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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 24, 2014
COACH DANTONIO:¬† First off, I just want to congratulate our basketball team, both women's and men's.¬† Obviously we wanted a sweet 16 this Friday in New York with our men's and women's basketball playing this week against North Carolina, so wanted to congratulate both programs.
You know, this is our eighth spring, believe it or not.¬† I look back and at that point in time and ask, how do we get to where we are at right now.¬† And I think it's one of the reasons we have gotten to where we've gotten is because of the attitude we take every spring.
I think this spring, the message to our players equates pretty simple, really, it's handled success, have to be able to handle success as we move forward and everything that we are doing and there's no question that this year will be our greatest challenge in that area.
Goals, goals are the same.¬† I look back and see what were our goals in years past and really it's the same, it's the same goals of my coach, talked about every time we went to spring practice when I was in college at South Carolina.¬† Get three percent better every spring, practice, and it starts with practice No.1, we have 15 practices, 15 opportunities to get three percent better and obviously you're not going to make that big of increments throughout the whole spring practice but you can certainly improve, and take that attitude as you move on.
Find the best 11, the best 22, put yourself in a situation where you're going to be playing on fall Saturdays.¬† And this is the most important thing, is finding those guys right now that's in our core of team, core makeup right now and then in the spring and then allowing our freshmen to come in and find out what they can do and putting them into play situations as soon as possible.
Recruit, I don't think there's any doubt that recruiting has become accelerated to you need to be able to use this as a recruiting opportunity, as well, an opportunity for people to come watch you practice and get involved with our players.¬† Establish our identity; last year, we needed to find a tailback, find our wide receivers, establish who we are, with that comes experiments, you need to establish your identity as a team, a secondary, as an offensive line and individually as well.¬† I think that's important.¬†
Obviously we need to stay healthy.¬† We can't have any big injuries coming out of spring break and we're going to go live and do things as we have always done them and at the same time we need to try and stay as healthy as possible.
Continue to develop a championship attitude.¬† I think we are well along the way in that regard, but we have our mission and we need to continue to fulfill our mission, not just on the field but off the field, as well, in the classroom.¬† We want to work in different situations and cover all the situations you're going to see on a game day, special teams, and offensively and defensively and then finally, which I think is key, as well, we wanted to play in front of an audience a little bit, too.
¬†And with our spring game, and hopefully we'll have a big crowd this years, I would I think we would have in excess of 50,000, that's what I would shoot for.¬† That's our goals.¬† Great attitude.
We have done most of our workouts in the morning at 5:30, that was by intent to make it a little more difficult for our players and Coach Manning and our strength coaches have done an outstanding job in that area.¬† We have guys who are leading quite often, just the guys, Calhoun, Travis Jackson, Drummond, Cook, Mumphery, Langford, Jones.¬† Those are the guys that are sticking out but we have a lot of guys that are working and winter workouts at a championship level and we'll continue that.
And with that, I'll just take some questions and we'll go from there.
Q.¬† On your football team right now, what are you most confident in as far as a position and what are you most concerned about?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think as far as position, you've got an MVP quarterback back, and not just one game but in two games.¬† So you've got to feel confident in our quarterback situation.¬† I think we have three outstanding quarterbacks there, and one who has played at a very high level.
Our wide receiver situation I think is secure.¬† Offense we have to retool a little bit.¬† So I guess that would be a little bit of a concern area there.¬† On the defensive side I think our defensive ends are very solid, secure.¬† We lose some defensive tackles but we have some experience coming back at that position.¬† But depth will be an issue.
Our linebackers, again, I feel pretty secure in terms of the Top3, four guys.¬† And then we have got younger players coming in after that.¬† So whether it's Shane Jones or Jon Reschke, I would consider those guys younger players as well but feel pretty secure with the top players.
Our secondary, we'll retool it he can which check.¬† You lose two guys like Lewis and Dennard, and I don't know that those two guys are replaceable.¬† But we have got some great players back there and we have got depth and I think we have got a lot of guys we have developed good depth back there and we have never really taken a step back yet.
So I think our punter and our kicker are pretty solid.¬† I think we have a good nucleus back.¬† Biggest concern I guess would be our depth at the inside tackles and how we are going to reconstruct our offensive line around some people.
