November 2, 2011

Wednesday Afternoon Football: Norman set to return

EAST LANSING - Michigan State linebackers coach Mike Tressel said junior linebacker Chris Norman is expected to be healthy and ready to play this weekend against Minnesota. Norman missed Saturday's loss at Nebraska with a shoulder injury.

"I am pretty confident he'll be good to go this week," Tressel said. "He had a banged up shoulder, wasn't real comfortable, could have gone if we really wanted to fight through the pain and risk it, but we have a lot of football left to play so we didn't. But I'm confident he will be there this week."

Tressel met with media on Wednesday afternoon as part of Michigan State's weekly rotation of positional coach press briefing.

Norman (6-1, 227, Detroit Renaissance) ranks second on the team in tackles with 44.

Norman's replacement in the starting lineup, Steve Gardiner, went down with an upper body injury in the first quarter.

"He had a pretty good stinger," Tressel said. "He practiced yesterday and should be fine."

That forced Michigan State to go with a third choice at 'star' linebacker. Walk-on Kyler Elsworth played the remainder of the game and racked up 10 tackles.

"He is a worker," Tressel said. "With the effort that he gives, combined with the strength and explosion, if you give him enough opportunities on the field he is going to make some plays. He did a good job. Believe me, we didn't expect him to play 60 plays or whatever it was against Nebraska. We probably didn't prepare him well enough for having to play that many plays. But he made a lot of tackles, did a great job, made a couple of mistakes that were big, but you have to go through growing pains sometimes."

Also, sophomore TyQuann Hammock stepped up as an emergency fill-in on the nickel defense. In the nickel package, which utilizes and extra defensive back and is deployed in passing situations, the Spartans normally sub Gardiner into the game for Norman. Norman served as Gardiner's back-up of sorts in the nickel package.

With both of them out, Hammock was pressed into duty as a linebacker in the nickel, without having received a lot of practice time in that particular package.

"In that package, it was Steven and Chris, and I thought they were both going to be healthy so we didn't rep a third a whole bunch," Tressel said. "But TyQuann has been around long enough that he was able to step in, know what to do and did well."

Hammock did not record a tackle, but on special teams he threw a block which helped spring Nick Hill for a 62-yard kickoff return in the first quarter.

Tired? Get Off The Field On Third Down

Michigan State's defense was visibly slower than it had been in recent games and seemed to be wearing down rapidly as the third quarter progressed at Nebraska.

Tressel acknowledged that Michigan State wasn't September fresh on defense.

"Any time you have the games four in a row that we had, there is going to be some banging and guys be not like they were before the season, there's no doubt about that," Tressel said. "People would be lying if they said we were perfectly fresh but I think we have handled it well, I think we've recovered.

"I think the big issue with that third quarter at Nebraska is that the rest of the game I think we were 8-of-10 or 8-of-9 on third downs (actually 7-of-9), but in the third quarter in two drives, we were 0-for-6," Tressel said. "You get tired if you are on the field for 13 minutes out a quarter, but you also realize that it's half our fault that we are out there for 13 minutes, point the finger at yourself and see what you can do to fix it.

Those drives went for touchdowns and quickly pushed a 10-3 halftime lead to 24-3.

"Execute on third down and we'll be fine, we won't be on the field that much," he said.

'Pretty Group of Players'

Tressel said the group of freshman redshirt linebackers are performing well in practice.

"If you look at our front seven on the scout team right now, the redshirt guys, that's a pretty group of players that also are working pretty hard. You have Darrien Harris, Lawrence Thomas, Ed Davis at the backer spots, and Brandon Clemons, Damon Knox, and Shillique Calhoun. There are some boys that are going to be able to play some great football up here, so that's a great feeling."

Thomas, a five-star recruit out of Detroit Renaissance, sustained a lower body injury during training camp. Indications are that he is performing well on the practice field as a scout team player.

Tressel said that the disappointment in not playing this year has passed with those players.

"I think you accept the situation that you are in and try to figure out how to help your team," Tressel said, "and these guys are not the type of guys that are going to say, 'Forget it, I'm just a scout teamer.' They like football. The group of guys like football, and they are having fun out there and that's important. And I think the leaders are helping everybody realize that what they're doing is important; that leadership is important even with the scout team."

Other Live Bullets (bulleted information) from Tressel:

  • On the fumble in kickoff coverage caused by Elsworth after Michigan State cut the lead to 10-3.

    "I tried not to look at it again," Tressel said. "I know we caused a fumble. I know the ball didn't bounce our way. Great play, Kyler getting the ball out. We have to have 11 bodies there so that next time we get it."

    Elsworth caused the fumble more than 5 yards from the sideline, but the ball bounced rapidly upfield. It then caromed off MSU's Isaiah Lewis and/or a Nebraska player and shot out of bounds quickly.

  • On Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray:

    How does he compare to other quick quarterbacks that Michigan State has faced in recent weeks.

    "He is different in that he is a Giant," Tressel said. "You have Dennard Robinson who is smaller. Robinson is really quick-twitch, bam, with quick burst whereas Gray is fast but certainly big. You are not just going to throw him to the ground. You need to wrap up, you need to run your feet. He is big, he is strong, he is fast."

  • On Hill's improvement as a kickoff returner.

    "I think he is getting better and better," Tressel said. "Confidence is a key in kick returning. We talk about running through the smoke. You can't be thinking, stutter-stepping, trying to figure out where the hole is going to be, you have to believe it's going to be there and go. He is getting better at that."

  • Michigan State freshman Taiwan Jones initially took the field when Gardiner went down with the injury at Nebraska, but he was replaced by Elsworth before the next snap.

    Jones is listed as a second-string 'star' linebacker, but Elsworth and Gardiner have the knowledge and background to play 'star' or Sam linebacker. When injuries crept up at the 'star' position, the older players went in first. But Tressel said Jones isn't far from having a role in the playing group.

    "He overcame a hurdle in the last couple of weeks," Tressel said. "He sort of plateaued and thought, 'Okay, I'm a back-up, which is great as a freshman,' and sort of settled into that mindset a little bit. He got out of that funk the last couple of weeks, which was good. Especially with Chris not being able to play he has woken up and said, 'Okay, I'm going to be playing a lot of football. Even though I haven't to this point on defense, it's going to happen and I need to expect it to happen.'

    "So he has taken a jump the past couple of weeks."

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