There was essentially one question facing Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio before Monday morning’s practice: Um, coach, so Damion Terry?
MSU’s heralded freshman quarterback put together an eye-opening scrimmage Saturday, according to the numbers and to Dantonio.
Dantonio talked openly Monday about Terry’s prospects of playing QB for the Spartans this season. This wasn’t off-the-cuff. Everything he said was calculated.
Here’s a transcript of what he said, and, after each answer, why he said it or what I think it means …
Q: What’s realistic for Terry?
Dantonio: We’ve got to see if he’s consistent with his performance that he displayed on Saturday and we’re going to find that out. Is it a one-time thing or is there consistency there. I think when you have a freshman, the learning curve is so big. Where you’re at on Practice 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 is distinctly different from where you’re at on Practice 16, 17, 18, 19. I that’s what we have to find out, because I think we need consistency there. But there’s no question he made some plays. He made some big-time throws and that’s exciting to watch.
My take: Dantonio might have been taken by surprise by Terry’s performance Saturday. The freshman QB had all but dropped off the radar and out of the conversation for this season. There’s a reason for that. He hadn’t done much to show he was close to ready — before Saturday. The question now is whether Saturday was an epiphany or a just really good day for a young guy with a lot of talent. If it’s the latter, he can’t play. The bad days for freshman QBs are too costly.
Q: Has Terry had any live work?
Dantonio: We did go live on Saturday. We turned it up and went live. I think we needed to do that, especially with him. We did that a little bit with some of the other quarterbacks, as well. Probably went less than half but more than a third was live with the quarterbacks.
My take: That MSU went live with any of its QBs — other than Terry — this close to the season is a sign no one has won the job and that the coaches aren’t comfortable with where these guys stand. If you’ve got a guy who is ready, he doesn’t get hit in a scrimmage less than two weeks before the opener.
Q: Were Terry’s reps scripted?
Dantonio: As the scrimmage progressed, he did well with the 3s (third unit). I sort of shrugged my shoulders and put him with the 2s. (Then) I sort of shrugged my shoulders and put him with the 1s. It’s not that complicated. You’re going to play the guys that move the football down the field, that don’t make mistakes that can create. I’ve said that all along and he demonstrated that. I hate to say that it’s a four-man race or anything like that. Obviously, there is differences in terms of who has the most knowledge and things of that nature. This is about consistency over a period of time. But, you have to give people the opportunities and I’ve said that all along. I think that’s refreshing when a freshman gets an opportunity, because it proves what we say is correct. We’re going to give everybody an opportunity and we’re going to try to be very consistent and fair about this in all respects. And our players, hopefully, they understand that.
My take: Dantonio told Terry he’d get an opportunity during his recruitment — Terry talked about it publicly — and he’s trying to live up to that, and in saying so, he’s sending a message to other recruits that he’s a man of his word on this. But I also think Dantonio is tired of seeing offense without movement. And when he sees the offense move behind a certain quarterback, that QB is going to keep getting chances.
Q: How will the quarterback reps be divided this week?
Dantonio: I want to see everybody getting reps with the 1s and the 2s or the 2s and the 1s and try to make it equal. But at some point in time, they’re going to have to stand on what they’ve done, just like they have to do that during games.
… The bottom line is what do they do to be successful on the field and the best way to handle that is by past experiences and then also what’s happening currently in scrimmage situations. We’ll go a little bit live today, or whatever we’ve got to do, but we’re going to find out.
My take: A decision on Terry has to be made quickly. The rest of these guys, as I wrote in a column early this month, will be made by their performances on Saturdays early in the season. Terry will have to be consistently productive and avoid costly mistakes through the next week or the redshirt stays on — which I think it will.
Q: Is there any possibility he could start?
Dantonio: Tough to say right now because we don’t have this next week-and-a-half in the bank. What we have seen is that he made plays in the scrimmage, he throws a good ball, he made plays with his feet and that’s all you can assess. You can assess, at the beginning of the scrimmage it was a three-horse race. And at the end of the scrimmage it was a four-horse race.
… Tom Izzo plays a freshman point guard all the time, all the time, right? When that guy asserts himself and takes control of the football team or the basketball team, that’s the guy who’s going to play. I don’t care if he’s a senior, sophomore, junior, redshirt freshman or freshman, that’s the best thing to do. Damion has to prove consistency of performance. The other guys have to prove more consistency. They’ve got to break away from their own three-man race.
My take: No. There’s no chance he starts. Andrew Maxwell starts the opener, because not doing so ruins him and you can’t go back. The freshman point guard comparison is shoddy, too, because hoops is so different. Playing in a pro-style Division I offense is much more complex and the sport is so much more physical. But Dantonio is clearly not happy that the other three haven’t separated themselves.
Terry will redshirt, I still believe. But this is an interesting story line, because of what it says about his ceiling (all good) and the other QBs (not so good).
I’ll have more in a column for Tuesday’s Lansing State Journal.