Q.¬† You mentioned the idea of experimenting this time of year, are there any particular guys you're experimenting with or positions?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Yeah, I think the No.1 guy would be James Bodanis.¬† I think he's a good athlete, a big guy.¬† He's got one year left, move him to the offensive line.¬† He really didn't start playing football until he came to college, so it's not like he's that far into it.¬† But I think he has all the attributes to be an outstanding offensive lineman and quick learner.¬† So that's one position that you're looking at.
There's going to be other positions where you're going to work this guy from field front side safety to boundary safety and those type of things, RJ Williamson and Demetrious Cox will sort of vie for that fourth‑‑ that starting safety position, so that will be a challenging situation for both those guys.
Linebackers, I think everybody else is sort of set pretty much.¬† No real drastic changes.¬† I don't see any real drastic changes.
Q.¬† Two quick questions.¬† Williams still at tailback, do you look at him at linebacker this spring as well or just keep him on offense?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† No, he's going to remain at tailback for us.¬† He's going to miss part of‑‑ most of the spring probably with the shoulder surgery.¬† But I think he's sort of solidified himself in the mix there.
Q.¬† And then last question, you lose Scarpinato and Dennis to retirement; is everyone else back other than those two?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Yes and both those guys are graduating and you know in terms of Mark Scarpinato, he's had an opportunity to go into med school.¬† Just an opportunity, very, very difficult and it's after his third year in college.¬† So he is graduating and going to do that.
And Mike Dennis is going into his fifth year and already graduated and he's going to opt to move on, as well.¬† Both those guys are very good players, good players, solid players for us and we want them both back.¬† So this is a decision that they are making.
Q.¬† You mentioned the linebackers being pretty set, Jones is listed as the middle linebacker after being outside for most of his career.¬† Is that something you're going to look at through the spring or a possibility of moving forward or your plan going forward?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think that's something we are going to look at and evaluate as we move forward.¬† He's become a thumper a little bit and he's a big, physical guy.¬† We are going to have to see how he transitions in terms of the knowledge there but again they are all linebackers and he can play outside, he can play Sam, as well and we are going find out if we can play the Mike.
Q.¬† Joel is the No.1 defensive tackle right now, can you talk about the winter he's had and where he might be?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Good winter. He'll be slowed a little bit by an ankle early in the spring here but he should be coming out of that within the first week.
But Joel is a big, physical guy, 290 pounds, 6‑6, a lot like Hoover in a lot of ways.¬† I think he's just earned the opportunity to go in there and work for the starting position.
LT will play inside and outside, and he should be a force, as well.¬† I think we have good players on the defensive front and those guys can play in it, either place and they did last year.¬† So we are just going to, would that situation right now as such but I think both guys could play either or, which is a positive.
Q.¬† Last year we saw you do some different things with the tight ends, even though they were a younger group, can you talk about where your tight ends are now and if you'd expect Gleichert to take a big step?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think our tight ends are a much more secure position.¬† Certainly Gleichert comes back but really just Chmura will be back and he may work a tight end, as well as outside, and he could be either a guy‑‑ and he's proved to be a good player, he's coming off of surgery and he'll be practicing, as well.¬† Is so I think we have five guys and we are in a much better situation than we were at that point at the tight end position.
Q.¬† You named a few people that are out, can you tell us anyone else that's out for spring and secondly, with LT t, he's been given chances at several positions, being a junior, is it time for him to get somewhere and settle?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† We have used LT at fullback position in the past.¬† We just wanted to get him on the field, and that will always be our goal to, get our players on the field.¬† Usually what I've said is use them or lose them.
So he can play, I would say, fourth or the fifth defensive line right now.¬† Just depends on where he's going and how he's playing and can he stay healthy.¬† I think the biggest thing is he's got to remain healthy.¬† He had a back that kept him out the entire spring and he had a back brace on the entire summer and he really could not get back involved, so he missed all of August camp, and he missed pretty much most of September.
So he was a guy that I think that happened, I think that might have happened in the summer, but he missed a lot of time.¬† There was some thoughts about whether he was fractured or not so he missed the a lot of August camp.¬† The fundamental aspects, he came in, and he finally did get back in the fall, and he was behind in terms of what he was‑‑ fundamentally.
But he's a good football player, athletic, 290 pounds, he has strength, he can run, he's active so got to find a place for him to play.¬† I would agree but, it's time.
