April 10, 2012

Dantonio, Maxwell field questions about 2012

EAST LANSING - Michigan State isn't yet at the halfway point of spring practice, but during Tuesday's Big Ten spring football teleconference, the two participating Spartans - Mark Dantonio and Andrew Maxwell - were asked about the season opener against Boise State, still more than four months away.

The coach and starting quarterback have slightly different viewpoints about the MSU-Boise game, which is slated for Friday night of Labor Day Weekend on Aug. 31 at Spartan Stadium.

For Dantonio, the spring is business as usual, with focus on daily individual improvement more so than an opponent in the fall.

For Maxwell, the specter of making his debut as the starting quarterback is something he thinks about frequently.

"I don't think you could script a better opening game," said Maxwell, a junior from Midland. "It just centers our focus as a team through the off-season, and through spring ball and through camp, knowing that we are going to have to be sharp and ready to go, game one. I think it's exciting."

When asked earlier in the teleconference if the idea of opening against Boise State adds any urgency to spring ball, Dantonio answered in the negative.

"No, we will continue to do what we do here in terms of trying to improve our play as individuals and as a football team," Dantonio said. "While Boise is in the back of our mind and we will prepare for them, whether we have prepared for them a little bit already or whether we do more in the summer getting into fall camp, but right now our focus is on getting better as a football team and really getting better fundamentally, whether it's blocking, catching, tackling, trying to do as many live things as we can and try to improve ourselves."

Boise State finished No. 6 in the final 2011 USA Today coaches poll at 12-1. However, Boise State was passed over by BCS computers and became relegated to the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl, in which the Broncos defeated Arizona State, 56-24.

Boise State has the nation's highest overall winning percentage since 1997 at .826 (157-33), leading No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Texas.

Boise State's 124 wins from 2000 to 2009 are the most by a team in a single decade since Penn won 124 from 1890 to 1899.

Last year, Boise State's only loss was at the hands of TCU, 36-35. Boise State notched a 35-21 victory over Georgia in the season opener.

Boise State holds victories in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma and the 2010 Fiesta Bowl over TCU.

"Their recent success speaks for itself," Maxwell said of the Mountain West Conference power. "They are a Top 15/Top 10 program in this country so with them coming into Spartan Stadium, for me personally it's exciting to have that be my first start. For this team it's a statement of where we are as a program, that we are scheduling these types of games early in the season as a test."

  • Dantonio and Maxwell were MSU's representatives during Tuesday's Legends Division portion of the Big Ten teleconference. A coach and player from each Leaders Division team will participate in a teleconference on Wednesday.

    Others who participated included Brady Hoke and DB Jordan Kovacs of Michigan; Kirk Ferentz and QB James Vandenberg of Iowa; Pat Fitzgerald and QB Kain Colter of Northwestern; Jerry Kill and QB MarQueis Gray of Minnesota; and Bo Pelini and RB Rex Burkhead of Nebraska.

    Burkland Getting Back On Track

    Dantonio indicated that sophomore offensive tackle Skyler Burkland is pushing hard for a spot in the top five of the offensive line.

    Burkland (6-7, 315, Sunbury, Ohio) earned the starting job at right tackle last year, but was lost for the season due to an ankle injury at Notre Dame.

    "He had an outstanding (August) camp," Dantonio said. "Very strong, very powerful, explosive. He broke his ankle so we lost him for the year.

    "Now he returns. We have a little bit more experience on our offensive line so he is working himself back into the framework of being in the top five."

    Burkland is still officially the No. 2 man at left tackle, behind 2011 starter Dan France (6-6, 316, Jr., North Royalton, Ohio).

    "We have moved him over to the left tackle, but that is basically to be the next tackle in the game, either left side or right side," Dantonio said. "We have two experienced tackles (at left tackle), so it is a good situation. Of those two experienced tackles, one can move in to play left guard. That's why we have Skyler at left tackle. It sort of fits the bill."

    There has been talk of France repping inside at left guard, where junior Blake Treadwell currently holds down the No. 1 spot. Burkland's return gives MSU flexibility.

