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August 27, 2013

Mark Dantonio

THE MODERATOR:  To preview Western Michigan, head coach Mark Dantonio.
COACH DANTONIO:  Good afternoon, guys.  2013 is here.  As I told our football team, everything that we've done from winter workouts to weight training to spring ball to summer conditioning, bottom line program, to fall camp here all leads up to this coming Friday.
We've talked to our players about it, it being showtime.  We're looking forward to this opportunity to get under the lights.
The basis of camp has been very tough.  We've hit a lot.  We've gone live a lot, probably more than usual.  But we've come out of this pretty healthy as well, and we're fresh.
Our football team last night, when we practiced under the lights, we were a fast football team.  I think that's what we're trying to get to.
Our quarterback situation, I'll save you the question, is really as follows:
We've had intense scrutiny or intense competition at that position, tried to open it up for everybody.  I feel like we have four young people who are major college quarterbacks.  They have great arm strength, they have size.  Some are lacking in experience, some have more experience.
Right now we've allowed sort of the competition to take place, sort of knew where we were going with this, probably after last Tuesday.  But I felt like the most important thing to do was to sit and talk to our players initially before going forward and making it known to everybody else out there.
We had those discussions and sat down individually with each young man, collectively as well.  Andrew Maxwell will be our starter.  I think what he does is he brings consistency in terms of knowledge of our offense.  Got to make good decisions.  He has experience with 13 games last year.  He's got a chance to get back into the arena, put his foot down, plant as I always say and drive forward.  Very, very confident that he's going to have a great football game for us.
He's been very impressive, especially last night, but very impressive these last number of practices as well ‑¬† especially once he understood that he was going in that direction.
Connor Cook will also play in the game.  He's another guy that has great athletic ability, arm strength, size.  He's got game experience, as well.  He's looked very, very good oftentimes actually.  He'll play as well.
Tyler O'Connor, redshirt freshman, has gained a great deal of confidence, I think knows what is going on far and above what he did last year.  He's in the mix.
Damion Terry, as I said, put himself in the mix.¬† But he's a freshman.¬† We have to allow him to grow.¬† I think the learning curve is extremely high for him.¬† Every time he goes out to practice, you're looking at him and saying how much has he grown from the last practice, because it's very evident.¬† Then he'll take a step back in a practice and not practice or play as well, being game‑ready.¬† But he provides us with a unique skill set as we move forward.
That's really how we made the decision.  All of our coaches were involved in this.  All of them had their say.  Looked a lot every day statistically how they handled pressure, how they handled things in the huddle, all those different type of things.  We're excited about the opportunity they will have this weekend.
Western Michigan, Coach Fleck comes here 0‑0.¬† The history of what he's done is based on his r√©sum√© as an assistant where he's been.¬† We've looked deep into those areas, both offensively, defensively and special teams.¬† Obviously there's some things that we don't know about Western as they come into this game.
You can certainly look at Tubbergen as a quarterback that can make things happen.  He can create, run with the football, throws the ball well from what we've seen last year.  Fields is their top tailback returning.  They lost a wide receiver, but they've got four or five others returning.
On the defensive side of the ball, unknown a little bit because they have a new coordinator, et cetera.  But I think Johnnie Simon is a guy that stands out for them as well as Boles as a defensive lineman.
We need to start building our reputation as a football team.  That starts this Friday.  We'll be ready to play.  That I can count on based on our players' demeanor, how they've handled themselves throughout fall camp and based on last night's practice.
I'll take some questions.

