Take heart Spartan Nation, coming out of spring we can finally say:  we have a defense!

 
If anything, coming into MSU spring football I wanted to see the defense.  I certainly have given my share of praise to Mark Dantonio and his emphasis on that side of the ball, but you also have to appreciate that leading our defense is a man that should he a head coach already:  Pat Narduzzi.

 
Defense was the name of the game this spring and although MSU has some tough times ahead of themselves as they prepare for the upcoming season, you can walk away with the peace of mind that tough hard-nosed Big Ten defense is back in East Lansing.

 
I think that it is very clear that this team is missing some parts and one would have to possess no brain to think that this squad is ready to contend for a Big Ten crown.  It is very clear if you look to the horizon that there is going to be some tough times.  With that said, I am also 100% confident that the right man is in charge to lead the Spartans.

 
Anyone who makes a player by player-by-player analysis is simply not doing the squad justice.  I purposefully waited a few days in order to really analyze all my thoughts and watch again all the interviews and film we shot to think through my thoughts.  Here they are in no particular order:

 

  1. As I first wrote on Spartan Nation when he committed to MSU, Brian Hoyer has all the tools and will be a very good MSU QB.  He is a great kid and possesses all that is necessary to do well.  I emphasis that he will be a very good QB because for him to get to the next level of greatness he will need some help around him and it will be also up to him on how hard he is willing to work.  I know that QB’s loved JLS’s system but I think this one is actually better for him.  He has a cannon.  In the JLS system it was dink and dunk and with the Dantonio system he will get to air it out.  He can be very accurate but then will make a throw that makes you ask if Damon Dowdell is back.  That I believe has more to do with experience then talent and I am not worried.  I think that we all got to see a future Spartan star and I am very happy that he is our leader.  I can also tell you that no QB since Dean Look possessed as much respect in that locker room (and I know many have) with Drew Stanton.  Hoyer is loved by his teammates and he has the charisma and talent to be special.  I think that he can assume that mantle of leadership and I can tell you that he has the team.
  2. Dixon looked O.K. in the spring but make no mistake.  Nick Foles is the man.  If he is 100% come fall and all the words I am getting out of Austin is that he will be, he will be the backup.  Now obviously MSU would love to redshirt him.  With that said if it is early or midseason and Hoyer went down then I could see them pulling the redshirt and using him.  If it was late in the season and a bowl game was not in play, then I am sure they wouldn’t waste it.
  3. Javon Ringer is a star.  He is the horse of this team and he has all the tools to be recognized as one of MSU’s best.  His ability and moves set him apart.  He is a man among boys and is so incredibly talented.  This staff felt like it was Christmas to inherit him and they will ride him.  Caulcrick will lose some weight, he had an injury that hindered that but they love his bruising style.  I think that there was real surprise by the staff when they saw that talent that was here for their type of offense.  Jimmerson also has improved.  He is a real viable back, and it will be really interesting to see those three and the two “rookies” that are coming in to see how the ball gets distributed.
  4. The offensive line looked O.K.  I know that everyone thinks that it will be a strong part of this team come fall and it very well might.  Injuries hurt but still I thought personally that it would look better then it did.  I am sure as a big dumb ex lineman that my concerns may be over stated, but to me that and linebacker will be the two big spots to eye come fall.
  5. The wide receivers looked o.k. as well.  I thought with receiver being such a huge part of the JLS regime that we would have seen more.  I think that Mark Dell has a real chance to come in and contribute.  I think Terry Love and David Williams had decent springs but overall this group dropped way too many balls.  In this new system they can’t do that.  Passing will be balanced but it won’t be possible to drop as many balls as the past and compete.  Dantonio and Treadwell will not operate like JLS and crew did, if you drop balls you will sit.  They got the point this spring so lets see it in the fall.
