News and Notes from Spartan Football

Hondo S. Carpenter

If my email inbox is an indicator of the mood of the Spartan Nation, it tells me people are overly freaking out about injuries. You always have them, but certainly the Spartans are in very good shape. Dantonio admitted as much recently when he said, “(We) Came out of the first scrimmage very healthy.” He thought the team played, “Crisp…hard (and with) a lot of effort.”

Besides the injury comments which should walk some people off the ledge, the biggest thing he said was how they played crisp. You need to remember that Dantonio is not like most coaches that are fluent in coach speak. He will say nothing and doesn’t hesitate to be critical. So when he calls the 1st scrimmage as “Crisp” that tells us an awful lot. Being his blunt honest self, Dantonio said that one thing he wanted to see more of from his team was a “Little more enthusiasm, how you overachieve.” I could see the minds of the Spartan Nation wondering how this team which plays so intense could lack enthusiasm. He quickly gave the caveat that it doesn’t mean the Spartans are not enthusiastic. In fact, he said, “Not a lack.” For his calm cool demeanor, Dantonio doesn’t look for that from his guys. He loves it when they celebrate (within reason) and swarm each other. He thinks that enthusiasm pushes guys and takes play to another level. 

How critical is red shirting players? That extra year with Ken Mannie and the opportunity to learn the system without the pressure of playing is critical for the long term viability of your program. Dantonio said of his redshirt freshmen that he is, “Very impressed with red shirt freshmen.” They are pushing some veterans very hard. Spartan Nation should be fired up with the depth of talent that is coming in and the fact that so much of it is red shirting is a very special thing.

Outside of the Spartan Nation, the general consensus is that Andrew Maxwell being new is the Achilles heel of this team. Inside the Spartan Nation we know that he was hurt by his coaches when they failed in getting him more reps last year, but he is the real deal. Dantonio who I remind you IS NOT ONE TO HYPERBOLE said of Andrew’s play, “Maxwell looked sharp, delivered the ball well.”

The first two weeks of camp may shock some, but it isn’t as detailed and preparatory for any one opponent as some may think. Right now the subject is NOT Boise State. It is about MSU. That is why they are spending a lot of time learning new things and working on things we may not even see for weeks into the season. Dantonio alluded to it, when he said that he and the staff are, “Throwing a lot of things at our guys.” 

They will get more focused on Boise next week. For now, they are looking at what sticks. One of Dantonio’s biggest strengths is that he will adjust to his talent. He is trying to see some things now on both sides of the ball to see what sticks. For now they are working on MSU.

The maturity of this team and all of the new looks and ideas they are facing has really impressed their coach. Dantonio admitted, “Our players are GREAT in terms of, outstanding job in terms of what we bring up and have to do better.” This team takes coaching and that is what makes good teams great.

For those who have emailed me and expressed concern about this offense, Dantonio admitted, “The defense was tough to score on.” A major understatement. With the tremendous defense the Spartans have, this will ONLY make Maxwell and the offense better.

When it comes to the TE group, I don’t think there is ANY position on this team with as many questions. Clearly, Dion Sims is the starter, but who is next. Andrew Gleichert according to Dantonio is “Having a good spring.” Dantonio also said, “(Derek) Hoebing is in there and is a guy that is very functional. Denzel Drone is in there, he continues to work with the twos and threes. The young freshmen, they struggle, with all the multiple things you ask them to do; that is normal. We’ll see how far they come. Paul Lang is playing better; he really missed his entire freshman year. He is catching the ball and I think he is blocking better, seems like a guy that is functional as well. I think he can play himself into some playing time.” The TE group is my biggest concern and by using such words as “Functional” I think Dantonio shares those concerns.

People are talking about who could emerge as the main returner. Spartan Nation has been telling you for months what Dantonio confirmed again yesterday, “Nick Hill is the guy.”

If you look back, Spartan Nation has continually reminded you that of all the freshmen from the 2012 class, Demetrious Cox was the most ready and was nothing short of a star. This far in he has made us look good. Dantonio once again bragged on the youngster saying, “He is a guy that is physically ready to play, great attention to detail and plays extremely hard. I will NOT be shocked if he is a starter before the season is over.” They love him.

 Between now and Monday, the young players will have to make a statement if they are going to get into the two deep. Dantonio said it best, “Things start to mount on players after 1 week.” With the second scrimmage approaching Saturday, that will be their best chance to make a statement. These practices and that scrimmage will tell us a lot about who will get on the field.

Names that Dantonio acknowledges that could play as true freshmen other than Cox are DB Ezra Robinson, LB Jamal Lyles, and LB Riley Bullough. Bullough, more so, for his special teams contribution. The question is how many special teams will he play on? Dantonio said of lifting a red shirt on Bullough relies heavily on how many of those special teams he plays on. He said, “If you are on three or four of them, it is worth it.”

