Dantonio: Spartans Start The Chase

Spartan Digest
Posted Aug 29, 2012


Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio stood in front of the gathered members of the media on Tuesday and got right to the point. The 2012 Michigan State Spartans are chasing a dream. What else did Dantonio have to say? Here is the transcript from the Q&A session.

Since the moment Michigan State walked off the field with their victory over Georgia in hand, Spartan fans have been waiting for the start of another season and what better way to start than with a major challenge right out of the box.

The Spartans open with “BCS Killer” Boise State Friday night in front of a national television audience and with new video boards and more installed, fans should be ready for the first of several test the Spartans will have to face in 2012.

The following is the transcript from Dantonio’s press gathering.

COACH DANTONIO: Opening day. It's an exciting opportunity for everyone again. It brings a new beginning for everybody. Always met with new optimism, and in our case, new expectations.

Right now you have a lot of people out there playing football and everybody is chasing that dream. We're one of them chasing it.

We've had a great camp thus far. Freshmen wise, we have a lot of new players playing, redshirt freshmen you'll see for the first time, especially on special teams, things of that nature. A lot of additional excitement.

You look at Boise, 73-6 over Coach Petersen's time there. When you look at them, certain things start to stand out for you as you start to run down the list and go through all the different preparations. Obviously the record is one thing. But eight sacks in a year's time is what was given up. Pretty tremendous. When you look at some of their statistics, they ran for 2200 yards, averaged 44 points a game, only gave up 18 a game, passing yardage, 4,000 yards (last season). Tremendous offense, tremendous ideas in terms of the way they attack things and the complexity and the different formations they give you. Outstanding challenge for us.

Defensively they've lost some players, of course. But they return I think a very good secondary. The one thing you notice about Boise right off the bat defensively is they play extremely hard and with a great amount of toughness.

Their special teams much the same, very cutting edge in every phase. Play extremely hard and will come and get you. So we're looking forward to a great football game. We will move from there.

As far as guys who have been put on scholarship, we put Andrew Gleichert on scholarship this year. We did that the other day. He's worked extremely hard. About 6-5 plus, came here as a 220 pound guy (he's now 250), catches the ball well, blocks effectively. We're looking for great things from him throughout the next three seasons. Obviously very exciting. We're excited for him.

Q. So many guys that didn't play last year (for Boise State). Do you have a way of gauging their play? Are you able to gauge how good this Boise State team can be?

COACH DANTONIO: I think when you look at Boise...Dirk Koetter took that program and moved it forward with Dan Hawkins coming behind there, obviously Chris Petersen now. But they've had tremendous success. I would feel like they're going to have players that can play at that level.

It's tough to say who is going to line up and how they're going to play. When you have a first year player out there, a guy that hasn't started, you don't know that. You see a remnant of what they had last year. A lot of guys that played last year are playing this year, including their quarterback Southwick. You see they can run the football. He's composed in the pocket. They put him in in crunch time in red zone situations. He delivers the ball well, on time. They got some receivers that catch the ball very effectively. (Matt) Miller had 62 catches last year. Burroughs and his brother are guys you're going to see all over the football field. They're extremely capable. Could be exciting to play against them.

Q. How would you define their offense? Some call it a spread, some people a pro style. Do they do as much presnap stuff and misdirection as anybody?

COACH DANTONIO: I would say they do. I would say they're multiple is what I would term them as. They're going to make so many different formations out of all the personnel groupings. They're going to run unbalanced sets, they are going to run trick plays, they are going to be in empty sets and quads, four to one side, one on the backside. They're going to be in all different types of sets. That's over the course of a season.

So I'm sure that we're going to see things relative to a game, 75 plays, 65, 70, 80. But they have the ability to go no huddle. They have the ability to get the two tight ends and pound it, two back formation, using the fullback. They have a fullback back who was out last year, 260-pound fullback. They have a lot of different weapons really to use.

I guess what I would say about them is, much like everybody we play, very well tied together schematically. They have a plan, stick to their plan, execute their plan. They put you in space. They stretch you vertically. They'll run the ball, especially the zone play, the power play. Their tailback is an exciting runner, as well. They lost some great players last year, but they've got good players stepping up now.

Q. You mentioned expectations. Maybe they're as high as they've been in a long time here. How do you embrace that with your team but also temper it, if it needs to be tempered, so they can keep everything in perspective?

COACH DANTONIO: You know, expectations from the general public perception may be a little bit higher than maybe they've been in the past couple years. But expectations in the room that I sit in, expectations that come from the players remain the same. We've always gone into every football game expecting to win. We've always tried to play extremely hard. We're having success right now which allows everybody to sort of go with it, run that course.

