Big Ten: Brandon Clemons

Big Ten lunch links

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
12:00
PM ET
Friday is Take Your Dog to Work Day. Which won't be anything different for my pooch.

Michigan State spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
8:30
AM ET
The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we're taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Michigan State.

Three things we learned in the spring
  • Cook in command: Last year's spring was dominated by talk of a quarterback competition, one that was never finally settled until late September. Things are much different this year, as Connor Cook entered the offseason as the unquestioned starter for the first time. By all accounts, Cook came into the spring riding a wave of confidence, as he should have after MVP performances in the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl. Michigan State has enviable stability in its backfield with both Cook and 1,400-yard tailback Jeremy Langford returning.
  • Tight-ening up: Tight ends didn't play a huge factor in the offense last year, as the Spartans were really young at the position after Dion Sims left a year early for the NFL. But that could turn back into a strength this year. Josiah Price, who had the big touchdown catch in the Big Ten title game, is a year older and wiser. Jamal Lyles made a major impression this spring and could be a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds. Redshirt freshman Dylan Chmura might be ready to contribute. Look for the tight ends to take on a larger load in the passing game this fall.
  • Tackling the issue: When people talk about the Spartans' losses on defense, they usually mention Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Isaiah Lewis. Makes sense, as all four of those were All-Big Ten performers. But Michigan State also has to replace its starting defensive tackles from a year ago, fifth-year seniors Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds. That would be a major area of concern for a lot of teams, but both guys were under-the-radar players last year and the Spartans feel very comfortable with Joel Heath, Damon Knox, Brandon Clemons and former Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge stepping in at those spots. Heath has the physical skills to be a star and highly touted recruit Malik McDowell arrives this summer to add some more depth.
Three questions for the fall
  • Offensive line makeup: The Spartans' offensive line is by no means in dire straits. Yet three starters (Blake Treadwell, Fou Fonoti and Dan France) are gone from a position that was the team's secret strength. The coaching staff likes what it has in sophomore Jack Conklin, junior Jack Allen and senior Travis Jackson, and expects more from junior Donavon Clark and sophomore Kodi Kieler. But Michigan State is still searching for the right mix up front and hopes to build the kind of depth and versatility it had there last season.
  • Replacing Dennard: Few players are harder to replace than Dennard, the All-American and Thorpe Award-winning cornerback who looks like a surefire NFL first-round pick. Sophomore Darian Hicks is the leading candidate to do so after emerging on top of a heated spring competition involving Arjen Colquhoun, Ezra Robinson and Jermaine Edmondson. Hicks played in very limited duty as a freshman in 2013 and has to continue to hold off the others this summer. And then he'll have mighty big shoes to fill in the fall.
  • Linebacker lineup: The Spartans will have a much different look at linebacker after the departures of three-year starters Bullough and Allen and Rose Bowl hero Kyler Elsworth. Taiwan Jones appears to be the heir apparent to Bullough at middle linebacker, but Jon Reschke is pushing for playing time. Darien Harris logged time at that position in the Rose Bowl and is in good shape to start at an outside spot along with Ed Davis, who was injured this spring. Riley Bullough, Max's younger brother, will also be in the mix. There's talent and speed here, but the standard they have to match is awfully high.
One way-too-early prediction

With so many new faces and different roles on defense, Michigan State will finish outside of the top 10 nationally in total defense for the first time in four years. But just barely, as Pat Narduzzi's crew comes together in time to be a dominant unit in Big Ten play.
Pat NarduzziAP Photo/Al GoldisPat Narduzzi returns to Michigan State to head up the Spartans' highly-ranked defense.
Michigan State finished sixth nationally in total defense last season and returns nine starters. Just as importantly, the Spartans return defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who was wooed by Texas A&M over the winter but chose to stay in East Lansing. Narduzzi's defense figures to once again be one of the very best in the country. I recently caught up with him to chat about the state of the defense this spring:

When you have so many starters back, how does that affect what you do in spring practice?

Pat Narduzzi: One thing it does for us is it gives us the opportunity to know that hopefully there's a lot of carryover from last season. We don't try to install any more defenses. We try to keep it at the same pace. You know, kids forget. Coaches can sit in the office 24/7 and talk about it, but for them, as soon as that bowl game against Georgia is over, those guys go on with their lives, with their girlfriends and studying English. But it allows you to come in and not make as many mistakes as you would with a young defense.

Yet you have to be excited about the potential for this defense with the players you have back, right?

PN: Yeah, it's exciting, but we still have to go out and make plays. We do have a lot of players back, so hopefully we can go out and be as productive as we were a year ago. But you can't get complacent, because what you did last year or the last game or even last week doesn't really matter. It's what you do right now. So every day we're building the 2012 defense.

You used the word complacent. How do you make sure the starters don't get too comfortable and that there's still a lot of competition?

PN: There are certain positions you can look at and say, "There's no way he's getting beat out." And there's probably, of the 11 positions out there, you've got to say there's six or seven of them. But we're starting to do such a good job recruiting that there are some battles out there at different spots, particularly at the defensive tackle spot, the safety spot and even the linebacker spot. There's a lot of spots that are really wide open. If a guy makes a mistake with the 1's, you pull him down to the 2's and really keep him on edge, in a positive way. With the starters, you expect perfection. When you make mistakes, that's not helping you. Another guy can get in and make mistakes, too.

