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August 10, 2010

Position breakdowns in wake of media day

"Top to bottom, probably as talented a team as we've had." That's what Mark Dantonio thinks about a group of players whose chemistry and work ethic he has already made a point to laud. In a reversal from a year ago, all the lofty expectations for this team are coming from within the Duffy building.

    Also today, a lot of interviews, a lot of players talking Rose Bowl, some bacon and Mountain Dew, plenty of picking at the Rather Hall carcass -- and more than enough info to revisit each position before MSU gets to pads and things change again.

    * Quarterback: How different is this from a year ago? QB coach Dave Warner welcomes the chance to go mostly unbothered through camp, after we were hanging on his every Cousins-Nichol word in 2009. He did confirm that Andrew Maxwell is getting those No. 2 reps while Keith Nichol works at WR, and he called Cousins "as good a leader as I've ever seen."

    * Running back: No surprises here yet, the question moving forward is whether Nick Hill and Le'Veon Bell will be active in 2010, or if one will redshirt. MSU expects the Caper-Baker roommate combo to be much better this season. At fullback, Drew Stevens has moved from LB and Fred Smith is sticking at that position right now.

    * Tight end: Four guys who could start at a lot of places. Garrett Celek will be a bigger factor this year after he was banged up for part of last season. Mark Staten said Dion Sims is playing at 275, and that's just fine because he can still move. Sims has improved his run blocking. Definitely look for MSU to use these guys in the FB spot at times, because the talent pool here is just plain better. Staten is still trying to figure a way to get all four guys on the field at once.

    * Receiver: Keith Nichol brushed aside the question of whether he's dealing with a minor injury, saying he's 100 percent after "little tweaks" over the summer that were "nothing major." Dantonio mentioned incoming freshmen Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphrey as looking good on the first day of practice. But obviously, this is a four-man operation in 2010 if those four stay healthy. Chris D. Rucker's move to cornerback sounds permanent.

    * Offensive line: Write the left side down in pen. Don't do that just yet at the center position -- Dan Roushar said Nate Klatt still has a chance to chase down John Stipek, and Stipek said "it's a tight battle every day" and that he won't feel comfortable until he sees the lineup for the opener. On the right side, there's more clarity at guard, where Chris McDonald is the clear leader. Zach Hueter and Antonio Jeremiah are battling right now for No. 2. And although Jeremiah has not dropped the weight, Roushar said he's going to judge him strictly based on how he fulfills his assignments. At right tackle, it's a total toss-up between J'Michael Deane and Jared McGaha. Neither came to media day. Deane appears to have more physical ability, but Roushar said he needs to be better at staying focused through adversity, and Dantonio said he needs to get through a camp healthy and repping. As for Henry Conway, Roushar expressed caution there. Although Dantonio said last week that Conway is "full go" and he has been medically cleared, Roushar said MSU is going to be very careful. It sounds like it may be a while before he can really mix it up and try to compete for any playing time.

    * Defensive line: Pat Narduzzi loves the competition at tackle, where he expects Kevin Pickelman to push to start and at least split reps. Narduzzi said MSU has one definite starter in Greg Jones and that even Jerel Worthy "could get beat out too." That may be a little coachspeaky, but MSU likes the top four, including Blake Treadwell and Dan France, a lot. And Rashad White is getting a lot of buzz. He's 6-2, 320 and Dantonio said he "didn't even breathe" in finishing the 20 half gassers to pass Monday's conditioning test. Expect to hear more about White as camp progresses. At end, there are a lot of questions right now that need to be resolved in pads. Walk-on Todd Anderson is a guy Narduzzi threw into the mix as a contender for snaps.

    * Linebacker: The Denicos Allen-Chris Norman battle at "Star" (formerly called Will and changed in part because MSU will look for a little more pass coverage out of the position) is "gonna be a battle to watch," Narduzzi said. He also thinks it will be a position of strength this season vs. weakness last season, regardless of who wins it. Narduzzi compared Allen to Greg Jones in his ability to go on instincts, go the wrong way and still make the play. Narduzzi also said more about the 3-4 than he did during spring ball. It will be used as much as it proves effective. The benefit is to start with three down linemen and keep the offense guessing as to who will be the fourth to attack. Greg Jones at one outside position? Or Chris Norman/Denicos Allen/perhaps Will Gholston on the other side? But if teams are running on MSU, the 4-3 is always there. Narduzzi praised Gholston's physical ability and intelligence and coachability, but he's reserving further praise until Gholston proves he can keep up with things. He did say he expects him to be a first-round pick some day.

    * Defensive backs: The praise for the development of MSU's safety tandem of Trenton Robinson and Marcus Hyde is coming in billows. The coaches are happy with everything they've seen since last season ended. Considering that Mitchell White is the only non-starter with any game experience at all, they also realize the need to find reliability amid the talented youth. Harlon Barnett said redshirt freshmen such as Jairus Jones, Patrick White and Dana Dixon have the edge right now, but after a day in shorts, he expects some of the true freshmen to be seriously in the mix by camp's end.

    * Special teams: Dantonio went right to kicker when he was asked about his biggest concerns. Mike Sadler is competing with Dan Conroy and Kevin Muma, although I'd think he'd have to blow them off the field and into Eaton County to actually take the job and avoid a 2010 redshirt (he is the punter of the future, that's for certain). Not much talk yet about the return game. But get ready for Nichol to make some plays in the kicking game. "He's too tough of a guy not to have on some special teams," Dantonio said.

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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