But those expectations, its business as usual in that respect. We need to come and play with a lot of enthusiasm, be excited about our opportunities.

Again, I'll go back to what I said before. Right now everybody is chasing a dream. Doesn't make any difference what your record was last year top to bottom really. Everybody has that dream to chase. Everybody has a tremendous amount of optimism in every football program. Ours is no different.

Our confidence level is very high. Our chemistry is very good. I think winning does that for you.

Q. A lot of people talked about a lot of different positions. One person not getting a lot of talk is (fullback) Niko Palazeti, what he brings to the table.

COACH DANTONIO: Niko is a 260-pound fullback. We're multiple as well in a lot of the different formation things we use. Our fullback is a pass catcher. I don't think anybody is going to see we run him a lot. We may stick him in there a couple times this game.

(Niko is) just a durable, tough guy, throw back guy. Was a great football player at Catholic Central in Detroit. Played for a state championship. Very successful program.

But he's a guy that sort of epitomizes who we are as a football team: tough, extremely hard working, goes after you, will do whatever it takes, will play whatever it is. You know, there's definitely great value in him as a football player. He's going to be a team leader for us as he gets older. He's still a young player.

Q. From the standpoint of a defensive coach who has gone against first time starting quarterbacks a number of times, is there any advice you give to Andrew in terms of what he can expect either internally, externally?

COACH DANTONIO: I talked to Andrew today, as a matter of fact. You know, the message to him I think is, `Be yourself, be who you are.' He's a very calm, collected guy. He lets things run off his shoulders, gets ready for the next challenge. He has great athletic ability, a great mind for the game, very intelligent player, and he's got experience. So just be himself. This is his football team in that respect. We have great faith in him.

It's going to go a learning curve. It's not always going to be the way you want it to go. Some of it may be your fault, my fault or somebody else's. We're all in this together. I think it's an exciting time for him and his family and everybody in Midland, Michigan.

Q. You were talking about expectations a little bit. The defense in particular is expected to be as good if not better than last year. Is that a sign of where the program is on that side of the ball?

COACH DANTONIO: We expect to be good. We know what we're doing. We've not had any attrition really within our football team itself, other than we had Jerel (Worthy) leave I guess earlier than we would have thought. So we continually try to get better. We critique what we do. Not satisfied where we're at. That's just the MO that's been built there.

Coach Narduzzi and his staff have done a great job with that. We're always trying to get better and looking at the next challenge. The next challenge is Boise. They present a very big challenge because, just like everybody, they put you in space. They try and out flank you, try to take advantage of some of the things we do. Whether it's running bubbles, running screens, whatever it is, they're going to keep us off balance, and we understand that. That's part of the game.

The name of this football game is tackling in space, pressuring the quarterback, turnovers, those types of things. We'll continue to try to do that.

Our defense has had success as of late. We need to continue doing that. Again, we're all starting over at this point. It's good to say those things, but you have to prove yourself over and over.

Q. Depth chart things. Looks like Denzel Drone is back at defensive end right now?

COACH DANTONIO: He could go either way. We've moved him over defensively a little bit to really provide depth there, allowed him to use his skills a little bit as a defensive player. He's been too good of a player there. Also he can go on the offensive side as well.

Q. With (Kurtis) Drummond and (Jairus) Jones, is that something where you would like to solidify those guys in the secondary early on or can you see that going into Big Ten play?

COACH DANTONIO: I think it all depends on how they play as we move forward. I think they're good players. I also think (Demetrious) Cox is a guy that can enter into the picture as well as R.J. Williamson. Those four guys are good football players. One guy needs to just become the guy, I guess. Four can become the guy. I don't care. They're all good. It's a good situation to have. That's why we play these early games before the Big Ten, too.

Q. On the two deep subject, Micajah and Tyler Hoover neck and neck until Thursday's practice? Can you talk about Micajah's rise? Switching sides from offense to defense?

COACH DANTONIO: It could go flip of a coin there a little bit, basically who is going to practice well today. Tomorrow will sort of be cleaning up things. They're both going to play a lot. As far as where Micajah has been, he's been an offensive lineman, defensive lineman. He's been a guy that's been so athletic, we kept trying to push him into a role one side or the other. His youth at that point in time prevented him from knowing everything. Then he switched a couple times.

Right now I think he's had a tremendous summer camp. He's a guy, I've said it before, he verticals 33 inches, he benches 400-plus pounds, he runs about 4.95. He's a 300-pound guy. He's got ability.

