Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Notes from Michigan State practice, new football facility
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- I just got back from watching Michigan State's practice and touring the new $15.5 million Skandalaris Football Center, a very impressive facility that officially opens Aug. 21.
Here are some items of note from each one:
- Media were allowed to view the first seven periods of Tuesday's practice, which consisted mainly of special teams and individual drills. Unlike Michigan, which piped in Motown tracks on Monday, the Spartans' music selection varied from Stevie Wonder's "Very Superstitious" to some rock song I couldn't recognize. Jay-Z apparently was featured on Monday.
- Ryan Allison's position journey has brought him to weak-side linebacker, where he's a primary candidate to start. Allison came to Michigan State as a wide receiver and appeared in nine games as a freshman before starting two contests his sophomore year. He moved to safety during Champs Sports Bowl practice before switching to linebacker this spring.
He's competing with junior Brandon Denson for the top job.
"He had a great offseason," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "Wait till you see what he looks like. He put on about 20 pounds. So I'd say he has a sense of urgency, may have the upper hand as far as maturity goes."
- Freshman wide receiver Fred Smith looks physically ready to compete for playing time right away. He's listed at 6-2 and 218 pounds and seemed every bit that big as he worked out with the wideouts Tuesday. Several Michigan State beat writers I spoke with said the coaches are also high on another freshman wideout, Keshawn Martin, a sparsely recruited speedster from Inkster, Mich.
- I tried to get a glimpse of the running backs to see who would complement Javon Ringer in the backfield. Junior A.J. Jimmerson was getting reps as the second-team back and also completed a halfback option pass. There's also some buzz about redshirt freshman Andre Anderson.
- When Mark Dantonio came over to say hello to me, I was surprised to see a piece of tape across his chest with the words "Coach Dantonio." Does the head coach really need a name tag? Evidently, everyone does at Michigan State, and Dantonio is making no exceptions for himself. A team official told me Dantonio was writing several players' names on their helmets with a Sharpie at Monday's practice.
- Place-kicker Brett Swenson was getting razzed about his light blue shoes, which looked like they belonged to a North Carolina player. Swenson colored over the blue with green, but you could still tell. Kickers.
- Dantonio spent the latter part of the viewing period working with the safeties.
- Several players rotated on punt returns, including freshman running back Caulton Ray.
SKANDALARIS FOOTBALL CENTER
- As expected, this place is a major upgrade for the Spartans, who had their offices in trailers before moving in recently. The lobby includes several displays highlighting team history, including panels featuring Michigan State players that won national awards. Butkus Award winner Percy Snow and Outland Trophy winner Ed Bagdon are among the players featured.
- A display honoring Michigan State's two outright national championships will also be placed in the lobby.
- Two of my favorite touches were the main elevator, which is in the shape of the football, and hashmarks in 5-yard increments that line the building's hallway.
- The hallway contains displays honoring Michigan State's College Football Hall of Famers, first-team All-Americans and all-time NFL roster. A picture of former Spartans wideout Plaxico Burress catching the Super Bowl-winning touchdown and hoisting the championship trophy is prominently displayed.
- The main meeting room is bisected by an aisle with a divider above, so coaches can meet with the entire team, then split up into offense and defense before breaking off into position meetings. The setup should save a ton of time. The smaller meeting rooms for players and coaches also looked first-rate.
- Dantonio's corner office has an impressive view of campus, including Spartan Stadium, the Breslin Center and several practice fields.