    "Hey, is he (Burkland) six, is he five, is he four? It just depends on what kind of day everybody else is having and that's a luxury that we have right now," Dantonio said in relation to Burkland's standing in starting five. "He is an excellent person, an outstanding football player. I consider him a starter right now and will be a starter for the next three years."

    Old School Ground And Pound

    A writer from Columbus, Ohio asked the six participating Big Ten coaches about the trend toward non-traditional use of running backs in the National Football League and whether it will continue to seep down into the college level.

    Dantonio represents the antithesis to this trend.

    "I know that some teams are more into quarterback runs and they put people out of the box and they create situations," Dantonio said. "We are going to continue to do the things that we do best and that's stay balanced. The tailback is still going to be the guy to carry the load many, many times."

    It's worked well with the Spartans garnering a share of the Big Ten title in each of the past two years. Meanwhile, LSU and Alabama met in the 2011 National Championship Game with each team having I-back elements in their system.

    In 2010, Oregon and Auburn met in the National Championship Game with each team employing fast-tempo, zone read spread offenses.

    Success can be attained with either philosophy. Dantonio shows no signs of deviating from Michigan State's recent formula.

    "We have always had a feature guy here and that feature guy usually has been the guy who has pulled the load and we will continue to have that framework in mind as we continue to recruit to that position, and we practice that every single day," Dantonio said. "There are certain times that you have to be able to run the football and run it effectively. You need a guy that won't fumble, a guy that can get the tough yards and a guy that can catch the ball out of the backfield and block and protect as well."

    Dantonio feels good about his players at that position this spring.

    "We have four tailbacks and all four of these guys have had outstanding winter workouts," Dantonio said. "We have four very capable guys. The lead guy right now is Le'Veon Bell. Physical-type runner. Our guys don't put the ball on the ground much. They all catch the ball well.

    "I'd say Le'Veon is the lead guy at this point, but nothing surprises me at tailback. You have to stay healthy and you have to continue to grow."

    "Larry Caper was the lead back in 2009 and he hopes to be injury-free and resume that position.

    "Nick Hill has shown spurts of being a really talented player. Jeremy Langford might be one of our faster players on this football team."

    On Kicker Recruiting

    Steve Megargee of Rivals.com polled the coaches on their philosophy regarding scholarship offers for place kickers. Some teams recruit to the position with scholarship offers in hand. Other programs invite walk-ons and award a scholarship to whoever emerges as the starter.

    Dantonio has had success with both approaches.

    "When we first came here, Brett Swenson was our kicker and he was brought in as a scholarship kicker by John L. Smith's staff and he performed very, very well for us," Dantonio said. "We brought (walk-on) Dan Conroy in who played behind Swenson. We brought Kevin Muma in on scholarship but really Conroy at that point in time out-played him so we put Conroy on scholarship as well. So we will do it any way we need to get it done.

    "But there is no magic formula there for me, personally. I just feel like we have to have a guy that is a great kicker and right now we are very blessed to have a guy that is very, very good and he is a gamer and when the game is on the line he is going to make the kick. Those are positives for us.

    "As far as recruiting one or taking one as a walk-on, it doesn't matter to us."

    Dantonio Unplugged

  • On Anthony Rashad White showing leadership as a defensive tackle with young, less-experienced teammates.

    "We have four or five guys that are new to the system a little bit," Dantonio said. "Rashad has become the guy that has been-there, done-that. I think you see him working and trying to help other guys get better.

    "He is a tremendous young man, great heart and it is his way of giving back a little bit to that group."

  • On spring practice as a whole: "Relative to spring practice, I think we are taking it a little slower than most. We are going into our sixth practice. Right now our indications are that the guys are working very hard and chemistry remains and we continue to build a foundation here."

  • On the importance of the seniors finishing their careers strong: "Individually if they can have a great 2012, the chemistry will stay right and everything will build on that. That is what's happened here and really wherever I've been as an assistant coach or head coach, that's what's followed."

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