  6. The defensive front is not the most talented in the country but those kids have heart.  They have bought into the Dantonio defense hook, line and sinker.  Those kids spent the spring learning just how to go back to playing football.  More then one of them commented to me how they love being taught.  Something that was sadly lacking and very evident before.  Look for all the “rookies” to get some reps and although I don’t think this unit will be the best in the Big Ten, they will be the most improved and it will give all the Spartans some great evidence of improvement in the program.  Kershaw needs to gain some weight but O.G. did something this spring that I noticed immediately.  The MSU winter workouts (you can go back and see the videos by clicking on the Hondo’s House ICON on the right) worked agility.  Last season when he had to move on the line he would go down to his knees and move over.  Many times this line (not including Cliff Ryan) was caught on their knees when the ball was snapped.  That was a sign of being out of shape and poor coaching and agility.  I raved at the second scrimmage how he moved fluidly and it allowed him to make some big plays by being in the right spot.  Again, these guys won’t be the best but they will once again be a fun group to watch after a four-year hiatus from existence.
  7. The linebackers had an interesting spring.  I think that this is an area of concern.  They just don’t have enough horses for the race as it appears now.  If Kaleb Thornhill can play at his old pace and recover from injury then I think we are much farther along then I fear we may be now.  I came into spring looking for Gordon to really shine I am convinced he can be a star.  He may very well be one.  He isn’t yet.  I think that Misch really shined at times and I think they will find ways to get him on the field.  He and Hawken will battle it out for the Sam LB spot but I have to give the lead to Misch at this point, although it is a slight lead.  Hawken is also getting reps at the Will spot. Mike Tressell is a great coach in his own right and I feel very good with him leading this group.  I am pretty confident that SirDarean Adams has cemented himself at the Will and there probably won’t be a lot of wasted energy in a battle there.  Again, I don’t expect them to be the best but they will get better and that, more then a bowl game is the goal this season.  To show the Spartan Nation that the house is getting cleaned.  This staff can recruit so upgrading here will happen.  I think that their effort will be great. 
  8. The defensive backfield is going to be the biggest surprise.  Safety according the coaches and the players I talked with was a bright spot.  NEMO of course got a lot of attention but don’t fool yourself.  I have been preaching the ability of Travis Key for awhile and he is fighting hard to get in the mix.  Otis “BLING BLING” Wiley is a star in the making and I think he has a real chance at playing on Sunday’s someday.  The CB position will still be a sore spot but that isn’t Dantonio’s fault.  As with many of the defensive spots, this position was virtually ignored (no excuses from JLS he didn’t put a premium effort here to fill this role) and the ranks are thin.  Kendell Davis-Clark looked decent but I really believe that Ross Weaver will step it up and be a player.  I am not as worried about here because I think that Weaver will do well and if Clark can step up or one of the incoming freshman or guys on the squad now, then I think that this position may not be our shining star but it should be improved at least.  Could it be any worse?  Simply because it will get good coaching and attention, this position will be better and I am really looking forward to watching Weaver.
  9. Special teams will be fine with Swenson and I think the spring put my love for Aaron Bates, the incoming freshman in perspective.  He will come in and has to have the inside track for the job if he can do anything.  Although I did get to watch some special teams work, I don’t feel anyone can honestly assess it based on what we got to see and I am not going to pretend.
  10. There were enough penalties to scare me, but you have to look at it in perspective.  Everyone was getting reps and that should show you a lot.  I am concerned but not worried.  Dantonio will fix it.

 
Highlights of the spring:

 

  • Watching Dantonio overrule an official on a pass interference call.  It showed the team that he would stand for what is right.  Several players mentioned that to me as a surprise. 
  • I was standing on the field in the fourth quarter of the spring game and I won’t name who but a player made a dumb personal foul that we all are used to and Dantonio screamed to an assistant:  “get him out.”  That showed me all I had to see.
  • Hitting is back in style.  We may not win them all but people are going to be hurting after playing MSU this season and that makes this fat guy smile.
  • Coaching is back.  I was appalled at the lack of it before and these guys got it on everything from how to wear their socks to how to play there position.
  • Respect is back.  You now see a team that as a whole loves their staff.  In the past complaints were rampant and now it is all about getting better and if I heard one player I heard ten talking about personal accountability.
  • Being a Spartan is chic again.  Not that it ever wasn’t to the Spartan Nation!  This staff actually acknowledges that we have a past.

 
Closing thoughts:

We have coaching back here at MSU and although I don’t think fixing this will be easy I think they can get us back to success.  I leave this spring excited.