Are there other injuries?¬† Davis in and out a little bit, out for the first couple weeks probably, maybe three weeks and probably never go live throughout.¬† Good player.¬† I think we have got some other guys just sort of hindered a little bit with hamstrings and things of that nature and don't have my alternate list in front of me right now.
Secondary is pretty squared up.¬† Defensive line, pretty squared up.¬† The one linebacker, wide receivers, all right.¬† Offensive line seems to be all right.¬† I know I'm missing somebody.¬† Williams will be probably much the same, will be able to do some things but not go live throughout the spring.¬† Probably missing somebody else.
Q.¬† With Jamal Lyles in, is he offense all the way?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Never say never.¬†¬† He's a good athlete.¬† He's 260 pounds.¬† He can run.¬† So just it would be neat to see him playing.¬† He needs to be playing an active part in our offense, so I would expect for him to be getting a more plays but just never say never.
I just believe he's a football player.¬† He's active and he has defensive mentality, he has defensive snaps and he has played in games on defense and he's spent a year plus on defensive side of the ball.¬† I do think he can be an excellent tight end and catch the ball very, very well but it would be neat to see him play, that's my opinion.
Q.¬† And a guy like Kittredge, how much more can you do?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† James is another guy that was hurt.¬† He was out for quite a while.¬† Lasted fall we missed him in summer camp.¬† So he was a guy that was getting out a little bit.¬† Didn't play as much as he had played the year before, so he's got his weight back.¬† I can't remember all the injuries but he lost a lot of weight.¬† He was weighing 265, he had two disks, and it was a struggle for him to get back and now he's back up to 290 pounds plus.¬† He should be active.
Q.¬† What is the secret for championship programs to stay hungry, something you've been able to trade off all these years, is there a common thread there that everybody wins at a high level has?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think the difference between winning and losing, as I've said, many, many times, is very, very small.¬† This conference, seven teams in the east, good football teams, very well‑coached throughout this conference and we have a great schedule that we'll play.
So every team I think needs to come in or every team‑‑ when I say every team, I mean every Michigan State team that we've had has to come in and earn their identity and they have to understand it's not going to be given to them.¬† Understand where we came from and never forget that and take one step at a time to elevate our play, establish our leadership, establish who we are again, and sort of do it the old‑fashioned‑way and that's what we have done here.
We can't feel like we are entitled and can't feel like‑‑ saying you're the No.5 team in the country, we can't just hang our hat and say, that's going to happen.¬† We have to make it happen and we have to be mature enough to be able to handle success and that's part of it.
That's why, talking about what we have done in every game, how we have gone about it, and we had a very businesslike approach last year and that's a credit to hour our team did what they did, and more importantly, how our seniors handle things because you can slip back really quick.¬† From what I've seen written out there, we had a dismal of 7‑6 year the year before; it's gone from being 7‑6 to dismal.¬† You can slip back real quickly, but you know, fact remains that we'll get what we earn.
Q.¬† You mentioned this has been a few springs for you now; is this the best team and the best roster that you've had going into a spring since you've got here?¬† Competition really at every position, even your quarterback.¬† I really haven't looked at that aspect of it.
COACH DANTONIO:¬† Probably need to look at it as we begin to practice.¬† We lost a lot of very good players.¬† I went down, looked at our team picture today and we lost some very good players, Max Bullough, Dennard, Lewis, Treadwell, and on it goes‑‑ don't want to leave anybody out.¬† I think we have the makings of a good football team, but again I think we need to understand that we will go where our players take us and much of that is based on chemistry and leadership.
So last year we had a chip on our shoulder.¬† It's important that chip remain on our shoulder as we move through the year.
Q.¬† Speaking of that, how do you keep your players focused going into this new season, or are they already focus and do they want to taste a little bit more of success or what you can guys can accomplish?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think your players always look to try to take another team further.¬† So I think they are motivated in that way but I think they also understand, many of our players were here in 2012 and were here in obviously 2013 as well.
You look at the number of players that have been here‑‑ all of our players have been here since 2010 and they basically are 42‑10 over the last four years, which is a big positive for us and we need to build on that but at the same time, at the same time they need to be able to look back in and realize that, you know, you're a victor, won or loss like that, and I hope our players understand that.
