July 26, 2012

Notebook: On LT to d-end, and more

CHICAGO - Astute Michigan State watchers have known for months that redshirt freshman Lawrence Thomas was likely headed for the defensive line.

On Thursday, the Detroiter's deployment to the trenches became official and public when the Michigan State media guide and pre-August depth chart listed Thomas as a third-string defensive end, heading into fall camp.

The big-boned Thomas, who is the most decorated recruit on the roster, has grown out of his former linebacker position. He is listed at 6-3, 295.

"Right now, L.T. will go to defensive end," said head coach Mark Dantonio. "It's tough to have a 292-pound linebacker. But he can still run. He's a very good athlete. He will vertical over 30 inches and he can run. So we are just trying to find a place to get him on the field."

Thomas was 6-3, 280 last July, and was losing weight in 2011 fall camp when he went down with a knee injury. Thomas missed most of the practice season due to the injury and redshirted.

Thomas then missed spring practice after undergoing off-season surgery.

"The main reason we moved him is he missed spring and he missed fall camp last year with injuries," Dantonio said. "The Mike linebacker position is a very involved position where he has to make a lot of different decisions, checks and alignment issues and it was like he was starting from scratch. (We) felt like at the defensive end position, he could play at the point of attack and be more successful quicker."

Michigan State now has three talented redshirt freshmen at defensive end in Thomas, Shilique Calhoun and Joel Heath.

Calhoun wowed coaches last fall as part of the scout team, and did more of the same at the outset of spring practice. Minor injuries to Calhoun's lower body slowed him up for the spring game, but he is expected to make noise in August.

Heath added muscle and strength during the summer and stood out as one of the most improved young players on the defense in the spring.

Heath and Calhoun are listed as second-stringers at the two defensive end positions. Thomas will work to get in line and begin making noise of his own.

"He's not a freshman anymore," Dantonio said. "He has had a chance to be in the meetings. He's been in the football program for a year. He's been in the weight room. He understands the challenges that await him.

"He's obviously more mature physically and mentally to handle the challenges."

Drummond And Williamson

Redshirt freshman R.J. Williamson and sophomore Kurtis Drummond were listed as either/or, co-starters four months ago at the outset of spring practice. But this week, heading into August camp, the older Drummond is listed as having the slight inside track.

Drummond, who served on the nickel defense last year, is listed as the first-stringer in the media guide's depth chart, which was released on Thursday.

"They are very close," Dantonio said. "It could go day-to-day. Both of those guys will have an opportunity to play. R.J. could have played for us last year. We were able to redshirt him.

"Drummond, he did a nice job, had some big-time picks, played pretty steady for us last year as a redshirt freshman. So Kurtis will be a guy that will go into the summer as the starter, but who knows. But then you have freshmen that are very good players in Demetrius Cox and Mark Meyers are two guys that will come in at safety and have a chance to challenge. It will be interesting to see how Cox and Meyers play because they are two very good players."

Defensive Quotebook, Chapter 1

Dantonio: "When you look at our defense coming back, we return eight of 11 starters. More importantly probably than even that aspect is we returned 18 of our 22 top players on defense. We were able to redshirt I think every one of our players last year except for one. So a lot of those players are on the defensive side of the ball. And again, that will prove to be a positive for us as we move forward."

Go through the list, coach. It's impressive.

"Defensive line‑wise, we bring back four guys with starting experience. We have William Gholston. You obviously know about Will. At 6'7", 285‑pound defensive end, he is a force. There's no question.

"We don't graduate one linebacker. So all of those guys are returning with Max Bullough, Chris Norman and then Denicos Allen, a guy who had 11 sacks last year.

"Our secondary returns, with the exception of one, and so we're poised and ready to go on that side of the ball, and Coach Narduzzi and his defensive staff has done a great job in terms of implementing what we do and how fast we do it."

All from a defense which ranked No. 6 in the nation in total defense.

Defensive Quotebook, Chapter 2

Dantonio: "I don't want to disrespect any of those players, but we did not have the depth that we have now. One of the things that was sort of intriguing to me as we went into the spring game last year‑‑ this is without our incoming freshmen‑‑ we were able to field two full offensive and defensive lines with scholarship players.

"So we've got guys and we've got guys behind 'em. It's a very competitive league, and it's tough to win. But our guys have confidence and we'll be ready."

Hot Reads

  • Dantonio said Aaron Burbridge is wrapping up a summer class which should enable him to qualify academically.

    "He will finish that class this coming Wednesday," Dantonio said of the state of Michigan's No. 1-ranked recruit for 2012, a wide receiver from Farmington Hills Harrison. "From everything I understand he is doing very well in that class and we will have all our freshmen."

