On replacing the dynamic Linebacker duo of Greg Jones and Eric Gordon:
Thatâ€™s going to be one of the biggest questions on this football team.Â I donâ€™t think youâ€™ll ever replace those two guys.Â They played a tremendous amount of football for us.Â Both of them had over 40 starts.Â Eric Gordon actually had more starts here than any other player in the history of Michigan State Football as a position player, so theyâ€™ll be very difficult to replace.
But with that being said, (and losing Jon Misch as well) we did play numbers last year.Â We played quite a few different guys in there, so we have some experience.Â Max Bullough is a young man who played a little bit for us last year.Â Steve Gardiner returns, finally healthy for the first time, and is heâ€™s having a great Spring.Â TyQuann Hammock is a guy thatâ€™s moved back over from the Fullback position, and is weighing about 230 right now, and has been very good in the Spring.Â Denicos Allen is a guy that played a lot for us last year, and I think he has great â€œbig playâ€ ability for us.
Those are the guys you would probably see.Â Jeremy Gainer is coming on as well.Â And we did recruit an outstanding class of Freshmen Linebackersâ€¦I think some of those guys are going to be on the field immediately for us.â€
On Spartan Footballâ€™s historical tendency to â€œtake one step forward, and then one step backâ€ following a successful year, and what the 2011 Spartans are doing to avoid that scenario this time around:
Well the fact remains weâ€™ve been to 4 Bowl Games in the last 4 years.Â We lost some close games in â€™09, we lost some close games in â€™07â€¦but â€™08 and â€™10 were what Iâ€™d say were good football seasons for us.Â So I think what we have to do is maintain what weâ€™ve been able to accomplish, and then build on some of the success that weâ€™ve had.
Usually what Iâ€™ve seen is when weâ€™ve had an inexperienced Quarterback, weâ€™ve lost a couple close games.Â When our Quarterback has been experienced, which again we will have Kirk Cousins back for his third year not just as our starting Quarterback, but as our Captain, and our backups are also all back, youâ€™ve got a chance to have a really good football team.
The nucleus of who we are as a football team is back.Â Weâ€™ve got a very good blend of experience, but weâ€™ve still got a relatively young football team, and that spells great things for the future for us.â€
On the progress of the Spartan Offensive Line:
â€œI think the future looks very bright, as bright as it ever has here on the Offensive Line, and that creates a lot of excitement here because if you can win up front and you can run the football effectively, which is what weâ€™re going to be about (as well as being balanced), then youâ€™ve got a great chance.â€
On Spartan Footballâ€™s past tendency to â€œtake one step forward, and then take one step backâ€ following a successful year:
â€œWell what we have to do, weâ€™ve already been doing since we got back from the Bowl Game, and thatâ€™s to not rest on success, but to just work even harder and to keep investing in our season for next year.
â€¦Guys who had success last season arenâ€™t acting like they had success on the practice field (during the off season and Spring Practice), theyâ€™re working hard.Â Theyâ€™re keeping an attitude of humility, and also staying very, very hungryâ€¦ready to learn, and theyâ€™re coachableâ€¦When you have that, I fully expect us to have sustained success next season.â€
On how good he feels about the chemistry between himself and the Spartan pass catchers:
â€œItâ€™s very important to be on the same page when it comes to receivers, and the routes, and the depths of routes, the angles you take, and all of that.Â It takes time, it doesnâ€™t come over night.Â Right now we have a few Freshmen receivers that were trying to break in (ex. Tony Lippet and Keith Mumphrey)â€¦so they have a lot to learn, they know that, and theyâ€™re working very hard to pick up as much as they can.
On some of the work he did on his game during the off season:
Youâ€™re constantly trying to get better, so I viewed this off season as a chance to really improve and take my game another step forward from where I was at the end of last season.Â Part of that comes down to trying to develop other players.
â€¦I did go back and watch the entire season on film to evaluate what I did and what our team did Offensively, what we were successful at, what we werenâ€™t successful at.Â Then I also went out over Spring Break and did a lot of work in California throwing, and working on â€œfoot work,â€ and what not.