There's no substitution for hard work, we work them hard, we keep pushing them and so I can tell you‑‑ but I know that everybody in this conference does the same.¬† It's just the nature of it.
Q.¬† On the offensive line, you rotated a bunch of guys, is that something that begins to be a strength for you this year because you don't have to go with a bunch of experienced guys and is it a approach you'll keep taking or was it unique last year?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think it was unique and a luxury, and I think if we play ourselves in that situation, that's outstanding for us. ¬†I think our thoughts are that those players, all those players that are playing, I think eight of them played ‑‑¬† warranted that playing time.¬† Wasn't given to them.¬† But they warranted that based on their play.
We lose really three guys, and Mike Dennis was a guy that could have swung in there and been a ninth offensive that would have played a tight end for us.¬† We are going to lose some of those guys and it's going to be important that younger players make that‑‑ I think Kodi Kieler is a guy that has had an outstanding fourth quarter program, which is what we call our weak conditioning and I think he's sort of set the play a little bit.
So it will be interesting to see what kind of spring he has, so it will be exciting to watch him.
Q.¬† I know you said the team needs to keep the chip on the shoulder; what do you do as a coach to keep it there?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I think those things take care of themselves, how you handle your winter conditioning, fourth quarter program; do you let them slide or hold them accountable in each drill they are going through?¬† Do you repeat the drill?¬† How do you handle their maturity in terms of being off the field; if you have a problem, how do you address it.
Those things are important, as well, and then just how do you act, how do you walk around.¬† When you've won, there's an added responsibility that goes along with that in terms of how you carry yourself and I hope we are carrying ourselves with humility out there.¬† That goes a long ways towards pointing the direction for me.
I think the statistics are, and I've said this before, one out of every ten teams that has had great success, there's a ten percent chance of that team doing it again, one out of every ten.¬† So we need to be that one in ten to be able to‑‑ that's able to handle it.
So I think a lot of it, though, our sear I don't knows have to have their best years.¬† Every time we've had I great season, if you go back in 2008, 2010, if you look at 2011, if you look at 2013, our seniors have stepped up and had a great year, not just on the field but off the field adds well, and usually those go hands in happened.
When we have had those years, we've had very few problems off the field and we've just been able to be the rock.
Q.¬† Coach just said earlier, can you talk about the difference from a year ago, the whole quarterback battle and now where you're at as a player.
CONNOR COOK:¬† Last year I was pretty much ‑‑ my main focus was trying to win out the job and now that I'm quarterback I've established myself as a good player on the team and as a leader, so I can exert myself as more of a leader on the opposite side rather than just on the offense and as the leader.
Q.¬† You worked out again with George‑‑ sorry‑‑ how is that‑‑ is that an ongoing process and how has that helped you?
CONNOR COOK:¬† I saw him over the summer having some things that I need to work on, heading out there, got to hold the ball up higher and my release was slower my footwork‑‑ I wanted to go out before spring ball, not having much ‑‑ so things I needed to work on to get better at but more just to go out there and get a week's worth of work before we start spring ball.
So I wanted to go out there and brush up on some skills, fine tune some things so I could come into spring ball and pick up where we left off in Pasadena.
Q.¬† You mentioned coming in this spring as one of the leaders, as one of the leaders what do you do and what do you have to say?¬† Is there anything different from last year in terms of consistency and keeping what you guys succeeded to do down the stretch, getting the Rose Bowl and what do you have to do differently?¬† Terms of what you say to the team?¬† How do you lead differently?
CONNOR COOK:¬† I've never been the kind of guy to be a rah‑rah leader.¬† I've always let my playing do the speaking sort of in that kind of manner, but comes with the territory and comes with the position.
As a quarterback you have to be a leader both vocally and on the field, but really I don't think we need to change much as an offense really.¬† I really think we just need to execute and continue to look at last year and just see where we are.¬† So to be successful, look at the tape, do whatever while we are practicing for spring.
But really, we just know what we have and we have established an identity and if we continue to do what we have been doing since last year, pick up right where we left off, the sky is the limit for us as an offense.
Q.¬† How much of an advantage is it, the off‑season workouts and things that will transpire, can you just talk about that moving forward?
