March 29, 2012
Dantonio addresses spring football depth chart changes
EAST LANSING - Returning 13 starters from a team that went 11-2 - including eight starters from last year's No. 1-ranked defense in the Big Ten - Michigan State begins its spring practice season today. Starting linebacker Chris Norman and prized second-string linebacker Lawrence Thomas will be held out of contact this spring, and miss most of the practices. Both had off-season surgery.
At least five times during his spring preview press conference on Tuesday, head coach Mark Dantonio used the word "complacency," as in don't be that way.
"We have to guard against complacency," Dantonio said. "We want to build for a championship and continue to develop confidence.
"All of us, we need to earn our jerseys. Whether you are a coach here or some part of our staff, whether you are a trainer, a manager, a quarterback or a tailback, every day that you go out there you have to earn what you get, earn that jersey that you get and make a big deal about it."
The Spartans will be in full pads for the first time on Friday, and conclude spring drills with the annual Green-White Game at 1 p.m. on March 28 at Spartan Stadium (BTN).
"I continually talk about the need to play with energy," Dantonio said. "That's a day-to-day thing. You have to be up every single day. You can't afford a day when you are just going through the motions and be complacent."
Depth Chart Notes
Some interesting listings in Tuesday's official spring practice depth chart:
Norman missed last spring as well.
Thomas, who was seen as a candidate to back-up Max Bullough at Mike linebacker, redshirted last year with an upper body injury. Thomas has apparently been slow to recover, requiring another surgery.
"LT will be able to run around toward the end of spring ball but we do not want him to have contact," Dantonio said. "That's unfortunate because we have big plans for him."
With Norman out, rising sophomore Taiwan Jones will begin the spring No. 1 at the 'star' (slot area) linebacker position. Jones (6-3, 234) saw action in all 14 games last year, mostly on special teams. He had 18 tackles.
"He was much like Chris Norman was as a freshman," Dantonio said. "Taiwan will be an outstanding player here for us and I think he will compete for playing time. I think he will have an outstanding spring.
"He has as much snap and explosiveness as any linebacker out there but he has to learn to play fast out there and not second-guess himself."
Senior Tyler Hoover is the No. 1 three technique defensive tackle. The fifth-year senior who missed last year with an upper body injury moves from d-end inside to DT to replace Jerel Worthy.
Dantonio indicated that Hoover often had to work to keep his weight down when he was a defensive end. Moving inside is not a stretch.
"He's big," Dantonio said. "He has great ability. He has experience. Of course he can always go outside and play d-end, but I think he is one of our best 11, no question. This (moving him to DT) gives him an opportunity, it puts more speed on the field. He knows the defense. So he should be very, very capable."
With Hoover moving inside, Marcus Rush and William Gholston return as first-string defensive ends.
Meanwhile, junior Denzel Drone has moved from d-end to tight end as part of a spring experiment. Drone has six career starts as a defensive end and spent last year mostly as a second-string defensive end.
With Hoover moving inside and Drone moving to offense, MSU has fast-rising young players on the second string at d-end. Redshirt-freshmen Shilique Calhoun and Joel Heath are No. 2 at the two d-end positions, behind Rush and Gholston.
Dantonio on Calhoun: "Calhoun hasJulian Peterson type of ability. I was here with Julian Peterson, I recruited him and saw Julian Peterson become a dominant football player here. He (Calhoun) has the ability to be tremendously quick off the edge. He has power. He is going to play. There is a great future ahead of him in that respect."
Dantonio on Heath: "Joel Heath looks just like Will Gholston. Tremendous upside."
Dantonio said moving Drone to tight end is going to enable Heath and Calhoun to maximize their reps with the twos at d-end this spring.
"So this is the right time to move Denzel over there," Dantonio said. "He can move back to defensive end and not miss a beat in two or three weeks."