  • Junior college transfer Jamare Mills is listed on the active roster in the media guide. Indications from earlier this summer suggested that Mills, a tight end from Dublin, Ohio - by way of Blinn Junior College in Brenham, Texas - wouldn't finish the credit load necessary to enroll and go on scholarship until January. But Dantonio now says that Mills may make it in time to be activated this fall.

    Mills, who played one year at Blinn, is cramming in the credits at Lansing Community College this summer.

    "He is on track to do it for this fall," Dantonio said. "We'll see."

    Mills is listed at 6-4, 275. MSU lacks proven depth at tight end behind junior Dion Sims. Walk-on Andrew Gleichert, former defensive end Denzel Drone and stationary-style tight end Derek Hoebing are listed as the top four tight ends heading into fall camp.

    Former tight end Drew Stevens took a medical disqualification earlier this month. "He has had a lot of injuries and had back surgery in July," Dantonio said.

    Drone: He could go either way. He has enough experience to go either way now. But right now he is over there (at tight end).

  • Sophomore Taylor Calero has moved from defensive end to fullback.

    "He played that in high school," Dantonio said.

    Don't look for Calero to masquerade at tight end, where MSU needs to bolster the talent pool.

    "He is a 6-1/6-2, 245-pound guy rather than a 6-5 guy, so he would be a little bit more of an 'F' (than a tight end)," Dantonio said.

    Calero missed almost all of last fall, and this spring, with lower body injuries. But he had a productive summer and the quick-footed Calero is eager to strap it up at fullback.

    "Just trying to give everybody opportunities to get involved as much as they can be," Dantonio said.

  • Sophomore Jeremy Langford is listed as a RB/WR on the official roster. He is the only Spartan with dual positional citizenship at this time.

    "Jeremy is too good of an athlete not to have on the football field, whether it be at wide out or at running back, and he was good enough to play cornerback or us too last year," Dantonio said.

    Langford began his practice career at running back, messed around at wide receiver during bowl practice as a true freshman, then moved back to running back for an uneventful spring in 2011, then spent last fall at cornerback, then moved to wide receiver last spring.

    Now he will begin fall ball in the offensive backfield, behind junior Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper. On the depth chart, Langford is listed as an either/or along with Nick Hill for the No. 3 spot.

  • Arthur Ray is not listed in the three-deep at offensive guard. He's still listed on the official roster, but there are indications that if he wants to come back for what amounts to a sixth year he will have to do it as a scout team member. Meanwhile, MSU is still having to scramble and clip to get down to the 85 scholarship ceiling.

    "The situation with Arthur is he and I still must talk," Dantonio said.

  • In a related note on scholarship numbers, junior Dana Dixon has announced that he is transferring to Grand Valley State in order to get playing time. Dixon toiled as a third-string safety last year and a fourth-string wide receiver in the spring. MSU planned to move him back to safety this fall, but he likely would have fallen to fourth string with incoming freshmen needing to get reps.

  • On the injury front, junior Bennie Fowler has had a good summer.

    "Bennie Fowler is fully-recovered," Dantonio said. "He made all his runs. He has been working out. He has no restrictions."

    Fowler saw action in only five games last year and had two catches. A year earlier, as an impact redshirt freshman, he had 14 catches - including 12 receptions in the last six games of the season.

    Fowler is listed as an either/or starter along with Tony Lippett at x-wide receiver.

    Plant A Flag

    In the plant-a-flag and countdown-clock portion of the proceedings, Dantonio was baited with a question about Michigan's status as the media favorite to win the Legends Division, based on a straw poll of scribes and talking heads.

    The question went like this: "Despite what you guys accomplished last year, the perception is that Michigan is still favored over you guys. Do you like your position in that sense?"

    Dantonio questioned the questioner.

    "Well, why do you guys bring that up on me?"

    Then Dantonio refrained from ripping the credibility of media, and also managed to stay clear of jabbing the Wolverines, which is possibly what the questioner wanted him to do.

    "I would just say they've been favored pretty much the last four years," Dantonio said. "Competitive game. Big rival game. They do an outstanding job there.

    "But it only matters: Are they favored or not in the locker room? And in our locker room, they won't be favored. So we'll start with that."

    Keeping Score

    Through an hour and 45 minutes of questions on Thursday, Dantonio was asked four times about the loss to Nebraska, and two times about the Spartans' victory over SEC East champion Georgia in the Outback Bowl.

    Last year, every conference coach was asked at the podium about the Big Ten's inability to beat SEC teams in bowl games the previous year.

    This year, Dantonio has first-hand experience on the matter, but no one asked about it.

    Power Quote

    "The first thing that you have to do is you have to get to that championship game before you can go to the Rose Bowl. We were able to do that last year. If you're fortunate enough to get to the Rose Bowl, that's when the conversation of a national championship is going to come into play."

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