Thursday marked the real football on the campus of Michigan State as pads came out and players started hitting for real. Gone were the shorts and helmets and Mark Dantonio was happy about what he saw.
"I thought we did a nice job out there hitting," said the Spartans head coach, who sent his team through the fifth practice of preseason camp. "(It was a) physical practice, a lot of live work. Guys played hard out there and there were some good things. Obviously we have to watch film to evaluate everything, but we're on track."
The hitting wasn’t the only thing Dantonio was happy about in the early parts of camp.
"As a football team, I think we look good physically out there," Dantonio said.
"The focus is very good, the retention is very good, but we got a lot in, so there are mistakes being made. That's all part of it. There are a lot of moving pieces out there when you're trying to block things up front. (There are) different pressures and different movements defensively, and on the other side of the ball, there are a lot of things offensively by formation and everything that creates adjustments that you have to be able to make.”
With the physical aspect of the sport, there is always a chance for players to be injured. The Spartans have a couple of players banged up early.
"We have a couple of injuries. Johnny Adams is out with an ankle right now, but he'll be back, probably after the weekend. Lawrence Thomas got a contusion on his shoulder, so he's braced up right now and will probably be out for a couple of weeks, so we'll have to work him back in easy.
Another area Dantonio is excited about is the play of a few newcomers especially offensive lineman Fou Fonoti.
"Fou looks good. He works extremely hard and his retention from what we installed is very, very good. You can tell he's played college football before. You can tell he's played against big people, against athletic people, and he can run. He's working as the No. 2 right tackle. If he stays there, it remains to be seen on how everyone else works around there."
However, the junior college transfer was not the only newcomer to catch Dantonio’s eye as a few of the freshmen have also shown well early.
"When you look at the freshmen, you have some guys in the secondary that I think they play pretty well for freshmen. They fit the profile that we have: guys that can run, that can tackle well, they hustle around and they have good change of direction. Our linebackers flow very well, they're big, they can run well. Defensive line, probably a little bit farther behind because the maturity level, just playing against guys that are so strong that are older, but guys like Joel Heath, he's going to be a good player. Damon Knox did some good things.
"Offensive line wise, again, a lot of installation, a lot of things going on, so those guys are always the last ones really to pick up on things at the end of the day just from a physical stature. Donavon Clark and Jack Allen are going to be good players. Wide receiver, Juwan Caesar is still banged up, so he's out, but Andre Sims has done a nice job. He's a guy...you notice is out there. He's catching the ball very well, he runs good routes, he's tough. He's tough minded. Quarterback Connor Cook throws the ball effectively; he has a quick release. But a lot of things coming at them. Lot of things coming at them very quickly. If you can imagine, one day install, the next day more install, the next day it starts to pile up on you. When you compile that with all of the different defenses you're seeing and coverage’s, things tend to roll up on you a little bit. But they've done a nice job."
Despite the praise of his head coach, Fonoti knows there is a difference in the level of play he’s use to.
"I would have to say the speed," Fonoti said on the biggest difference from playing in junior college. "My junior college was fast, but up here at the Big Ten level, it's intense. The speed is something I need to transition to."
Saturday will find all the prep work put to the test at the Spartans will go after it in the first preseason scrimmage.