EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Mark Dantonio stepped into the lobby outside Michigan State's football offices and looked at the 2010 Big Ten championship banner unveiled Thursday at the Skandalaris Football Center.
"Now we've got to get another," Dantonio said with a smile.
Michigan State isn't satisfied with its first Big Ten title in 20 years. The Spartans know that to be truly considered an elite team in this league, they need an impressive follow-up act, especially after the poor performance against Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.
Dantonio thinks he has a better team than the 2010 version, but he's also mindful of a challenging schedule and an improving conference.
"We've got to still measure up," Dantonio said. "This is a process. There is no beginning time, there is no end time. It just goes. We need to move the process forward."
It has been a very productive day here in Sparta, as I've visited with Dantonio, coordinators Dan Roushar (offense) and Pat Narduzzi (defense) and several players.
Here are some notes:
Linebacker was Michigan State's strength on defense throughout the Greg Jones/Eric Gordon Era, but the spotlight might be shifting to the defensive line this season. Narduzzi really likes the depth at both line spots. Jerel Worthy is a proven commodity, and the coaches really like what they've seen from junior Anthony Rashad White. The Spartans feel they're three-deep at end with Tyler Hoover, William Gholston and Denzel Drone, and Marcus Rush also is working on the edge. After blitzing Jones a ton the past few years, the Spartans need a true pass-rusher or two to emerge from this group.
The offensive line has more question marks. Michigan State is young up front but both Dantonio and Roushar noted the line will be more athletic in 2011. Part of that is moving defensive linemen like Dan France and Blake Treadwell over to the offensive side. Redshirt freshman tackle Skyler Schofner, at 6-7 and 305 pounds, has been impressive along with classmate Travis Jackson. Dantonio described many of his linemen as "very fluid." Michigan State really has only two senior linemen in guard Joel Foreman and tackle Jared McGaha, so this group has a long time to unite and come together. I'll have more on both lines next week, but these two units are vital to the Spartans becoming a consistent top-tier Big Ten program.
Dantonio called the running back situation "very competitive," but Edwin Baker hasn't taken a step back this spring after starting throughout 2011. Roushar noted that Baker has been spending a lot of time with former Spartans star back Javon Ringer, a frequent visitor throughout spring ball whom I caught up with today. "It's a whole other level of maturity," Roushar said of Baker. Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper continue to work, and don't count out redshirt freshman Nick Hill, who adds a different dimension to the group. There's a lot to like about the depth Michigan State has at running back, receiver and tight end.
Although the defenses loses multiyear starters like Jones, Gordon and cornerback Chris L. Rucker, Narduzzi hasn't had to slow down the learning curve this spring. Just the opposite. "We're amazed at how well they've picked it up," he said. "We're a much smarter defense right now than we were a year ago. Those young kids have been paying attention. They may not have had those reps, but they understand what we're doing." As for the linebackers, junior Chris Norman has been limited this spring following elbow surgery. Sophomore Denicos Allen and junior Steve Gardiner have impressed the coaches, and sophomores Max Bullough and TyQuan Hammock are competing at middle linebacker. "Bullough might be a little bit ahead right now," Narduzzi said.
Roushar's transition to coordinator seems to be going smoothly. Cousins noted that in reviewing the film from 2010, Michigan State had several successful plays that it didn't run very often. "We're working on trying to get those plays involved more in our offense," Cousins said. "If we're so successful at them, why are we not doing them two or three times a game rather than once every two games?"
It's time to hit the road now, but I'll have more on the Spartans in the coming days and weeks before they wrap up spring practice April 30.