Michigan State graduated two tight ends from last year in Brian Linthicum and Garrett Celek. MSU returns junior Dion Sims as the new No. 1 tight end, but Sims saw his role and impact reduced last year due to a hand injury. Sims saw action in 14 games and started three, but had only 12 catches.
"We have a need at tight end, so we can walk Denzel over there and be an F or a "move" tight end," Izzo said. "He is 265 and benches almost 400 pounds and he is a guy who has soft hands.
"I just think the situation warrants that, so we are going to give it a shot."
Drone is listed as the No. 3 TE on the depth chart, behind Sims and sophomore walk-on Andrew Gleichert (6-5, 256). Behind those three are scholarship players Derek Hoebing (6-6, 270, Jr.) and Drew Stevens (6-4, 242, Sr.).
Sophomore Tony Lippett is listed as the starting X-WR. Lippett (6-3, 192) split time at WR and CB last year, with most of his playing time coming on defense. But MSU has more need at WR this year than CB, with three Spartan WRs having graduated in B.J. Cunningham, Keith Nichol and Keshawn Martin.
Sophomore Skyler Burkland is back on the active list after missing all but three games last year due a knee injury he sustained at Notre Dame. Burkland was the starting right tackle prior to the injury.
Burkland is listed as the No. 2 left tackle at 6-7, 315, behind returning starter Dan France.
"He is big, he is extremely physical, tough and very athletic," Dantonio said of Burkkland. "Skyler is going to end up playing some place. Maybe we just put all seven of them in there at once and play like that."
Dantonio was joking about deploying a 7-man offensive line. But he has the depth.
"Our offensive line has more experience than we have ever had before," Dantonio said.
In addition to returning four starters on the o-line, the Spartans return three others with starting experience.
Junior Blake Treadwell is listed as the No. 1 LG. Treadwell started the first three games at center last year, but missed the rest of the season due to a knee injury.
Travis Jackson stepped in for Treadwell and had an excellent redshirt freshman season as a first-year starter.
With Jackson firmly in place and redshirt freshman Jack Allen (6-1, 292) looking very promising as the No. 2 center, the Spartans are able to move Treadwell to left guard as the successor to graduated Joel Foreman.
Junior Henry Conway is listed as the No. 2 RT, behind 2011 starter Fou Fonoti. Conway has come back from a neck injury which threatened his career last year.
Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett is listed as the No. 3 Z-WR, behind sophomore Keith Mumphery and redshirt freshman Andre Sims Jr..
Arnett was Tennessee's third-leading receiver last fall as a true freshman with 24 catches. He transferred to MSU in January and is seeking immediate eligibility due to family medical hardship.
"That petition (to the NCAA) has gone in," Dantonio said. "So we will wait to see where the NCAA is on that. We will work him as if he is going to be game-ready.
"He is a very quick athlete, quick, explosive."
Junior Le'Veon Bell is listed as the No. 1 tailback, ahead of senior Larry Caper and sophomore Nick Hill. This is the first time in Bell's career that he heads into the season as the undisputed No. 1, but Dantonio seemed less than enthusiastic about Bell's winter.
When asked about Bell, Dantonio said sharply: "It's very important that we are not complacent. That's my answer."
Dantonio did not elaborate.
As for Caper, Dantonio said, "Your guess is as good as mine. What you have to do is perform on the field, not be complacent, stay healthy, do the job.
"It doesn't make any difference to me (who carries the ball). It could be 22 (Caper), 24 (Bell) or 20 (Nick Hill). I'm looking for production."
If Caper doesn't rally from a pair of mediocre seasons, due in part to injury, Sophomore Nick Hill could press to become Bell's tag team partner.
"Nick Hill is a phenomenal running back and he gives you a little bit of that Edwin Baker type of thing where he is in and out of cuts and hides behind people," Dantonio said.
Sophomore Jeremy Langford is back at RB after spending last fall at CB. "Langford might be one of the fastest players on our team," Dantonio said. "It will be exciting to watch how they transition."
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