News and Notes From Spartan Football Part 2...

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News and Notes from Spartan Football…

The Spartans will open the season at #13 in both the AP and USA today poll. I have them at #6.

The Spartans have had a brutal fall camp, very physical and very spirited. With the depth this team has, they have been competitive at almost every position. Perhaps the most uncompetitive position has been at the punter’s position with the Big Ten’s best, Mike Sadler.

Sadler and this defense are going to be Andrew Maxwell’s best friend.

Camp officially breaks after practice on Thursday, but starting yesterday the team could see that things are easing up and changing focus. There is a universal sense of excitement as the attention moves to the August 31 showdown with Boise St.

I have already reported how well Dion Sims performed at Saturday’s scrimmage. The one area that he has really stepped up his game is with his run blocking. In the Mark Dantonio system, a TE is first and foremost a blocker…another OL. If you can’t block, YOU WON’T PLAY. The blocking by the TE’s was the biggest concern coming in and they have done a good job addressing it. If Sims can improve this aspect of his game, he has all the tools to be a first round pick. It is really up to him.

Andrew Gleichert is a name most people don’t know. Learn it, because you will be seeing him this fall. He is the second string TE and with his improvement as a run blocker, he will get meaningful and significant reps.

As far as third string TE, that would go to Paul Lang. Lang has fully recovered from his injury and by all accounts he has had a very good camp. Derek Hoebing is a monster at 6’7” and as the fourth string TE, I am really looking forward to seeing him play. Some guys really have the light come on in meaningful game reps and I am watching him closely.

With Denzel Drone as the fifth string TE, he is getting reps with the O and the D. He is athletic and I am watching him with great intrigue. I think that the TE will end up being the biggest disappointment on this team or the biggest surprise. I think Drone playing both sides could be a key story if this unit is seen as a team strength.

I have sung the praises of Jack Allen since MSU was going after him hard as a recruit. He is going to be a great player and probably a four-year starter at guard. Now that the redshirt freshman is a starter at LG, people are taking notice. He could have played last year. However, in the Dantonio system, offensive linemen are redshirted unless an emergency situation arises.

Allen’s coordinator Dan Roushar had high praise for his young star. He said of Allen that he is, “Really impressive. Really sound…chance to be special.” They love the pad level that the one-time wrestling star operates with; he is a mauler. I will be watching closely as he pulls and shows off his athleticism. Roushar said it best about Allen declaring, “The staff is very comfortable with him on the first string.” High praise.

This team has not done anything yet. Last year’s team did, but most people don’t understand that each team is very different. Can this team deal with the success? Can they stay hungry? We can all speculate, but we won’t know until they hit the field.

LeVeon Bell’s work ethic has drawn rave reviews from both the MSU staff and players alike. When your leaders (Bullough, Bell and others) are your hardest workers, you have something special. This team has that.

With four young men competing for the starting S spot opposite of Isaiah Lewis, one thing is certain. They are already very good at moving up in run support. This is a critical function because Narduzzi trusts his CBs and likes to put them on an island in 1-on-1 coverage.

We really won’t know for another week who wins the #1 spot, but I expect several of them to get reps against Boise and with the offensive staff and players bragging about their run support, I am not concerned.

The best scenario for Blake Treadwell’s return is about 1 month. Let’s hope for a great and speedy recovery and that he can be back and provide some great depth on the OL.

Last week I gave you the top six wide receivers and unless there was an injury that we weren’t told about on Saturday nothing has changed there. There is no doubt that DeAnthony Arnett was a great player in high school. He was good at Tennessee last year.  For him to reach his potential, he has to become more consistent. He is learning a new system, but consistency will be the key for him to get meaningful reps. He has to operate with crisp route running every play, and block well down field. He has all the God-given tools to be fantastic, now it’s up to him.

According to Roushar, A.J. Troup is the seventh string wide out. That says a lot. Dantonio has admitted that this is a super talented group, but they just lack experience. For a walk-on like Troup to be where he is, that is a testament to his work ethic. He stays in the mix not because he is the most talented wide out, but because NO ONE works harder than he. A.J. is a hungry Spartan Dawg.

With so much talent in the 2012 class, it is selfish for fans and media and frankly players and coaches to expect them to be anything other than freshmen. Roushar said it best, “Young guys have a lot of ability; they just have to learn the system. Too many mistakes to function (with them).”

