News and Notes from Spartan Football

Hondo S. Carpenter

With Micajah Reynolds getting significant reps with the first team D that tells us a couple of things. First off, it is bad news for the rest of the B1G. MSU was already so deep, and that means they just got deeper. A rotation on the DL that keeps rested and quality players coming in and out spells trouble for members of the opposing OL.

That transpires in a unique way for Boise. They will run a lot of the same personnel so when they don’t sub players in and out that will be hard for MSU to do. BUT, they have to play at that same level and after drives the Spartans can sub in new guys. It will be an adjustment, but not one that will cost the game. You will also see that tempo be a huge advantage for MSU when the Buckeyes come to town.

The Spartans would love to red shirt both Josiah Price and Evan BULLDOZER Jones. It may be very difficult. Both are excellent players with a big upside. Bulldozer’s unique set of talents may make him necessary on the field sooner rather than later. I still think that they both redshirt, but with the importance on TE in this offense, it may be much harder than with other position.

The easiest position to fill out a depth chart on the D might be the first string LB. The second string may be the most difficult. It is very fluid and changes every day. I know they would love to redshirt Jamal Lyles, but every day he gets better and he is pushing for PT. He has picked up a lot of reps with the twos.

The biggest thing to come out after last Saturday’s scrimmage is how much emphasis Dantonio put on the ones vs. ones and twos vs. twos and on down the line. You may remember me telling you that Narduzzi was really pushing for that. It was smart. It was 13 days before the game so people could heal if they sustained any injuries, but it was close enough to matter.

I have said it so often that I am sure you are tired of hearing it. Dantonio is a straight shooter. He would be terrible at poker. I respect him for his honesty. He said this week when reflecting on his QB’s play against the best D in the nation, “Maxwell looked VERY sharp.” Emphasis by Dantonio. That should tell you something. More on his confidence in Maxwell later, but he likes what he sees in his young gunslinger.

Dantonio couldn’t let his teams bang it out when he got here. In fact, players who come back from those first two teams comment about how much they go at one another. Depth allows that. Dantonio got a slight grin and used the word “Competitive” to describe practice, but that should say something.

Another big tell that Dantonio flashed was when he was asked if he was satisfied where his team is. He said, “Very satisfied.” Remember that he says what he means and means what he says.

Those of you who are long time readers of Spartan Nation know that we have heralded the talent of true freshman WR Macgarrett Kings since before he committed to MSU. He is the real deal. The top six WRs have been set for a while, but Kings is making a move. He is getting some reps with the twos and moving up. As a true freshman he will have to prove a lot to not be redshirted, but they are giving him every chance.

Dion Sims certainly played well in last Saturday’s scrimmage and every Spartan fan has to be thrilled with that. He was also the recipient of some “Great throws by Maxwell” according to Dantonio. Maxwell will have the certain live game fog that all QBs have early in a season and early in their career for that matter, but they are sold. Dave Warner, the QB Coach, left no room for doubt when he said, “He is our guy.”

I have already talked about the need for LS Taybor Pepper to gain weight and gain a lot of it quick. That aside, he has played very well meeting and frankly exceeding expectations in camp. He is the first LS to get a scholarship to play at MSU and not show up and earn it as a walk on. Dantonio has had some of his highest praise in camp for Pepper. He said, “Taybor has the best times we have ever had in camp. (His) accuracy is very good…(he has) lived up to ALL expectations.” Again emphasis placed by Dantonio.

Early in his tenure at MSU Dantonio had so much to teach, and with limited numbers he had to be careful. Now his system is in. Guys know it backwards and forwards. Now he can have them be real physical, but he also has to pull off the reins some giving them chances to drop a practice and just have some meetings. The team has responded.

Recently, he brought a singing group known as the Young Americans in to entertain and break up the grueling grind of camp. He knows that putting the break on a little bit can help his guys get their legs back for Boise and be even more ready. He described it as intensity on the field, but also “Stay loose off of it.”

Dantonio wouldn’t go as far as QB Coach Dave Warner with his praise for Maxwell and where he is now. He did admit that he expects no drop off from Cousins, but the moment he said it you could see he wanted to give his young QB some room. He said, “I have a lot of confidence in Andrew…I have seen how he leads…but I’ll make those comparisons (to Cousins) at the end of the season.”

In 2009 when Cousins and Nichol were going head to head it was nothing like this. They didn’t know. Privately if you polled the staff at the time, it is my opinion that more than 50% thought Nichol would win the job, but no one was sure.  There is no doubt the confidence that they have in Maxwell.

In 2008, Mark Dantonio was heading in to his second year at the helm of the Spartans. I asked him the week before the first game of the year when they were headed to Cal if it was easier to prepare a team when they opened with such a tough game. The previous year, you may remember, he opened with UAB. He said then, “I can’t say that,” and smiled.