Coaches, like anyone else, have expectations. They just don’t verbalize them in public. Mark Dantonio will not lie. He will usually say nothing. That is why one of the keys to covering him is listening intently to not just what he says, but what he won’t say. In one of those blunt moments he talked about his expectations and where the team rests. He said, “We are where we thought we would be. Guys are competing.”  

You want the pads to pop in camp. The first few years that Dantonio was here, they couldn’t go like they can now. There isn’t one position that the Spartans have to live in fear of losing a player. There is quality depth at every spot. So I asked Dantonio how he feels about the physicality of the practices? “I was happy with the physicality of how we played. Very pleased with that.”

Remember, it was exactly one year ago today that Spartan Nation broke the story that a little known walk-on long snapper would be the starter. Now a year later, Dantonio says of another true freshman long snapper, this one on scholarship, “Taybor Pepper is going to play. He was been very, very good as a snapper.”

A defensive coach, Mark Dantonio can’t hide his excitement for his backup line backers. “Young LB Ed Davis is playing very well, active, slips people well...Darien Harris has picked up and played well. Kyler Elsworth is playing with the twos a little bit at MIKE. Jamal Lyles is testing the waters with the twos.”

There are NO concerns but Dantonio admitted, “(Chris) Norman held out a little bit. Taiwan Jones ran very well, was very active with ones (first string).” 

Again, Dantonio had to downplay his excitement for how good this team is. He showed some of that when he admitted when being pressed, “We’ve got some guys, just have to fix the little things.”

As a defensive coach you can imagine Dantonio loves the domination that his defense presents, but he isn’t just a defensive coach anymore. He talked about that dichotomy by saying, “Offensively I wouldn’t be happy if I came in here saying they scored six or seven TDs, but I wouldn’t be happy saying we didn’t score one. It does point to where we are defensively at this point and time, we played well in coverage down the field.” 

He then went on and called out his offense a little bit. He said, “You’ve got to thread it in there. You have to make the catch and you’ve got to get open. You’ve got to throw between big people. All those are things that are positive on the defensive side of the ball.” He then added the caveat, “But you see enough good things on offense that you are impressed with.”

You may remember that prior to his injury there was legitimate talk that Bennie Fowler was looking good and was going to push Keshawn Martin for playing time. In need of a truly number one wide out Dantonio said of his WR, “Bennie Fowler looked good.”

When MSU was recruiting Tyler O’Connor, Spartan Nation told you, “O’Connor is the best high school QB we have ever seen. He can do it all.” He then went on and was the MVP of the All 33 game and Dantonio said of his prized freshman signal caller that, “He is ahead of the curve as far as a freshman QB. He has great leadership in huddle, knows what is going on, continues to learn, and has great attention to detail. Can make things happen.” He will redshirt, but he is a star.

Backup QB Connor Cook said to Spartan Nation last week that the story in camp from the WR position is walk on freshman Tres Barksdale. Now making those plays is easier when you are running with the third string no doubt, but Dantonio did praise what he is doing with that third string.  He said of Barksdale, “He makes catches down the field; he knows how to line up. There has not been a practice gone by that he hasn’t made plays for us.”

Once again he continues to praise Shilique Calhoun and Joel Heath. He also added praise for RS Freshman Brandon Clemens and RS Freshman Damon Knox saying that they, “Look very, very good,” along with transfer sophomore James Kittredge. 

But there was one player he took a great deal of time to place emphasis on his play and that was Jr. Micajah Reynolds. You may remember that out of need the staff has had to move him back and forth from OL and DL and never has he had a true chance to settle. Dantonio praised his work now on the DL side of the ball. He said, “He has done some good things on the DL and that impressed me. That is the first time he has done some things and shown and stood out.”

Jack Allen has got a lot of attention from Spartan Nation. Dantonio since spring has said, “He is considered one of the starters.” He now is with the ones and Dantonio addressed that. “Jack Allen is now running with 1’s, Treads down right now. He has been impressive.” With Tread being down, the depth that this line has is magnificent and it is just another next man up situation.

It would appear that none of the true freshmen wide outs have worked themselves into the critical top six spots. We know this according to Dantonio, “A.J. Sims has looked good.”

He talked about the returning WR’s separating from the true freshmen by saying, “Yeah, they have. They know more, they know how to get out of coverage better. (I am) impressed with Benny (Fowler), has had a good summer camp, (Tony) Lippett shows well, Keith Mumphery.  You continue to wait for DeAnthony (Arnett). I think Jeremy Langford has had a good summer camp, has put himself in a situation where he can run with the 1s as well.”

If the season were to start today, the all critical top six wide outs would be (in no particular order)

1)     A.J. Sims

2)     Benny Fowler

3)     Keith Mumphery

4)     Jeremy Langford

5)     Tony Lippett

6)     DeAnthony Arnett

I expect to see some others make a push, so that is why this is only relevant today.

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