EAST LANSING - Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio updated media on Tuesday with a progress report on the defending Big Ten champions as the Spartans near the halfway point of spring practice.
Dantonio had good things to say about back-up quarterback Andrew Maxwell, new first-string "star" linebacker Denicos Allen, new first-string Mike linebacker Max Bullough, running backs Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell, new punter Mike Sadler, new long snapper Steve Moore,, junior right guard Chris McDonald and others.
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Video by Gillian Van Stratt
"I'm happy with our progression," Dantonio said, prior to Tuesday's practice. "As a coach, you always want more. You are always looking for this guy to play a little bit better or that unit to play a little bit better, but our guys are coming out here with a purpose, and that's what we have asked them to do. Not to just come out here and throw their helmet out here, but to come out here with something to gain, for a purpose. And I think our guys are doing that.
"They are trying to grow daily and I think if you are doing that, as a coach you've got to be excited about that. We have gotten great leadership. We have great locker room chemistry and that is so much a part of this."
The Spartans will wrap up spring practice at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 30. Dantonio said on Wednesday that the usual spring practice schedule would have called for the Spartans to end on April 23, but he said he didn't want to play the spring game on Easter weekend.
The good news is that the Spartans have had dry conditions for their practice days. Temperatures have have often been cool, and sometimes windy, but Dantonio doesn't mind that.
"We have been out every single day of spring practice and that's been a positive for us," Dantonio said.
Winds were strong on Tuesday at the practice fields outside the Skandalaris football complex.
"You are going to play in weather like this," Dantonio said. "You are going to play in the elements. You are going to play with wind and it can affect you, so we are not going to practice in a sterile environment."
Michigan State's defense dominated most of Friday's Jersey Scrimmage. Dantonio isn't concerned about it.
"Right now the effort is very, very good," he said. "Retention is very good. You have to like where we're at right now from an offensive standpoint."
Dantonio said he likes the numbers and depth the Spartans have on the offensive line, but many of those players are young and inexperienced.
With rising senior Joel Foreman out for the spring with a minor upper body injury, the Spartans have only one returning starter in action this spring, in McDonald at right guard.
"Usually when you are dealing with a relatively young offensive line, if there is one little breakdown, or one little thing, bad things can happen for you," Dantonio said. "We are also working with new fullbacks.
"The thing that you see when you watch our offense, when you watch things technique-wise, you see guys with athletic ability. You see guys really learning. The learning curve is great. You see guys improving day to day. When you throw everything at them and try to make it as game-like as you can, with noise and everything, there is a little bit of a step back. But I think there is progress. I like where we're at.
"We miss some wide receivers. B.J. (Cunningham) is still out with the injury from the season. And (Keith) Nichol went out with a slight pull so we missed some guys."
Dantonio was asked how some of the players are progressing who have recently made position changes.
"I think Todd Anderson is finding himself a place at fullback," Dantonio said. "Micajah Reynolds really took a step forward on the defensive line. He has made that transition."
RECRUITING: Ohio o-lineman McGowan plans visit to MSUAnderson, a former walk-on defensive end, moved to fullback during the winter. Anderson is also serving as the team's short snapper.
Reynolds moved from offensive guard to defensive tackle last week, after Antonio Jeremiah was lost to a knee injury. Reynolds played defensive tackle earlier in his career.
Reynolds is playing both nose tackle and three technique defensive tackle for the Spartans.
"Dan France,for a guy that has six practices under his belt as an offensive tackle, is very, very athletic," Dantonio said. "Blake Treadwell, very athletic, tough. You see them grow every single day in practice and those are the things that we are looking for.
"We also have guys like Skyler Schofner, a redshirt freshman, who has a tremendous amount of ability, and pop and explosiveness. Travis Jackson is playing very well as well.
"Those are new guys or position switches on the offensive line."
Schofner has been the No. 1 right offensive tackle throughout the spring. Schofner said during player interviews following practice that he had a couple of mix-ups on blitz pick-ups during the scrimmage. It was a good teaching point for the talented 6-foot-7, 305-pounder from Sunbury, Ohio.