After the season he did talk about how big of an advantage it was to have that team that everyone could focus on all winter and summer. I asked him essentially the same question this week and referred back to the Cal game. Seeing if the man who over analyzes everything had taken some notes from that game and implemented anything different. He said, “The norm is everyone gets excited about the first game.” We know that, but having a big game like Cal or Boise to start the year is enormous.

This team has had a singular focus all winter, spring, and early summer. They are ready for this. It already feels like a BCS heavyweight match and we are still days away.

Dantonio is not above getting annoyed with disrespect. He won’t admit it, but I do think he feels some. There are people acting as if it is a fluke that MSU has won back-to-back 11 win seasons.  When asked about those expectations Dantonio embraced it. He said, “We have always had high expectations of ourselves. It’s not all of a sudden.”

When you enter a season with so much pre-season love and attention, added to that a monster game like Boise there can be a danger of your team being too high for too long emotionally. Dantonio admitted that keeping your eye on the day-to-day and the mundane isn’t easy. In fact he said, “It is a challenge.” He and his staff have done by all accounts a great job so far.

Dion Sims has had adversity, we all know that, but he has fought back and is much respected. His teammates have a lot of respect for him. He is quiet and not one to draw attention to himself. Dantonio called it a “Business like” disposition on the field. I think he and Maxwell can have what Cousins had with B.J. Cunningham.

Top to bottom this is one of the deepest and best football teams I have ever seen. I asked Dantonio about that. He got a monster grin, shook his head, and then went into this non-denial-denial that would have made any Washington politician proud. He said, “Again you have to make that comparison at the end of the season. I will say from top to bottom I feel like we’ve recruited well and we’ve got some very good young players that still need to get experience, but we’ve got depth at a lot of positions and that makes you feel good as a coach. Will figure it all out at the end. I think our guys are relaxed.”

If you think that Dantonio’s attempt to break up the grind of camp is in anyway making it easier, you’re wrong. The pads have been popping and I have already talked about the intensity. What I can tell you is that this staff is committed to making each second on the field count. Dantonio got very serious stressing that, “Don’t think for a moment that this is not intense, were going after each other.”

Players that keep getting praise are Taiwan Jones who according to Dantonio has had a “Tremendous summer camp. Darien Harris, solid, he had a great spring. Ed Davis is all over the place, reminds me a lot of Greg Jones.” He went on to add, “I think Jamal Lyles has been an excited freshman to watch.”

I think that Lawrence Thomas is going to have the same battle as OT Skyler Burkland. Both are great young men, but they have to stay healthy and heretofore it has been a struggle to do. He said of Thomas, “Been nicked up. A lot of depth,” at the DE spot where he currently sits at third string. He went on and added, “Still waiting for him to learn all the little things and aspects.” LT can’t do that injured. If he can get and stay healthy, he has a shot at being a force.

If we have written about one young man the most over the last year it could be Fou Fonoti the RT. In one short year he has gone from an unknown young man, homesick for California and the family he is so close to, to being one of the rare leaders. He is universally respected on this team, by both sides of the ball. He works so hard that he commands respect and is such a great young man that he is truly loved. He isn’t getting a lot of publicity from the media about being voted a captain later this morning, but I will be shocked if he isn’t. Not calling it a sure thing like Maxwell and Bullough, but awful close to it.

Fonoti and Dantonio have a very special relationship and Dantonio really explained his OT in an eloquent and succinct way. He said, “Fou is so close to so many players. Already one of our Eagles, (one of our) top guys, great person.” That sums up what his team thinks also.

Again, you have to remember that Dantonio is not one to waste words. When asked if the running game is ahead he said with no hesitation, “Absolutely!” What does that tell you? After he showed his hand a little he did say, “You have to draw those comparisons once we play. We have to get that message to our players…”

Perhaps the most telling thing Dantonio said came at the end. In the past two campaigns the team had great chemistry. It is different, but even the players are talking about it being better. You may say that they always do, but that isn’t true. In 2009 you knew at this point in camp it was going to be a LOOOONG season.

As I asked Dantonio about the chemistry and what his team is saying he began to shake his head. He couldn’t hide his excitement for that. He said when I asked him if it was better, “Yeah, great chemistry.” Then on cue when he realized he may have been letting too much out of the bag he added the caveat, “A lot of things to prove.” Too late coach, we got the message.

After the caveat he went right back to praising what this team has. He said, “The feeling among this team is that they work very well with each other, they like each other, they get along, they push each other, and they have fun doing it. A lot of guys have an opportunity to play so if a lot of guys have an opportunity to play, that is good for chemistry.”

There is one thing on a personal note for those of you who do not have the opportunity to cover this team every day of the year as I do. This will make you proud. With all the hype and all the excitement around this team, Dantonio has still made it clear to the staff, “We want to work, (but can’t forget we want them) growing as people.” He is always teaching life and that is why the biggest single thing on this team is not only the chemistry among the players, but to the coaches.

Coach Dantonio has had a very good relationship with every team, other than the 2009 squad as a whole, but this group loves him. That is not to imply that others have not. But there is something special here. I can’t put my finger on it, but it is there. Look out!

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