Q.  Mark, are you comfortable that you have truly a number one quarterback or is he simply the best of what you have?
COACH DANTONIO:  I'm comfortable we have a number one quarterback.  He was our number one quarterback last year.  Gained some experience with that.  Had some balls dropped.  Got to protect him.  Got to run the football, got to do the things you have to do that surrounds him as well.
He's got great knowledge of our system.  I think he's competitive.  Got great leadership skills.  Like I told him today, Here are the keys, bring it back full.  I think he'll do that.  Very confident he's going to be able to do that and excited about his opportunities.
I do think one thing that people need to recognize, I think all Spartans out there need to recognize, as we go forward, it's important we all go forward together, as I've said many, many times.  I guess I'm speaking to the masses out there.  Things can be slanted one way or another.  Depends on how you write it, as we know.
The main thing that I think is important is that this football team goes like this:  we have to the lead from the guy who is under the center, we have to lead from the guys catching the football, that the crowd and our fans appreciate that fact and move with us.  That's not to say it's going to be consistent.  I understand that fact in terms of fan support, things of that nature, as you move in these circles these days.
Tough to play quarterback.  There's a lot going on.  There's a lot of things that they have to do and they're in control, but I'm confident.

Q.  Would you term this an ongoing competition between Maxwell and Cook?  Do you not intend to play the other two Friday night?  Are you determined then to redshirt Terry?
COACH DANTONIO:  That's a lot of questions in one.  But I would say this.  Giving the keys to the car to somebody, they've got to bring it back full.  What that means is you have to move the football, move our football team, we need to be successful.
I do think when I look at our four quarterbacks and I watch them, they possess big‑time ability.¬† They've got great arm strength.¬† They can make all the throws.¬† It's the consistency that you're looking for and the decision making, then you have to create.¬† Have to create with your feet, something has to happen when things break down around you.
When you go into the first game of the season, you're looking for movement and you're looking for things to go well obviously.
I don't discount any of our players, I really don't.  I can say the same thing at corner.  I think we have two outstanding corners, but we have four other guys that can play at this level.  Demonstrate that as the year goes.

Q.  You say you've given him the keys to the car.  Does the car have a full set of tires on it?  That's the thing people have questions about.  Offensive line, a lot of injuries.  Receivers who couldn't catch the ball.  Runningback, you may not have a true runningback out there.
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, college football is a little bit like that because things change.  Le'Veon is here.  Different story, obviously.  Dion is here.  Little bit different story.  Things change.  They change sometimes very quickly for us.
One thing I'm confident of is that Jeremy Langford had an excellent, excellent camp.¬† He's ready for a great season.¬† He can make you miss, go the distance any time he gets the ball.¬† Nick Hill is a guy that demonstrated last week he has some get‑up‑and‑go in him as well.¬† I think our freshmen runningbacks as are going to be good players.¬† Delton Williams, we may play him, may not, see how it all shakes out.¬† Wide receivers have been impressive this fall.
What we had last year is a quarterback who had no experience coming into the football season and wideouts that really had no experience, other than Benny, coming into the football season.  I think those guys have a year under their belt, catching the ball throughout summer camp.  That's why we play the game.
But, yeah, you're right, the four set of tires are important.  There's no question about that.

Q.  You have a couple other positions, right tackle, left tackle, defensive end.
COACH DANTONIO:  Defensive end, I think Shilique Calhoun, Marcus Rush are guys that have played in there.  I think Drone has had an excellent camp.  We basically have said, hey, you're as good as any starter we've got.  They'll all get equal reps.  Drone is down to 260, 265 maybe.  He's quick.  I think he's playing his best football right now.
Drone, he has had a great camp as well.  We want to play Jamal Lyles as well.  We have five defensive ends that can play.  Outstanding freshman in Demetrius Cooper that may or may not see the field as we move forward.  Right now we're trying to hold him out.
Offensive line, nicked up a little bit there.  Can go a variety of different ways.  Conklin will start for us.  Clark will start for us as well.  Fonoti can play.  We'll see where Dan France shakes out, whether he plays tackle or guard.  We can move people around.  We've done that throughout camp.

Q.  On the depth chart, on the back page, you list Maxwell number one.  You don't have a tailback listed.
COACH DANTONIO:  Jeremy will start.  Langford will start.  How is that car rolling?  I have a great deal of faith in our runningbacks.  Bullough has been solid.  Missed him out a couple days with an injury, but he's back full tilt.  It will be interesting to watch him play.

Q.  Will you wait and see on Damion?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think there's always intrigue on anybody new coming into the program.  I think that's natural.  Depends how he practices.  Depends how everybody else plays.  But we're going to use our football team.  I guess that's the answer.
He needs to continue to improve.  He's demonstrated the skill set is there, but the consistency needs to be there.  But we'll continue to work him in practice a little bit, after practice, doing things of that nature.  But he's been impressive.