Beyond those things, I think it was very important for me in the off season to focus on building relationships and developing young Receivers, young Offensive Lineman, getting snaps with new Centersâ€¦things like that, that we can bring other guys alongâ€¦Because as Iâ€™ve said before, a Quarterback is only as good as the guys around him…if Iâ€™m not pouring into those guys and really investing in them and developing their talents, and their abilities, and their passions, then Iâ€™m not going to have success myself.â€
On the off season turmoil surrounding College Football, and whether the landscape of the College game is actually out of control:
â€œI donâ€™t know whether itâ€™s out of controlâ€¦obviously we have some problems, but Iâ€™m not the kind of guy that likes to throw rocks at the other guy because thereâ€™s so many little things that can happen without you having control of them, so Iâ€™ll back off that one.
â€¦Youâ€™re always going to have some problems, but whether weâ€™ve got more, or whether the whole foundation of College Football is deteriorating, thatâ€™s for a much longer discussion and a give-and-take that Iâ€™d have to hear before I could really make a comment.â€
On the growing influence of travelling and 7-on-7 teams, which often include shady associates and facilitators:
â€œThereâ€™s at least concern on our staff that some of the people involved in it, ala AAU Basketballâ€¦are â€œin between peopleâ€ getting involved in this business.
To what degree?Â To what extent?Â I donâ€™t know.Â There are a lot of High School teams that go to different places to get the kind of competition, but they go with their normal High School coach, they go as a group of people from the same program.Â There isnâ€™t a question of whether an Agent picks them, or if thereâ€™s â€œoutside influencesâ€ on them, itâ€™s just a learning process.â€
Some of the guys on our staff are concerned that we are getting a â€œthird guyâ€ in there, an in between guy, and a guy thatâ€™s kind of soliciting kids to go to a camp and thatâ€™s getting paid to bring certain kids to campsâ€¦some things that you really donâ€™t want.Â You donâ€™t want those kinds of people involved in our gameâ€¦.Whether the NCAA has to do something to eliminate it because itâ€™s gone too far, I donâ€™t know.â€
On the importance of Spring Practice to develop the Lionsâ€™ uncertain Offensive Line:
â€œWell, itâ€™s vitalâ€¦We lost most of itâ€¦Overall I think weâ€™ve made some progress, (but)we still have a long way to go.Â Weâ€™re not a bunch of domineering bunch of kids up front, we have troubles with some people that are strongerâ€¦but weâ€™re working on it.â€
On the importance of â€œSpring Ballâ€ for teaching fundamentals, especially to a young team:
â€œWe have a lot of work to do on that front.Â We are young right now, and probably like most teamsâ€¦you have a significant amount of guys who are missing time (who would probably be in your 2-Deep on the roster)â€¦Weâ€™re all racing against the clock right now, and you can only do so much in a given period.â€
On whether â€œSpring Ballâ€ has provided a sense of relief for Iowa Football coming off of such a tumultuous off season within the program:
â€œNo matter how the out of season goes, thatâ€™s always how I feel when we start Spring Practice.Â The thing you enjoy most about Football and Coaching is your time with the playersâ€¦The other thing about Spring Practice is that everybodyâ€™s got a clean start right now.
And itâ€™s usually pretty uglyâ€¦and thatâ€™s what the spring looks like so far.â€
On his expectations for the continued development of Sr. QB Terrell Pryor as he prepares for his final season:
â€œ(Pryor) has had an interesting Spring Practice thus far because he had a surgery after our Bowl Game (Win over Arkansas in the Sugar) and has been unable to participate in most of (it).Â Heâ€™ll be back running around at the 1st of May, and he can kind of stand still throwing the ball (in the mean time).
So what heâ€™s really done to take the next step in his development is to spend a lot more time in the film room.Â Heâ€™s done a little bit of coaching of these young guys that are going to need to carry the weight until he gets back.Â And I just think his knowledge of the game and his awareness of whatâ€™s important will help him take that next step.
