Entering his seventh spring as head football coach, the goals largely remain the same for Mark Dantonio and the MSU football team.
With spring football practice getting underway today, winning a Big Ten Championship and going to the Rose Bowl are at the top of the list.
“The foundation has been set,” Dantonio said. “I feel definitely that’s in place, expectations have continued to be raised around here, which they should, and really it’s now a time I believe to sort of fulfill our dreams as we move forward here with this next class.”
The Spartans have 52 lettermen returning and 17 redshirt freshmen who haven’t played a snap yet.
Despite being with the team for a short period of time, both coaches already have made an impact, Dantonio said.
“Coach Burton has been tremendous out on the field when I’ve watched him, very active with his players, great drills that simulate a lot of the things a defensive lineman would do without stepping over the line,” he said.
“Jim Bollman is probably two weeks behind him, and he’s with the offense and with our tight ends and they’ve not done as much on the field because we had a week off, so he’s just been here a week with our players.
“He’s a very, very good football coach, and I think he’s brought some new ideas and implemented some new things already.”
After losing the Big Ten’s leading rusher Le’Veon Bell, there will be an open competition at the running back position.
Dantonio compared it to losing Kirk Cousins and a talented crop of wide receivers and tight ends following the 2011 season.
Juniors Nick Hill and Jeremy Langford are at the top of the depth chart, but Dantonio isn’t afraid to let redshirt freshman Nick Tompkins or one of the talented incoming freshmen compete for the starting
Quarterback is another position up from grabs this spring.
Senior Andrew Maxwell played the majority of last season, but sophomore Connor Cook played well in the Spartans bowl game, and Dantonio said redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor will get reps with the first team this spring.
“You’ve got Tyler O’Connor, who starts as a redshirt freshmen with us, and I think he’ll be very exciting,” Dantonio said. “I think it’s very, very important that he work with the ones and the twos, that he has that opportunity.”
Senior linebacker Denicos Allen, sophomore offensive lineman Jack Allen and sophomore linebacker Ed Davis will not take part in spring practice because of injuries, while senior Darqueze Dennard will wait until later in the spring to strap on the pads.
With 164 days between now and kickoff against Western Michigan on Aug. 30, Dantonio said there still are challenges ahead for the Spartans, but they’re proud of what they accomplished.
“We’ve climbed some mountains here,” Dantonio said. “You can never forget where we’ve come from, who we are, and most importantly, how difficult it was to get there and how difficult it is to stay there.”