EAST LANSING – Michigan State had its opening practice session of the season Saturday morning and here’s a look at what eighth-year coach Mark Dantonio had to say during his session with the media.
Dantonio: “Like it’s been the last seven years guys, first day in shorts, you’re looking at retention, you’re looking at guys being in shape and getting their legs underneath them and quick twitch. You want to look and see what the freshmen have and how they compete against the older players and those type of things. Good practice, we’ll find out a little bit about our football team as we move forward though. But good practice. Like I said to our football team last night, it starts here and it’s a new beginning. And I think everybody across the country right now who starts today will be doing the same thing.”
On if he has a handle on how the summer went:
Dantonio: “I think you have an idea and they changed the rules so some of the coaches could at least come out and watch our guys and correspond with them a little bit and see how they’re feeling. And then our strength coaches give us some indication of that. And you always get an indication of when our players come in and run the test. Our test is a difficult test, but 95-97 percent of the people made it and the next day the guys who didn’t make it made it this morning.”
Initial impressions from opening day:
Dantonio: “It’s hard because you’re n0t watching the film yet and all those type of things, but I guess the initial impressions would be Montae Nicholson – very balanced, big-framed guy who can really run. (He’s) gotta get in shape and finish the drills. Malik McDowell is very quick, athletic. Enoch Smith very athletic. All those defensive linemen are really athletic guys. Craig Evans as well as David Beedle and then (Montez) Sweat and (Robert) Bowers all showed great athletic ability. I’m sort of looking at the freshmen to see can they catch up? There’s a lot going through their mind right now and there’s a lot going through their legs. It’s going to take a special guy, but I’m impressed with those guys and on the offensive side of the ball (Madre) London obviously looks like a great player as well, but there’s a lot to learn. Those are my impressions.”
If there’s any difference attitude wise entering season coming off Rose Bowl?
Dantonio: Our guys have always been enthusiastic. We haven’t hit the dog days yet. I thought our meetings were great yesterday, a lot of enthusiasm. We don’t have a large senior class but we have a very large junior class that are fourth-year juniors. They’re in their fourth year and they provide a lot of leadership for us. (It’s) guys like (Connor) Cook and Shilique (Calhoun) and Trae Waynes and those type of guys that are in their fourth year.”
Is there anyone who could miss a couple weeks?
Dantonio: “Damon Knox right now has got some surgery so he’ll be out for a little bit of time. It is what it is so we’ve got to deal with it.”
Will Knox be ready for the start of the season?
Dantonio:“We’ll have to see about that. I don’t talk about injuries any more than that.”
Still wear the name tag on the first day of camp in case someone doesn’t know you?
Dantonio: “You’ve got to go back a little bit and take a step back and you’ve got to reaffirm what you’re trying to do. And even the smallest things, whether you’re a senior or a coach here for eight years or whether you’re a true freshman, you’ve all got to sort of bleed together I think a little bit.”
Are you allowing guys to even talk about Rose Bowl and last season as they begin preparations for the new season?
Dantonio: “No, I think what we talk about is what’s the next step for this program. The next step is fall camp. It’s a long period of time and we’ve got to get through it, we’ve got to train for it, not have injuries, play at a high level, tackle in space, catch the ball, make the 50-50 catch and all the different things. That’s where our focus has to be right now and then it’s got to get on the first game.”
Any guys you can tell who had significant summers?
Dantonio: “I think it’s too early to tell that because it’s just shorts practices and the game is not played in shorts. We have to put shoulder pads on and we’ll know more about it and once they get to shells and once they start to condition themselves and once they get into fall shape. You can run a test, but it’s very difficult to go through a practice at a high end speed every single snap. We have to train for that. We’ll learn something about our football team every practice.”
What will be some of the things you focus on early in fall drills?
Dantonio: “Fall drills is about staying healthy, it’s about technique, it’s about conditioning, it’s about getting used to contact again and being able to operate in the ABC’s of your position. If you’re a defensive back you’ve got to be able to change direction, tackle in space and play the deep ball. It’s really about returning. As I said, you’ve got a new beginning and sort of reaffirming who you are from a technique standpoint and knowledge standpoint and focus standpoint. And with anything you do, you’ve got to work on who will be your leaders this year. We lost some great leaders last year, (we’ve) got some great ones here, but other guys are going to have to reaffirm themselves.”
On keeping hunger after getting to Rose Bowl?
Dantonio: “We’re always trying to accomplish one aspect here – get to the championship game. Since it’s been split to divisions we try and get to the championship game. That’s still our goal. If we can get there then the next goal becomes win the Big Ten championship because it’s a long road to get there. If you can win the Big Ten championship, then you can move on from there and think bigger possibilities. I know there’s a lot of high expectations but at the same time you have to start fresh. Every year you have to start fresh and sort of go backwards and reaffirm yourself because there’s no givens and everybody is working extremely hard. Every program right now has a lot of aspirations, a lot of dreams and a lot of high hopes.”
Do you feel program has some momentum on the recruiting trail in last month?
Dantonio: “I think recruiting has been accelerated so people are making decisions as we move forward here. Everybody’s got their own time frame, we don’t pressure people and I’m not going to tell somebody ‘It’s your time, you’ve got to make a decision.’ It is truly their time to make a decision when they want.
“Yeah I think there is momentum. Players see that. We’ve got good players and we’ll continue to get good players. Guys that come will be developed and have a higher opportunity.”
On defensive line
Dantonio: “Our defensive line guys are going to have opportunities. We graduated two and we lost (Mark) Scarpinato as well to early graduation. They’re going to have an opportunity, but it is the most talented group. You can already see that. I know one thing about our shorts practices and you can see that that’s the most talented group top to bottom and it’s the deepest group top to bottom.”
On wide receiver competition
Dantonio: “Our receiver group is deep. We did not bring in an incoming freshman and there’s going to be opportunities for guys next year and the year after because certainly we’ll graduate guys in the next two years. I think it’s great competition. I was impressed. (Aaron) Burbridge came out and caught the ball very well today and very sharp and (Tony) Lippett. You know the numbers. They are all out here competing and they all look very good and they look crisp and I thought our quarterback play looked crisp as well.