â€¦He needs, I think, to make a significant improvement so that we can walk out after this 4-year career saying that he became the best he could possibly be, and I think heâ€™s real serious about making that happen.â€
On what happens if Spring Practice doesnâ€™t go well, and whether it can actually set you back for the upcoming season:
â€œWe think it can.Â We always talk about the fact that you canâ€™t win the championship in the Spring, but you can lose it if you donâ€™t progress to the level that you need to do so in 15 practices.Â We all have the same rules (15 Spring Practices, 29 Pre-Season Practices)â€¦ and so the amount of progress that you need to make in each of those situations is huge.
You just canâ€™t get slowed in the development and the experiences, and thatâ€™s why I think Spring Practice is so important that you try and be as healthy as you can be, because you hate to have guys on the sideline when they could be practicing football.
â€¦We canâ€™t really get all caught up in how much progress we have in the Spring because you donâ€™t practice day after dayâ€¦plus, you can only be in full pads a certain number of times, and tackling, and all of those different rules.Â But those reps and experiences are important, and that progress that we need to make in the Spring is huge.â€
On the speculation that Sr. Terrell Pryor might be drafted to the NFL as a Tight End rather than a Quarterback:
â€œYou can never worry too much about someoneâ€™s opinion, because thereâ€™s lots of them.Â And you canâ€™t hold on too tightly to the opinions you like.
When we had our Pro Dayâ€¦and were talking to them (NFL Player Personnel and Coaches) about Terrell, and trying to pick their brain as to whatâ€™s the next step we need to make, almost everyone of them to a man talked about the fact that he really made a quantum leap last year in the way he managed the game, and the way they could tell he understood the game.Â Most of them said (the number of games he plays in 2011) really isnâ€™t as important as how well he plays (those games).
I doubt if anyone in the Draft of 2012 will be picking him as a Tight Endâ€
On whether Nebraska has made any adjustments to Spring Practice because of joining the Big Ten:
â€œNo, thatâ€™s not really the time of year.Â Weâ€™re not really scheme oriented in the Spring, weâ€™re really looking to get ourselves better (ex. fundamentals, technique)â€¦Weâ€™re not really getting specific into what weâ€™re going to be seeing.â€
On the perception that converting a Quarterback from the â€œSpreadâ€ to another Offensive system has to take a good bit of time and a good bit of snaps in game conditions:
I think it can beâ€¦in our case with Denard (Robinson), with what he brings to the table, his skill setsâ€¦heâ€™s a guy whoâ€™s obviously very dangerous with the ball in his hands, but he can do a tremendous job of throwing the football.
It really has been a smooth transition.Â He played under center during his entire High School career.Â Those are the mechanics you always worry aboutâ€¦Denard was ahead of the game as far as the ball mechanics, taking the snap, seating the ball, and all those things.
On the importance of developing interior line play in â€œSpring Ball,â€ and whether thatâ€™s where most of the player development comes from for those positions:
â€œI think soâ€¦The gameâ€™s played up front, on both sides of the ball.Â Weâ€™ve got a group of guys on both sides that are learning a little differently when you look at us Offensively, the â€œPowerâ€ game, and the â€œcombination blocks,â€ and some of the things that we believe in, and how we want to run the football.
Defensively, going from a 3-man front to a 4-man front, and trying to work some guysâ€¦Will Campbellâ€™s played on both sides of the ball since heâ€™s been here, Quinton Washington, the sameâ€¦Trying to get all those guys fundamentally (sound)â€¦with a mentality on both sides of the ball is important.â€
P.A.T. (Perhaps Another Thoughtâ€¦)
The recently adopted rules changes to College Football should provide an overall improvement, but the NCAA again failed to address its deficiency in regulating Out of Bounds plays.Â The â€œOBâ€ rules should be consistent for all 60 minutes, and College Football should revert back to starting the clock again only after the following play has been snapped (not when the ball is reset at the new line of scrimmage by an Official, outside of the last 2:00 in a half).Â Such a change would provide a few more snaps per game, and definitely more excitement than a bunch of inactive seconds.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JPSpartan or Interact with him Inside the Phalanx Forum