"I think Chris McDonald is a guy that plays very, very well," Dantonio said. "He is probably our most consistent offensive lineman right now. He is very athletic. He is 300 pounds and he has a year of starting experience. He is a guy who obviously will be a leader there.
"Other than that, you are looking at young players. I thought France played very well for a young player. Schofner has to fix some things up, but again, (performed) very well. Travis played well, Blake played well. Those guys continue to come and you see growth in them every single day and I think those are the things you are looking for."
During practice on Wednesday, Schofner split first-string reps with junior Zach Hueter. Hueter, an athletic lineman from North Branch, has been bothered by injuries throughout his college career.
"Just the fact that we were able to scrimmage Zach and get him back out there the next day for practice is a good step," said offensive coordinator Dan Roushar. "He's been with the ones, splitting time in there."
"Competition is good for me," Schofner said. "I have a lot to learn, a lot to work on and competition is good for all of us."
Said Dantonio: "On the offensive line, we have numbers. We have some guys that are still out or laboring through injuries. Depth makes you better.
"We try to grade our players in three catagories: 'Big Ten championship,' 'winning,' and 'functional.' Functionality has so much to do with playing this game. If a guy is functional, you can play around him and he can continue to get better. That's what we are looking for, functionality, at all positions throughout our football team and I think we're getting that. We are into our fifth year. That's a lot of time spent and you see some of that coming to fruition."
On sophomore QB Andrew Maxwell:
"He has been in the system now for two years and you have seen him be able to grow. He has complete command of our offense and can do a lot of things very, very well and has game experience. We have three quarterbacks with game experience, very good quarterbacks, guys who have shown that they can win for us. Those are positive things."
On freshman 'star' linebacker Denicos Allen:
"It's an added area of growth for Nico. He has always been a great tackler for us. He was a great player on special teams last year for us and he played in a lot of situations. Now he takes on a role of being a full-time starter. He has had a great spring. The guy runs very well and he benches 420 pounds or whatever it is. He's a factor in there. He has shock. He can bring it."
On sophomore 'Mike' linebacker Max Bullough, and whether he is doing the things necessary to replace Greg Jones:
"Getting what you need in replacing Greg Jones, I don't think Greg Jones is a guy you replace very easily. You have to make that call over a long period of time. But Max is playing well. He is another guy that was young, played as a freshman. I think he has a great command of our defense and an awareness on the field. He has to go in on game day and play with the level of consistency that Greg did, but he has a great future ahead of him."
On MSU's running backs:
"I think Edwin Baker takes a very mature look on things right now. He is going into his third year. He is a guy that can take it the distance. He did that the other day. We sort of had everybody pinned up, but he broke about four tackles and got to the perimeter and made it happen.
"Le'Veon Bell is having a great spring. Larry Caper, solid. And the other guy, Nick Hill, every time he gets the ball he makes something happen. So I think we've got some guys and we will just try to continue to use those players. Obviously Edwin, to me, is the guy that has always gotten himself ready to play and I think that's so much a part of it, getting yourself ready to play before a game and he's got that factor."
On new punter, redshirt freshman Mike Sadler:
"Mike Sadler, he was one of the top punters in the country. I thought he showed a tremendous amount of maturity by coming here and sitting out a year and watching Aaron Bates grow. He'll do an outstanding job. He has a big-time leg, he's left-footed, it spins differently. He has a good command for taking the snap. He has good get-off times.
"As far as our long snapper, Steve Moore has done a nice job so far. He has been very, very consistent. I think those things are going to work out fine. Punt needs to continue to be a weapon for us and thus far it looks like it will be."
Moore is a 6-foot-3, 216-pound sophomore walk-on from Pinconning.
Briefly... Junior defensive tackle Jerel Worthy was sidelined on Tuesday with a sprained ankle. Dantonio said he would probably miss three days this week.