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March 31, 2012

Pads, competition both on

Where to begin? Friday night interviews with the head coach and both coordinators yielded a lot of Michigan State football information. OK, let's start with this Dan Roushar quote on Le'Veon Bell, the Tuesday "complacency" comment from Mark Dantonio and the running back race: “It’s a very fair question. I think it’s kind of like, our attitude and approach is, for every snap we go out there, whoever’s out there, we want to see them compete and perform. Since we’ve been here, other than in Javon’s two years establishing that position, and of course Jehuu with him the first year, we’ve gone about our business as when the starting tailback got in there and got going, as the year progressed somebody else emerged. And that’s each and every year. Will that be the history of us this year? I don’t know that. I think that’s where Le’Veon internally looks at himself and says ‘How good do I really want to be? Am I interested in being a great player?’ And I’m talking about greatness. Then he’s got to reflect on how he approaches it. And I think we as coaches, coach Dantonio from the top down, we’re all talking about complacency. We don’t want to get comfortable. The margin of error of the difference between winning and losing is such a fine line. And we’ve got to continue to push.”

    Then he's got to reflect on how he approaches it. That's the sentence that stands out to me. Dantonio, though, was asked to elaborate on his previous comment and said this: “No that’s a general statement to all of us, I think, not just in one direction. I think we can’t be complacent, we can’t stand on what we’ve done before. And the point I want to make is, every year we’ve had a different tailback take that role. Whether it’s Larry Caper in ’09 or Edwin in ’10 or Le’Veon in ’11. I want to make sure all our tailbacks know that they have equal opportunity here. They’re gonna get the ball and they’ve got to come out and prove themselves.”

    I'm starting to buy that this is a competition, even as MSU rolls out a depth chart with no "OR" at the running back spot for the first time since 2008.

    “They’re pushing," Roushar said of the other backs. "They want to go. They’re right there. Jeremy Langford made two big runs in practice today. I thought Larry put it up in there pretty good. And Nick’s gonna battle and scratch. And Nick’s a tough guy for those guys to see on defense. He’s down underneath people and all the sudden he pops out on you. So we’ve got four guys. We’ve got to find out who becomes the established 1, and who becomes 2 and who becomes 3 and who becomes 4.”

    Also from Roushar: “I don’t think we ever go in with the idea of hoping a guy gets beat out, but you know what? It’s happened.”

    * Now here's a competition I don't buy -- quarterback. Roushar was adamant tonight that Connor Cook has a shot at the job. He wasn't about to become the first college football coach in the history of the game to declare a job won during spring drills. But no, I don't buy it, not at all. I believe Andrew Maxwell will start for MSU in 2012, health permitting.

    “Well, you have to come out and watch practice," Roushar responded to that expressed skepticism. "You have two guys, you have Andrew in the sense he’s been in the system a long time, hasn’t gotten nearly as much game work as you’d want him to. He’s polished, he’s going and doing things very well. But also you see Connor’s physical abilities come out. So in it you have two guys that are fighting for a spot.  Andrew’s gonna be hard to unseat but Connor’s not giving in.”

    Of course he isn't. Clearly, MSU coaches are excited about his upside. And they'll probably wait to declare Maxwell the starter until the Monday before the season opener.

    * This many words and no Pat Narduzzi yet? Don't worry, we've got Narduzzi. He said Will Gholston and Marcus Rush have taken another step at defensive end. He said Mitchell White would be the No. 3 cornerback if the season started today, but that Trae Waynes is pushing him (he also mentioned progress from Arjen Colquhoun and Mylan Hicks, who is back at CB) and gives MSU a solid quartet at the position right now. And he gave Kurtis Drummond a slight edge on RJ Williamson at free safety, because of more time in the system.

    * Narduzzi on the backup ends: "Jeremy Gainer’s done well. Joel Heath is playing end right now and is really showing great signs. He’s a big man, 280 pounds and he can run. I mean he’s gonna be a good football player, he can run. And then Shilique Calhoun’s a good football player, too. Shilique was a little hampered by a little ankle the first two days so today is really his first full day.”