Q.  On Maxwell, are you confident we're going to see a lot better Andrew Maxwell than we saw last year?
COACH DANTONIO:  Yeah, I think so.  Again, these questions exist because of some of the things that happened last year that were out of his control, quite honestly, at times.
Pressure mounts as the season grows.  I think he played better early in the season rather than late.  I think he's poised for a great senior season.  He knows what is on the table.  He understands his role in this.  He has experience in playing in this arena and environment.  I think that is big.  When you're playing quarterback, that's a big issue, I think.  Can't neglect that fact.

Q.  Kevin Muma it appears has won the place kicking job.
COACH DANTONIO:  He had a great fall camp.  Geiger has been very impressive, as well, so that may still loom as we move forward.  Geiger has been impressive.  We've kicked a lot.  It's been a long camp.  22 practices, maybe 26.  It's been a long camp.  I think his leg got a little tired towards the end.  He's been impressive.  He started out of the box very good.
Muma has been consistent throughout.  He has to remain consistent the rest of this week.  He's got a job to win game day.  But I'm pretty confident that he's done the job.  He certainly has all the ability.

Q.  With so much riding on this quarterback competition, how do you coach them to play without the anxiety of, I have to be perfect to keep my position or move up?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, our quarterbacks are very selfless.  They're all in this together.  I think the main focus is, What do we have to do to beat Western Michigan?  They're playing against a specific defense, not against the other quarterbacks, Friday night.  That's the challenge.  That's the focus.  So we'll let that focus take itself to the next level, to the next step.

Q.  Can you talk a little bit about the return game.  I notice Darien Harris is listed as the kick returner.  What did Andre Sims do to separate himself?
COACH DANTONIO:  Andre has been very consistent.  He's had a great summer camp as well at wide receiver.  Last year he was consistent, has experience in that area, punt return.  Darien Harris is a tough guy, he can run, he can really run.  He was a tailback in high school.  He has the skill set to go back there and do those things.
Oftentimes there's guys that are just going to surprise you every now and then.  But we have the ability to put other guys back there, as well.  But he's been impressive.

Q.  Fair to assume that guys not listed on the depth chart are not going to play Friday, speaking specifically of Allen, Thomas and Kittredge?
COACH DANTONIO:  Well, I guess 'assume' is a big word.  Take it for what it's worth.  I don't talk about injuries here.

Q.  How is Maxwell a different quarterback than the guy we saw in the bowl game?  In an ideal situation, would you like to get three of these guys some time in September and see what they do on the field?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think you're always looking for game days to really tell you a lot about a player, I don't care what position they're in.  The more experience they can get actual game field experience, the better they're going to be over a period of time.
Question about Andrew.  I just think he's more confident.  I think he's more confident.  He's making quick decisions.  He has great arm strength.  Never been any question or doubt in that area.  He has control of the offense.  There's some new things that we've done.  I think that he has gravitated to.
I just think he's playing well ‑¬† especially, as I said, this last week.¬† Really since last Saturday, the Saturday before.

Q.¬† You said one of the things you were looking for besides consistency was explosiveness or big‑play ability.¬† Do you see more of that from him?
COACH DANTONIO:  I see him creating that with his decision making, much like Cousins did.  He's a 6'7" high jumper.  He has the ability to get out there and move with the ball.  He has to be confident in doing that.  That's one of the things we worked on very, very hard throughout spring, throughout summer camp, the opportunity to do those things when the opportunity presents itself.
At the same time the decision making, knowing where to go with the ball at the right time.  Quick decision making I think is as important as anything for a quarterback.  If you hold the ball in the pocket too long, bad things are going to happen.  You've got to get rid of it or get out of it.