What he's learned to do up front on defense finally is play with his hands, play with his power, not sit and read. So he's much more engaged I think in terms of how he's playing the game. Ted Gill has done a great job with him, as well as Coach Narduzzi, the defensive staff.

I think right now he gets it. That's what allowed him to rise up the depth chart. In the spring, he wasn't in that capacity. He lost a little bit of weight. He was a little heavy. He was about 330. Now he's 309. He's sort of got things under control right now. It's going to be important that he play well, there's no question.

Q. You have Skyler Burkland listed, Blake Treadwell not. Is Burkland available for Friday?

COACH DANTONIO: Probably not.

Q. Can you talk about your emotions on opening week. In essence you started preparing this game in January. There's a buildup. What are your emotions as this game nears?

COACH DANTONIO: Well, my emotions are, `Hey, let's make sure everything is checked off. Have we done this, seen this, seen that. Did we take a safety with their punt team.' From my perspective, the early games, especially your first games, a lack of attention to detail, a lack of doing the most elementary things, the finer fundamentals of every football game come back to haunt you.

That's where my mind is with that. You know, you're a little edgy. Don't like people asking a lot of questions (laughter). But you're excited for everything. You're sort of going stir crazy a little bit, too, because we have been preparing for this for a while, you sort of want to get to the game a little bit, start to play, start to adjust, start to find out who we are as a football team right now. Who are the 2012 Spartans, what are we going to try to do here.

A lot of excitement. I think that's how it is every year, though. I don't really see much change. It's trying to make sure everything is set. There are going to be some things that don't happen the way you want it to happen, but the key there will be to adjust, don't lose your composure, handle the adversity, lean on your leaders, who you are, basically what your philosophy is as a coach, as a player. A lot of things are going through my mind, as you can see.

Q. You've been through a number of night games now at Spartan Stadium. Can you talk about what the experience is both for the staff and players is. What does this mean in a big picture to play these prime time games?

COACH DANTONIO: First of all, playing a night game here is special. We don't do it that often. When it happens, it's a very live atmosphere. The students are back on campus. School starts tomorrow. There's a little bit of that whole thing. So I'm sure it will be a very excited atmosphere. 8:00 night game, national TV game against a great opponent brings out something extra. A lot on the line. A lot of expectations.

All these things just create sort of a rush for you. It's going to be very exciting for our football team to come out.

How you handle that, you have to handle it with composure. I continually say to our football team, I said it this morning to them in meetings, you know, pressure is good, everybody needs to have pressure on them. Stress is not. Stress is the enemy. Don't stress about something that you can't control. Understand that there's pressure there, but prepare now and get ready to play a great football game and come with it.

Q. Coach Petersen talked about preparing for Le'Veon Bell. They have two backs carrying the ball. What does he bring to your team?

COACH DANTONIO: I read that, where he's doing that. My answer to that is we have 14 guys we're playing on offense every snap, letting them adjust to run all over the place. If we can cover those people, we have a chance.

What does Le'Veon bring to the table? He's a big durable back, an exciting football player, and he is starting fresh. We'll see what he is bringing this season. He has a lot of ability, a lot of different things going on, a lot of high expectations.

But he's a physical player, great ball skills, capable of carrying a load. That's what we'll look for.

Q. In studying Boise, what they do well, what do you think are going to be some key indicators as to whether you're going to be successful?

COACH DANTONIO: We have to adjust to the tempo of the football game. That's number one. You always have to do that defensively to an opposing team's offense. Whether you adjust to the rhythm of how fast the plays are coming in, whether there's no huddle or not. You have to adjust to the speed of the game, game speed, speed of their players, get a feel for who they are up front.

With that being said, our key, as I said earlier, is adjust, no mental errors, pressure the quarterback, turnovers. Obviously, you have to stop the run. There's a whole gamut of things you have to do to be successful.

You know, critical to winning in our respect is certain factors, I won't go into those right now, but we have a whole line of factors for the last five years that if we do these things, we're successful, and if we don't, we're mediocre.

Q. What are you surprised with or shocked about with your team?

COACH DANTONIO: Good question. I haven't really thought about that. Let's see.

I think Micajah Reynolds is a surprise because he came up the depth chart. He came back into camp very much dedicated to what he has to do, on task. He's always had the athletic ability, but there's a sense of urgency at this point. That was a great thing to see.

Excited about the depth we have on our defensive line, really our entire defense. Excited about our young redshirt freshmen that we redshirted last year. All those things are exciting to us.

I would say offensively we have talent at the wide receiver position, but we're young. We're young at certain positions, but that's the nature of college football. As long as you have talent there, they're going to gain experience and we're going to be able to move forward.

