Training Days: Hoyer ready to lead promising Spartans
By Jim Miller/Spartan Sports Network
East Lansing, Mi. -- Visiting the Spartans’ Training Camp on a beautiful August day brought back many memories of the “dog days” of summer. The Football building has a new look as well as an attitude adjustment from a year ago that continues to impress all the pundits from around the Big Ten and throughout the country. Former College Head Coach Gerry DiNardo and the Big Ten Network were in town to break down the Spartans. In talking with analyst Dave Revsine, he commented that the “workout was one of the most organized and physical practices they had seen of all the Big Ten teams they had visited”. They came away thinking that Michigan State and Illinois are the teams to keep your eyes on in the Big Ten.
Coach Mark Dantonio, now in his second season, is not slowing down with his consistent message of fundamentals and discipline. He relished an opportunity to jump into a linebacker drill to teach a young core how to square up on a ball carrier during the Spartan workout. He seemed relaxed but focused on building from the momentum of last season when the Spartans finished 7-6 and a bowl game appearance. The message is clear and concise: “fundamentals and discipline” are paramount for Coach Dantonio. He will not let the team take a step back from the culture change that was created a year ago in order for MSU to achieve its football fortunes.
What’s not to like? The Spartans are up and comers who have leadership at all the right positions. To see progress, here are 5 things to watch in order to take another step forward.
1. Who will be the QB?
No QB controversies in East Lansing. Get to know about Brian Hoyer because he will get drafted by an NFL team in the 2009 NFL Draft. He’s rated the 9th best QB in the country by NFL scouts and will work his way even higher with solid play at the QB position. Brian Hoyer comes back as the unquestioned leader and more is expected from him in terms of production and decision making from last year. In his first season as the starter Hoyer completed 59.3% of his passes for over 2,700 yards, 20 Touchdowns, and 11 interceptions while leading the team to the Champs Sports Bowl. He has worked hard this off-season and is seeing his third option in the passing game when going through progressions. Brian commented at camp that “I just feel more comfortable with where my options are within the offense”. Brian’s play this season will determine if the Spartans are bowl bound again because he has to elevate the play of some young WR’s.
2. Who will be the complement back to Javon Ringer?
Big things can come in small packages and Javon is a big time back capable of big plays in all phases of offense. Javon is rated the top back in all of college football by analyst Mel Kiper. He acknowledges how versatile Javon is as an all around player to deserve such a high compliment. The question is who will be the “banger” down in the goal line and short yardage situations due to the loss of big bodied Jehuu Caulcrick. Junior A.J. Jimmerson and red shirt freshman Andre Anderson can spell Javon with a breather as a scat back because all hover a little over 200 pounds. I expect red shirt freshman Ashton Leggett’s (5’11” 228) role to increase as the season goes on for the Spartans. It has always been a running back by committee approach, but Javon will get the bulk of the load especially in key situations, but one has to emerge to keep him fresh and wear down a defense. On paper Ashton fits the bill.
3. What is the defense doing to hold up its end of the bargain?
Blitz, Blitz, and more Blitz! Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi did not want to blitz a staggering 65% of the time last year, but it was extremely effective to mask some deficiencies in the run game and coverage of, at the time, young second level players. I know what you are saying to yourself, “JIM, BLITZ NORMALLY MEANS MAN TO MAN COVERAGE THAT WOULD EXPOSE A YOUNG LINEBACKER CORE AND SECONDARY A YEAR AGO!” It is a blitz zone scheme that is simple in the fact that secondary players just cover an area of the field to avoid big plays. Imagine if you told your child to clean their room. Pretty simple instructions: make the bed, fold the clothes and put them in respective drawers, toys in closet., etc. If they do not clean it, you know who is to blame in terms of final product and execution.
What is encouraging is that Defensive Backs Coach Harlan Barnett has an experienced group now in the secondary that can do much more. Cornerbacks Ross Weaver and Chris L. Rucker will team with intimidating senior safeties Otis Wiley and Kendell Davis-Clark. They are all good tacklers and coverage should be stronger even if man to man is now deployed. The defense is further strengthened by having young Sophomore Linebackers Eric Gordon and Greg Jones who fly around with such speed that they will not have to leave the game in passing situations. They are great in coverage and are incredible blitzers in third down situations to get pressure on the QB. This creates chemistry because nickel or dime defenses need to be utilized. Your best 11 players are on the field at all times. At most Kendell-Davis Clark may have to provide that nickel role.
4. Which “new” players will make an impact?
Defense - I will not consider them new other than junior DE Trevor Anderson who transferred from Cincinnati. He should be a nice fit coming from Mark Dantonio’s previous head coaching stop and was recruited for his projection in Coach Dantonio’s same exact defensive system. I would think it should be a nice defensive line rotation, but Sophomores Oren Wilson and Antonio Jeremiah need to be a factor to clog up the middle in the run game and command double teams to create one on ones for DE’s Trevor Anderson and senior Brandon Long vs. offensive tackles. Defensive Line Coach Ted Gill said “ we have seven guys we will rotate in on the defensive front to keep them fresh, but senior DT Justin Kershaw should be the leader of the group”.
Offense - Not a new player either, but Sophomore Mark Dell got his feet wet last year and really made strides toward the end of the season finishing with 20 receptions 220 yards and 2 touchdowns. He needs to step up with his big play ability and speed to be a factor. Senior Deon Curry just needs to be his “steady Eddy” self that Hoyer can rely on. His 24 catches a year ago will increase until one of the younger WR’s steps into the fold as a dependable player. Both redshirt Freshman B. J. Cunningham and Freshman Fred Smith have to contribute and will be counted on specifically in the run game early while they get accustomed to the speed of the passing game at the college level. If not, Javon Ringer’s tongue will be hanging out at the end of every game due to increased receptions in the passing attack. B. J. and Fred are both big physical receivers in the Devin Thomas mold of 6’2” 210 and 218 pounds respectively. If you cannot block you will not be on the field in Offensive Coordinator Don Treadwell’s offense.
5. Can the Spartans live up to the talk of being compared to Illinois as the “darling” surprise teams to watch in the Big Ten?
I certainly do not want to curb your enthusiasm because there is a lot to be excited about when discussing Spartan football and the direction of MSU’s program, but don’t get caught up in projections. To sum it up in the words of a great Spartan and my football coach George Perles “ work hard, keep your mouth shut, and good things happen.” This years team is capable of some great things, and if they keep the approach Mark Dantonio has cemented you will like the results at the end of the year.
A lot of things have to come together in terms of progress. And progress has been made in all areas of this team and program. Progress such as: a new facility, talent level from a good recruiting class, and development of players currently on the roster from a great coaching staff. In my mind college football is becoming eerily similar to pro football in terms of being a quarterback driven league that determines a teams success. This will be a key component for Michigan State’s football fortunes this season. Brian Hoyer seems up for the challenge and his pro style passing skills will determine the Spartan fate in the upcoming season. His challenges are the other intangibles at the QB position that need to be tapped. He must be a calming influence for young WR’s in order to create a passing attack that achieves the offensive balance all teams crave. That offensive balance was vital to the success and step forward the program achieved a year ago. Young receivers should be up for the challenge as well and use Devin Thomas as the example. “If he can do it, why not me?” Devin was pretty exciting to watch and as a football fan you should be excited about the 2008 MSU football team.
About JimEntering his sixth season as analyst for the Spartan Sports Network, Jim Miller was a three-year starter for Coach George Perles at Michigan State.
What’s in your football head? I want to know!