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August 17, 2011

Ten interesting tidbits from Wednesday

Pat Narduzzi talked, and that's usually interesting. He was asked what's impressed him so far. “I’m not impressed with anything," he said. "What am I most concerned about? I’m most concerned about maybe the linebacker depth, our development there with our youth and replacing some great players from a year ago. That’s probably my biggest concern. I feel pretty good in the secondary. I feel, we’re banged up inside, when we get all of our d-line all back and feeling 100 percent we’ll be solid there, I think. But we’ve got to get some young guys ready to go.”

    * There's a lot of movement at linebacker. Taiwan Jones is officially the freshman with the best chance to play in 2011. He has been working at the Sam and some at the Mike -- and the fact that he's digesting stuff at two spots right now is "amazing," Narduzzi said.

    “Taiwan Jones right now is really playing well for a young guy," Narduzzi said. "He still doesn’t know, he still runs around like a chicken with his head cut off at times. But he can run. He can tackle. And you compare him to, I think he’s probably a step ahead of Chris Norman when he was a true freshman and he played for us. I think he’s a step ahead right now. He’s got great football knowledge and he’s just got to continue to progress.”

    Chris Norman is dealing with a minor, undisclosed injury, so Denicos Allen has moved to the Star (where he backed up Norman last season). Steve Gardiner is No. 1 at the Sam with Allen at the Star. Max Bullough continues to hold it down at the Mike.  So the first unit when all are healthy is Allen-Bullough-Norman. I think. But then I read this quote again and I wish I would have pressed Narduzzi on that.

    “Steve Gardiner’s playing outstanding right now," Narduzzi said. "And if we had to play today it’d be Steve Gardiner starting, really. Chris Norman would have a great shot of starting. Max Bullough’s doing a tremendous job inside and Denicos is having a good scrimmage so far.”

    Many things will be clearer after Saturday's scrimmage. Also at linebacker: TyQuan Hammock has moved back to No. 2 Mike after the experiment at Sam.

     “We did not like what we saw," Narduzzi said of Hammock at the Sam. "I think he’s more of a natural Mike so we’ve got him back there full-time at Mike unfortunately. I really wanted to see what he had at Sam but he wasn’t like we thought he would be there.”

    Finally, Darien Harris "is going to be a great player," Narduzzi said, but he's been "a little bit slow" in terms of picking up the defense. It sounds like Jones will be active, Harris and Ed Davis will redshirt, and then we're still waiting to see on Lawrence Thomas, who is still out with the shoulder contusion. That's a valuable week he just missed.

    * May as well recap all the injuries to this point. There are piling up, as usual for this time of year, but none are said to be serious. Jerel Worthy (shoulder), Kevin Pickelman (undisclosed), Will Gholston (undisclosed), Johnathan Strayhorn (undisclosed), Mitchell White (ankle), Dion Sims (shoulder, was back Wednesday), Garrett Celek (foot) are among those dinged. Johnny Adams and Tony Lippett are back from minor ankle tweaks.

    Narduzzi actually said he doesn't mind Worthy and Pickelman missing some reps because he needs the reserves to get more. Micajah Reynolds is making a move as that No. 5 tackle, with Blake Pacheco right behind him. After that, don't look for any freshmen to help this season because they "probably just aren’t strong enough to get it done right now," Narduzzi said.

    * That's a lot of yellow jerseys (worn by injured players) on the defensive line, and it was interesting Wednesday to see no one wearing one on the offensive line. Don't read too much into that, but do hear this quote from Narduzzi on the offensive line: “Give credit to the offense. I think they’re doing a great job. I think the offensive line is the best I’ve seen. They’re doing a great job so I think it’s impressive.”

    * The best position battle is at defensive end, Narduzzi said. Tyler Hoover and Denzel Drone are battling on one side.

    “What day is it today? Tuesday, Wednesday? Drone and Hoover. God, it’s a flip of the coin, it really is," Narduzzi said. "That’s probably our position with more competition than any other position, it really is. There’s a lot of competition there.”

    And it's not like Will Gholston's starting spot is in ink yet.

    “There’s not a No. 1," Narduzzi said. " If I had to grade them from No. 1 guy to the No. 5 guy, I think we’ve got two No. 2s and there’s no No. 1. No one’s stepped up and said, ‘I’m the guy, I’m the best end.’ No one has done that yet. Every day someone gets closer, but no one’s done that yet.”