One WR that I think could really be a factor is Jeremy Langford. Super speed like Keshawn Martin and similar to KMart, he has struggled catching the ball consistently. If he can develop his hands, he could be a force. He has the skills of a RB after the catch.

Roushar said this about Langford, “Improved dramatically from spring at WR.” He cited his route running skills as well as his physicality and what I just mentioned, the RB factor.

At one point last week, Andrew Maxwell went six practices without throwing a pick. Against the best defense in the Big Ten that is saying a lot, especially with the number of balls that get thrown in practice. One area that might seem inconsequential to many people is that Andrew has done a very good job throwing the ball away. No one likes to waste a precious down, but taking a sack can be a drive killer, and trying to make something out of nothing can create turnovers. With his defense and Sadler’s leg, eliminating mistakes will produce wins.

I have no doubt that if Bennie Fowler stays healthy that he will be the number one wide receiver. That is the prevailing thought…IF he can stay healthy. I will tell you that he has won a lot of his teammates and coaches over with the great effort. I wish everyone in the Spartan Nation could meet this youngster. He is such a fine young man and a real threat.

When Henry Conway was recruited, he was supposed to be a bookend OT with David Barrent. Both had injuries. Barrent was forced to retire from football and Conway took a long time getting back from a major neck injury. Conway is back now and had some great practices last week. He then followed them up with some struggles. Roushar said that after those great practices he got, “A little sore then went backwards. (He) has to learn to fight through it.” I will never question his heart and anyone who does is an idiot. He is a terrific person and football player. I am sure learning to play after that injury is difficult. If he can recover mentally and fight through it, he has the ability to be dominant again. I am rooting for him.

I fully expect Aaron Burbridge to redshirt this season. Not a secret, I have said it before. I just keep getting asked if I have changed my mind and I haven’t.

With true freshman Monty Madaris having suffered a high ankle sprain, I think it puts him in position to redshirt as well. Who knows if he would have played anyway? Those high sprains are so hard to recover from.

Donovan Clark is a young man who might not play a lot this year. Don’t let that fool you as it pertains to his blocking ability. This monster OL is really liked by his team and very respected. He is a future star. Roushar who is one of the best OL coaches in the nation really has taken a liking to his future road grader. He said of Clark, “(He was) really coming on…pleased with him…bright future…athletic…aggressive.”

Because Roushar is quieter than Narduzzi, people don’t know him as well. He is a great person like Dantonio (and Narduzzi for that matter) and shares his boss’s penchant to be quiet and not wax loquacious. When he says something, you can count on it.

I think Dave Warner has done his best coaching job while at MSU this past spring and fall camp. He has done a masterful job with Andrew Maxwell. I have at times been critical of Warner, but he has been outstanding. The Spartan Nation will be pleased with Maxwell (especially come Big Ten play) and don’t forget the job Warner has done. He recently said something that has caused a stir. “I expect Andrew to go into this season where Kirk Cousins went into 2011.” Those are some big words. I for one, agree with him.

Most coaches would be coddling Maxwell right now and I have never liked that. If anything, Warner is throwing wood on the fire. He went as far as saying that he expects Maxwell to, “Continue to take the offense to the next level.” This a big time program now. Maxwell is taking the reins of a team with an outside shot at a national title and certainly a BCS game. Trying to protect him would lead to a failure. I love it.

He shares my thoughts about Maxwell, “Naturally going to be a progression…as the game slows down a little bit after a couple of games. Hopefully it doesn’t take a couple of games, but that is natural.”

It appears clear to me that Warner is much more comfortable with Maxwell right now than where he was with Cousins. I asked him if I read it right
and he said, “Yeah I think so.”

Maxwell (unlike Cousins) makes teams prepare for him to run. I know back in the spring of 2009 the Spartans spent a lot of time working on the
option, in case Keith Nichol was to win the job. They never used it, but I fully expect them to utilize his ability to run. Warner said of Maxwell’s ability to run, “Trying to do too much, but at the same time (we want him) to make plays for us.” The Spartans have tried to make Maxwell face as many situations as possible to simulate the live game. Everyone acknowledges that Maxwell is his biggest critic.