Q. What does it say about the program that you're playing Boise State first?

COACH DANTONIO: We played Cal in 2008 at Cal. So we've started in that type of capacity before.

But I think it's a philosophy here maybe that we're going to step out and play whoever. When somebody comes and says, Do you want to play such and such this particular year, I'm not going to shrug my shoulders and say, No. I'm going to say, If it's good for the program, we'll play 'em. Vested interest by not just myself but the administration as well. We have a tremendous venue here really to show the nation the new scoreboards, the new video boards. They're spectacular. It's going to make the atmosphere interactive. I think our fans are going to enjoy it and it's going to be special.

Q. You talked about chasing the dream, every year feels the same. You also talked about the depth, all the things you built over time. Does it feel more realistic now than it did two or three years ago?

COACH DANTONIO: No, because I sort of deal in the present. I deal in the present. I don't look in the past and say, How did I feel back then? I just look to say, We're capable of winning in 2008. We're capable of winning in 2011. I thought we were going to be. 2007, we had a new football team, but there was a sense of urgency on that football team. There was something special about that team.

A lot of the heavy lifting has been done by the guys who have been here in the past. So all of us are anxious about The Opening of this season. That's whether you played here since 2007 or whether you're an administrator here or whether you're a current player here.

I guess I sort of deal in the present is the only thing I can keep talking about. I don't feel any different than I did before. High expectations. Know that we have some problems. Know that we're going to have to adjust. Know that there's going to be adversity. But know that there's a tremendous amount of optimism in this program, as well. But there always has been.

Q. Mark, maybe one more depth chart thing. A couple guys that got a lot of attention earlier on, Darien Harris and L.T. (Lawrence Thomas) at defensive end, have they taken steps back?

COACH DANTONIO: We listed to the two deep on the depth chart. I think that's what we did just because of who we were playing, that type of thing.

But L.T. is practicing well. He's a redshirt freshman. He missed some time with a little bit of a head injury. He missed three days. So got a little nicked up after that physically. Missed a couple, four days. He's back on the mend and has been practicing for the last week.

Darien Harris, he could be playing in the game at the first snap of the game or be listed as third. I think Taiwan Jones had a great summer camp, as well as Chris Norman. Those guys are just playing a little better football than him. He is a great football player, as it L.T. They are definitely in future plans here. They're very good football players. You'll see them play on Saturday, be on special teams, et cetera.

But they just right now, moving Drone back over, L.T. from a learning standpoint, he's making an adjustment to the defensive end. He may play a lot, just didn't feel like we should put him there as the number two guy right now.

Q. I know you like your team to play with emotion. We ask this every year. Especially this year with a Friday night game, the new boards, Boise, do you talk to your team about not winning the game at 7:45 and winning it at 8:05 when it starts?

COACH DANTONIO: We talk a lot about emotion, getting themselves ready not just on Friday night, Thursday night, but it's something that has to build. I feel like it's building in our program for Friday night. You can feel that when you go out to practice. You can see that when we're practicing. Those are good signs.

But from my perspective, whatever I say or whatever a coach says, it's coach speak. It may last for a couple minutes. You know, what is going to stay with you for a lifetime, what is going to allow you to catch fire and have momentum, that comes within every single player on or football team.

When you catch it, you know you have it. If you don't have it, you better catch it because it's very difficult for a coach to run up and down the sideline getting everybody fired up.

We do certain things, get ourselves ready to go, but it has to come from the chemistry of our football team. We have to rub against each other on that one.

Q. Can you confirm that Kenny Hayes, Ohio State transfer, is not going to be transferring here?

COACH DANTONIO: I'm going to stay the course and talk about the players who are here. This is all about Michigan State football.

Q. You have a lot of receivers who are going to be making an impact for the first time. You see them in practice every day. Is there one guy that jumps out at being most consistent in terms of running routes?

COACH DANTONIO: I'd rather not say right now. We don't want to tilt the scales too much. But we have some guys that can make plays. Let's put it that way. We'll see who makes them on Friday night.

Q. On your defense, with the experience, the depth, the talent you have there, could this be the best defense you've had? Do you feel it's set up for the long haul? You don't have to play true freshmen.

COACH DANTONIO: Well, I've always said, we make those comparisons at the end of the season, not the beginning of the season. That's what we have to stick to.

We had a great defense last year. A couple guys are missing, everybody else is back. We play new people, it's a new time. That's for the media maybe to speculate, people to speculate. But from the head football coach, we'll get a comparison on our defenses, where at the rank, how good they are, at the end.

Usually has to do with how many games you win. So that's how it will be with that one.



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