    * Narduzzi on the defensive tackle position, clearly the biggest question on the defense: “It’ll be different every day. Rashad White’s doing good, Hoover’s doing well. And then we’ve just got to find out who the depth guys are and who’s gonna come. But there will be some guys that will appear probably in the next five or six days. By a week to go in spring ball we’ll kind of have a good feel for who they are at this point.”

    * Narduzzi on the backup linebackers: “Darien Harris had a heck of a day today, just from what I saw. I think you’re gonna see a lot of No. 45 out there if he continues to progress. Taiwan Jones is getting better and Kyler Elsworth is doing a great job.”

    * Narduzzi was asked if Johnny Adams can take the next step to elite cornerback. Narduzzi responded that All-Big Ten first team pretty much indicates an elite player.

    “I know this is not the SEC, but the Big Ten’s pretty good," said Narduzzi, taking full advantage of the opportunity to take a shot. "But he’s an elite guy and he’s just so much more serious about what he’s doing. He’s gonna be good.”

    * Arthur Ray Jr. has one more season to play football, though he could apply for another year and possibly come back for 2013. This spring will help determine whether that's seriously considered.

    “He’s taken giant steps, and now the question is, can he compete at this level with where he’s at?" Dantonio said of Ray. "There’s no question he would have been a tremendous football player had he not had the injury with his leg. But he’s gonna find out where he’s at this spring. He’s full go and we’re gonna see if he can do this.
    “I imagine he could get a sixth year, but I think the big decision is, can he play at this level competitively? And he can play. But can he succeed at this level? Can he be a first- or second-team guy at this point? And that’s what we’re trying to find out, so we’re pushing it.”

    * Dion Sims did not need surgery on his fractured wrist, but it is healing in a case while he participates. Dantonio said he's at 280 and can play at that weight, but not any heavier. This position is as much a question mark as any, really.

    “He’s casted right now so he’s playing with one arm, but we’re making him – not making him, he wants to be out there," Roushar said of Sims. "He’s competing and we understand some of the things that come with not being able to use that hand. At the same time, he needs that to grow. I’ve been impressed with Andrew Gleichert. I’m anxious to go in and watch what he’s doing with his pads on today and see how physical he was or wasn’t. What his footwork looked like. But he’s come on and … I’ve been encourage with what (Drone) has done to this point.”

    * And how about another major uncertainty -- the receivers -- after three practices, one in pads?

    “At this time nobody’s really jumped out at me," Roushar said. "I think Tony Lippett’s getting better. A.J. Sims made some catches today, I noticed him. DeAnthony’s getting his feet up underneath him and getting experience in the system. Keith Mumphery had a much better day today. I thought the first two days, there was a lot of effort and a lot better route running than he had last year. But he’s just got to catch the football first, he’s got to slow the process down, first things first.”

    * Dantonio said Maxwell, Cook and Mike Sadler are working as holders, it appears Maxwell is in line to do the job at this point. Hill and Arnett are returning punts, but MSU also is getting a look at Darqueze Dennard, Mitchell White and Andre Sims Jr. there.

    * Finally, an area that is no longer a question mark. Can you guess what Roushar is talking about here?

    “It’s just, it looks so different," he said. "They understand what the calls are now. I mean, where we were at least year at this time and really through the first four or five football games … I mean, guys going the wrong way, fundamentals breaking down, we had a lot of internal issues. And not because they weren’t good enough or they weren’t working. They were just so inexperienced. We’re so much further along in that area, and hopefully we continue to have improvement every day.”

    And on that offensive line, there is competition. Jack Allen's name finds its way into every OL discussion, and Dantonio said today he considers Allen a legitimate competitor at center and guard. Obviously, Skyler Burkland is going to be hard to keep out of the starting lineup. Roushar was asked why Burkland was moved from the right side to the left side.

    “If Skyler were to really make strong growth and improvement, what could we do with Dan France? Well, one of the thoughts is, maybe we could slide him inside and get him some work at guard and see how he does there," Roushar said. "The other side of it is, when we looked at it, we just felt that Henry (Conway) is better-suited to stay on the right side. So I guess kind of looking at the competition, we wanted to have our four best tackles at two spots rather than three at one or slide Henry to the left.”

 

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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter
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