CONNOR COOK:¬† Yeah, I like the position we are in right now, just because we have established our identity and we know what we have and we know we have proved to everyone what we can do on offense.¬† And that's exciting as a quarterback especially only losing one receiver and two offensive linemen, guys that can step up and fill right in.
¬†Really it's exciting because we want to get at least three percent better every single day, continue to work on things we need to work on to get better, but really I'm excited what the future holds as an offense, our receivers are young, the guys who are experienced down the line.¬† So really the sky is the limit for us as an offense and it's very exciting.
Q.¬† You mentioned how things are different for you this off‑season not just for you, but the receivers, when you took the field this winter for optional workouts how different was it knowing that you had hooked up with these guys for the winning touchdown at the Rose Bowl, how different are they now this winter?
CONNOR COOK:¬† I think it's really just a whole confidence level, guys have proven themselves, Eric Cane, Burbridge, Tony Lippett, other receivers have really proven themselves.
And it's a whole confidence thing, same thing with me I went out there and played well this year and as a team we won the Rose Bowl and that just boosts the heck out of your confidence, especially heading into this year.
It is a little different just because of the success we had, and Coach mentions how do you handle success and I think we have done a great job of handling success.¬† We did a great job of handling this whole year.¬† We have to continue doing that as we go into this next year, but really I don't think we need to look too far ahead, as long as we just continue to taking one game at a time and focus on one week at a time and I think we can do really good things.
Q.¬† Have there been any other differences maybe that you've seen in this off‑season in winter conditioning as compared to the years prior?
CONNOR COOK:¬† I would really just say the main difference is how hard the coaches are pushing you us.¬† I think this is the hardest off‑season program I've been around and this is my third year.
Having the year that we had and the success that we had, I think the coaches did a great job of not letting us look back and relish that stuff and really ever since we had two weeks off, ever since then we put the game behind us and focused on this year and focused on this spring and the 14 season but mainly how hard the coaches pushed because they pushed us so hard trying to break us every single workout.
Q.¬† Because you work with George, are you able to maybe talk to some other quarterbacks that have been in your position, maybe can you tell us what they have told you?¬† And second of all, you talk about spending your spring break out trying to get better, are you using that as a leader to hold your guys accountable?
CONNOR COOK:¬† When I was out there, I met Brock Jensen, really good quarterback for North Dakota State, and Logan Thomas, who also played at Virginia Tech who is entering the draft this year was out there.¬† Really didn't talk much about them in the positions that they were in, really just small talking and working out with them and stuff like that.
And what was the second question?
Q.¬† You spent your spring break out in California, does it allow you as a leader to push other guys and ask, what are you doing, stepping into that leadership role?
CONNOR COOK:¬† Yeah, you know, you have to have a relationship with all the guy on the team and if I feel like someone is not working that hard I'm not afraid to say what are you doing, why weren't you working hard, trying to push them and stuff like that.
But really, the guys that we have on this team are hard workers and I feel like there are not any slackers on this team.¬† If anything, the Rose Bowl made us more hungry.¬† After the season ended, the week we got back, guys were out there throwing‑‑ we had the whole defensive back out there and the linebackers, defensive line, offensive line were doing their drills, quarterbacks, receivers, we are all out there trying to get better.¬† I don't think we have too many slackers and I think a lot of guys are hungry.
Q.¬† Have you had a chance to work with‑‑ initial observations‑‑
CONNOR COOK:¬† I threw to him a couple times.¬† He played quarterback in high school and for playing quarterback he's a very athletic kid, can come out of his breaks really fast and has good hands and can high point the ball and seems like a good kid that fits here at Michigan State.
Q.¬† Can you tell us about some of the younger receivers?
CONNOR COOK:¬† Some of the younger guys, I know they are Kilgore, he got hurt in camp.¬† He was on scout team all year but Trey is a pretty good receiver.
Other guys that stepped up were not really young guys, guys that have not had a shot; Dayne (ph), super hard worker, good kid, does whatever the coaches ask and I feel like if he gets a shot, he can do something with it.
Nat (ph) is also another very hard worker and he's also younger, very athletic and did a great job on scout team and when he had his opportunity to come up and work, he did a fantastic job and other younger guys like cane, you guys all know about; and Aaron Burbridge, but I feel like down the line not just younger guys but as an entire unit the receiving core is very, very talented and I'm very, very fortunate quarterback to have them as my peers and looking forward to it.
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