy.  And Pendleton, those two guys are locked in there a little bit, and obviously, after that, we're sort of in a tight end, more of a tight end mode a little bit.  We've got some different guys we're experimenting with as well.  But a little too soon to say that because of the nature of the plays that we've had in relative to what those guys have to do.

Q.  I'm not familiar with the new wave terms, but one of your players said he had the bubble guts?

Q.  The bubble guts.  I guess that means anxious for the season.  What happens to you when the calendar turns to August?  Do you get the bubble guts?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I get excited because of the newness.¬† I'm always interested in saying, hey, I know what that guy can do.¬† Let's put the freshman in there and see what he can do.¬† I want to watch some new things.¬† I want to see how that red‑shirt freshman is bouncing back and now that he's ready to play, Tyler O'Connor, or just a red‑shirt freshman out there, how they're going to assess the situation and be able to move forward.
So I get a little excited about that.  It's always new.  There are always new things that you can try.  For a year, we play the games, then from that period on, we start preparing for the next season.  We start preparing for August, whether that's winter conditioning, whether that's spring workouts.  Even with recruiting, we're preparing for August.  We're preparing for what's going to happen in August.
So when August comes, it's a little bit like open up your presents and see what's there, a little bit like that.  So I do get excited every year.  That is one of the beautiful things, I think, about what I do for a living is things change.  You're sort of always going through different cycles of the year, and everything means a little something different.

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