    One guy has identified himself as worthy of being in the rotation. Just as Mark Dantonio has done a few times, Narduzzi made special mention Wednesday of Marcus Rush.

    “Marcus Rush is having a heck of a camp now," Narduzzi said. "If you talk about the darkhorse, Marcus Rush is playing really well. We’re really excited about him.”

    * We can't forget the secondary, can we? Narduzzi followed up Dantonio in praising Darqueze Dennard, saying he's doing "a great job, very solid."

    He had a different take, though, on the other first-year starter, safety Isaiah Lewis.

    “Isaiah is going through some young streaks, he’s not playing like I’d like him to play," Narduzzi said. "You sit there and go, he played a lot last year but now it’s all on his own, he’s a sophomore, he’s a baby. He’s still a baby. Athletically, he’s a better athlete than Marcus Hyde – and I love Marcus Hyde to death, Marcus was a great player, wish he was back. Isaiah is a better athlete but he doesn’t have the knowledge Marcus Hyde does. And the thing that scares you is, those guys that don’t have that game-day experience. You can’t replace it. You can’t replace game-day experience and that’s why we’ve got to get in Spartan Stadium this weekend.”

    Mylan Hicks and Kurtis Drummond continue to run with the twos at safety and are "doing a solid job, they need to get a lot better," Narduzzi said. And the twos at corner? Tony Lippett has moved to the field side, backing up Adams. Jeremy Langford is No. 2 at boundary corner behind Dennard.

    Lippett had his first pick-six Wednesday, by the way.

    * If you're more into offense, we've got you covered. It was coordinators night, so Dan Roushar gave plenty of updates. He was asked what he likes best about this offense.

    “One of the things that’s impressed me is how physical we are," he said. "We’ve got a very physical football team at times. We’ve got new fullback play in there, Todd Anderson’s been really physical. And Niko Palazeti’s (doing well). So we’re getting something out of the fullback position that maybe we haven’t had in the last couple years. So that’s been an impressive situation.”

    Roushar wasn't the only one praising Anderson. Edwin Baker said the "holes are much clearer" with Anderson, who has "blown a couple people up" in camp.

    * Back to the offensive line -- can you believe it took this long? Watching practice, Skyler Burkland's physicality is impossible to miss. He crunches people.

    "I love the way he blocks," Baker said. "He’s going out there working hard every day. He’s moving people. He may mess up but he’s willing to correct it and he’s gonna go 100 mph when he plays.”

    Joel Foreman made a strong statement about Burkland.

    “Skyler’s one of the most physical guys I’ve ever seen come through here," said Foreman, who quickly added this on Fou Fonoti, Burkland's competitor at RT: " And Fou is out there and his hand placement’s amazing, his footwork’s good.”

    There's nothing new on the three position battles. Roushar said Dan France has been strong at left tackle but "today he wasn’t very good.” He mentioned that Blake Treadwell is getting up to speed at both guard spots, and he's still a strong contender at center.

    “We’re trying to get the best five on the field and recognize that he’s got a lot to offer," Roushar said of Treadwell. "So as he continues to improve he’ll have a role and he’s right in the thick of it. We’ll figure out who’s the starter after this weekend.”

    *  Now to tight end. No clear starter there, Roushar is calling it three No. 1s. He had a lot good to say about Brian Linthicum.

    “He’s much better," Roushar said of a guy who, you might recall, was a major weapon for this team when healthy in 2009. "He’s been run blocking a lot better. He’s catching the football very well. He’s running routes with a lot of expression, so I’ve been impressed with him. ... He’s had a very good camp. You know, last year he had that knee injury and he played with it. And just played with sheer guts and determination. I think he’s gotten himself much healthier, much stronger. So up to this point I’ve been really pleased with him. He can continue to improve, we’re not there by any stretch of the imagination. But he’s been a force in our passing game. He’s caught a lot of balls. His route expression has been very good. And his run blocking has gotten better and it should get better.”

    * Another guy who looks significantly more explosive in camp is Le'Veon Bell. Roushar certainly sees it.

    “Oh, you know what, he’s really run the ball with great authority," Roushar said. "You know, you’re limited in how much tackling you do this time of year. When he has had his chance to get his pads down, I see a different guy. I don’t see many people tackling him one on one. So I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s played football. How he’s approached it. He’s having a lot of fun, and he’s being very physical.”

    Who's getting the carries on this team?

    Don't forget the chat at 10 a.m. Thursday.

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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