Dantonio talks Jones, offensive line, pass interference
State News sports reporters Omari Sankofa II, Dillon Davis and Derek Blalock discuss issues of the Spartans’ last football game and head coach Mark Dantonio’s comments as the team heads into their bye week.
MSU head coach Mark Dantonio is using some of his extra time this week to help fill the void left by senior linebacker Jairus Jones, who is sidelined at least six weeks with a medial collateral ligament injury.
Jones was a key backup for the No. 1-ranked defense in the country at the “star” linebacker behind junior Taiwan Jones before he was injured mid-game against Notre Dame. As a former safety, Jairus Jones gave MSU an athletic playmaker on passing downs and against spread formations with his innate coverage skills.
Taiwan Jones will remain the starter, but Dantonio is bringing junior Mylan Hicks, formerly the third-string free safety, from the secondary to try his hand as an outside linebacker.
“We’d have to see how he’s going to be able to play in the box versus two-back sets, but he’s a tough guy and he weighs about 200 pounds,” Dantonio said of Hicks. “But he’s active, and he can do some of the things that Jairus was able to do. They can sort of compliment Taiwan as he plays.”
Sophomore Darien Harris, who has spent much of his young career on special teams and backing up various linebacker spots, also could get a shot to fill Jairus Jones’ role. Harris was listed as the No. 2 middle linebacker against the Fighting Irish, and fellow sophomore Ed Davis also might get reps at the spot.
“(Harris can play) any one of those three places,” Dantonio said. “He’s just looking for an opportunity to be involved. He’s a good football player, he’s shown that. … He’s played out at star before and he has the athletic ability to do that, so that should be a place for him to go to.”
One of the points of optimism in Saturday’s loss was the play of MSU’s offensive line, which helped the Spartans outrush the Fighting Irish 119-82. Notre Dame’s massive defensive line and 3-4 scheme presented a unique challenge to a relatively untested unit, and Dantonio was pleased with the effort.
All season MSU has tinkered with a variety of lineups up front, although senior guards Blake Treadwell and Dan France have been mainstays for the most part. Senior Fou Fonoti, sophomore Donavon Clark and redshirt freshman Jack Conklin rotating among the tackle spots and junior Travis Jackson and sophomore Jack Allen have rotated at center.
Offensive lines usually take time to develop the necessary chemistry and cohesion, but Dantonio prefers to give multiple players experience to build depth. For whatever reason, the position has seen many devastating injuries in Dantonio’s tenure.
“We want to establish our top seven guys, really,” he said. “I mean, you’ve got to be able to play guys in there. You’re gonna have some injuries. I think it’s also important that whoever’s in there is in the same page with each other and feels comfortable with that.
“If you’ve got five, that’s great. If you’ve got six, that’s better. If you’ve got seven, that’s even better. But I consider all those guys starters, they’ve played enough football to be considered starters here.”
Another lingering talking point from the Notre Dame weekend was the controversial penalty calls against MSU’s secondary.
Dantonio submitted game film to the Big Ten for review after officials flagged Spartan defensive backs four times for pass interference and once for holding. The coach would not get into details of the feedback he received, however.
“I’m not allowed to talk about what they say, you know,” he said. “But I’ve heard back. Doesn’t make it any better. … Gonna keep coaching it the same way.”