Q.  There was a lot of talk in camp in regards to Reschke and Jones, whether they might play or redshirt.  Is that something that's evolving?
COACH DANTONIO:  Still continuing to evolve.  They're both very good players.  We basically lose four linebackers that are seniors this year.  If we can redshirt them, we will.  If we cannot because of injuries, we won't.  Right now I feel we have seven linebackers at that position that are game ready to play, that have game experience.  Ed Davis had a great camp.  Had 47 production points in one scrimmage.  You've seen Kyler Elsworth play.  Jairus Jones had a great spring, followed up with a great summer.  You have the starters.  You have Harris, as well, that can play any of the three positions.  One scrimmage, had 12 tackles.
I think we have a very good front set.  Just going to play those guys on special teams.  Right now we'll try to hold them.  Both very, very good players.  Explosive.  Smart players.

Q.  With Maxwell being the senior and having the experience, was there any point in fall camp or practice where you thought maybe he wouldn't be starting for you week one?
COACH DANTONIO:  I guess the answer to that question would be, I tried to give everybody opportunities.  Every one of those four quarterbacks we talked about worked with the ones and twos.  Every one of those quarterbacks had live reps where they were live and you could tackle the quarterback, which is unusual.  We tried to put them in game situations.
What I tried to provide was a very competitive situation, mainly to put pressure on everybody.  People have to feel the heat, they have to feel the pressure so that you can evaluate them in pressure situations.  That's as close as we can get to the game situation.
So I always felt like that Andrew was going to be our guy.  That was the general consensus among our coaches.  But we wanted to provide that competitive level.  There were times when a guy had a better practice, put him with the ones, just like I did with Damion Terry on that scrimmage, ended up putting him with the ones.
We're always going to play the best player.  That's the one thing I will try and do, I will always try and play the very best player, I don't care if he's a freshman or not.
I think Andrew has proven that he is that guy.  Excited about the opportunities that lay in front of him this season, particularly Friday night, for him to demonstrate where he's come from.  I think that's an opportunity.

Q.  When you have a guy like Le'Veon Bell who carried the offense, got more than just the bulk of the carries, how do you plan on approaching this runningback situation going into Friday?  Do you have a set number of carries you want to get each guy or something you want to play it by feel to see who is responding best?
COACH DANTONIO:  I think you have to play the game as it unfolds.  You're playing the sticks.  How you are able to run the football dictates how often you run it a lot of times.
But I think what we want to do is find out who our guys are.  Again, game situations.  We have some things to find out.  After Friday they'll have one game of experience and we'll be able to move from there.
But they're good players.  I think they're all good players.  I think if you look around at that skill set, you've got some things you can work with.  Le'Veon was a freshman as one point, too, 2010, and nobody ever heard of him.  So these things happen.  You build a résumé, you move forward.

Q.  Are you concerned about public reaction Friday night?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, I'm not concerned about it.  I'm just making a general statement because I think everybody always wants to see change, and that's exciting.  They look and they lump things into what's happened in the past.  I believe you have to learn from the past and you grow from the past.
Probably the biggest thing we did wrong in this program was maybe not getting him enough reps as a sophomore before his junior year.  That's difficult to do when you're playing down the stretch.  We had a lot of close games in 2011.  Nevertheless, you wish you would have got him the game reps, provided more of a comfort level.
But, you know, there's going to be times when guys struggle.  That's football.  But I guess I said that basically because I know there is controversy.  I understand that, recognize that fact.
But it's important that as a coaching staff and as a team, hopefully as a group of people, we get behind the guy that we're behind and we all move in the same direction.  I'm just making a general statement there.

Q.  You talked about the pressure that was on the quarterbacks.  What about for yourself.  Live contact on the quarterback.
COACH DANTONIO:  To be honest with you, I feel like we have depth at the quarterback position.  I said we have four guys that can turn around and throw the ball 60 yards, throw a strike at 30.  We have depth.  We need to provide game action.  We have a great defense that are going to pressure you, knock you down.  You got to provide pressure.  That's the only way I know how to get it other than game time.
We look to see who performs at that point in time.  Do I anticipate doing that again?  Not really.  But, you know, I just felt like we needed to do that mainly because Damion surfaced on the Saturday before.  I felt like we needed to find out what he could do.  The only way you can really find out is by testing him more often.
See you Friday.  Thanks.

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