(Read full post)

Big shoes to fill: Michigan State

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
10:30
AM ET
With spring practice around the corner, Big Ten teams will start the process of replacing stars from the previous year. Some shoes are bigger to fill than others. We're taking a look at two key departed players from each team and who might take on their roles this season.

Today, we take a look at Michigan State. Though Kirk Cousins obviously left big shoes to fill, we know that Andrew Maxwell is his successor. So we'll focus on a couple of different spots on the Spartans.

[+] EnlargeJerel Worthy
Andrew Weber/US PresswireMichigan State's Jerel Worthy (99) was a force on the defensive line for the Spartans.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Jerel Worthy, DT

Why: Worthy was an All-American who had such a good junior season that he decided to jump to the NFL. He registered 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, though that only tells part of the story about how disruptive he was in the middle of the defensive line. Worthy was also an emotional leader who provided the Spartans defense with some of its swagger. While Michigan State brings back most of its outstanding defense from last year, Worthy will be a difficult player to replace.

Replacement candidates: Anthony Rashad White (6-2, 316, Sr.), Micajah Reynolds (6-5, 320, Jr.), James Kittredge (6-4, 270, Soph.), Damon Knox (6-4, 275, RFr.), Brandon Clemons (6-3, 262, RFr.), Mark Scarpinato (6-3, 270 RFr.), Joel Heath (6-5, 270, RFr.), David Fennell (6-3, 275 incoming freshman).

The skinny: Michigan State lost not only Worthy but fellow starting defensive lineman Kevin Pickelman and top backup Johnathan Strayhorn to graduation. But Mark Dantonio was prepared for this development and has a lot of players in the pipeline ready to prove themselves. Though White played the other tackle spot last year next to Worthy, he has the size, talent and experience to replicate Worthy's production. This is a key spring for Reynolds, who has also spent time on the offensive line. Kittredge sat out last season after transferring from Vanderbilt, and Michigan State was able to redshirt five other potential tackles in 2011. Fennell will likely take that route this year. This group is largely unproven, but at least there are plenty of candidates.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: B.J. Cunningham, WR


Why: Cunningham completed his career as the school's all-time leader in receptions and yards, which is saying something given the program's history at receiver. He emerged as a true star receiver in 2011 with career bests of 79 catches, 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns. Whenever Cousins needed a big play, he usually looked Cunningham's way. Fellow seniors Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol also are gone, leaving a big void at the wideout position for the Spartans.

Replacement candidates: Bennie Fowler (6-1, 215, Jr.), Tony Lippett (6-2, 189, Soph.), DeAnthony Arnett (6-1, 175, Soph.), Keith Mumphrey (6-0, 202 Soph.), Andre Sims Jr. (5-8, 180, RFr.) Juwan Caesar (6-3, 197, RFr.), Monty Madaris (6-2, 190, incoming freshman), Aaron Burbridge (6-0, 180 incoming freshman), MacGarrett Kings (5-10, 175, incoming freshman), Kyle Kerrick (6-3, 190, incoming freshman).

The skinny: This is a situation much like the defensive tackle spot, in which Michigan State hopes a crowd of candidates means that one or two standouts will emerge. The difference here is that some true freshmen will likely get thrown into the mix right away. Fowler is the veteran who hobbled through an injury-plagued 2011, while Lippett moves back to offense after seeing time at defensive back last year. A lot could depend on whether Arnett, a Tennessee transfer, wins his case with the NCAA to become immediately eligible. If not, the Spartans may have to rely on at least one of the receivers they signed in this year's class or hope that a redshirt freshman takes a big step forward.
After recording 11 victories in each of the past two seasons, Michigan State hoped to carry over the momentum to the recruiting trail. The Spartans on Wednesday signed a class headlined by standout skill players and added another Thursday morning in four-star receiver Monty Madaris. Along with the addition of wide receiver transfer DeAnthony Arnett, Michigan State has put itself in position to replace standouts like receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, and safety Trenton Robinson. The Spartans also faced increased competition in the region from Michigan and Ohio State, and talk of a Michigan State-Ohio State recruiting firestorm is building.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Mike Carter/US PresswireMichigan State's Mark Dantonio says his latest recruiting class is loaded with skill-position talent.
ESPN.com caught up with Spartans coach Mark Dantonio on Thursday. Here are his thoughts about the class.

What were your top priorities in this class?

Mark Dantonio: We felt like we needed to go out and get a great class of skill players. Last year, we were pretty deep on our team, so we only (signed) two wide receivers and two defensive backs last year. We felt like we really needed to concentrate in those two areas, and I think we came away with a great class. We've got five wide receivers signed and four defensive backs, and a very skilled tailback [Nick Tompkins] who really can play any of those positions. He'll play tailback here off the start. We've got guys like Demetrious Cox who can play anywhere: tailback, slot receiver, safety, probably even corner. We've got guys like Jermaine Edmonson, who is coming in as a defensive back but can play wide receiver. Aaron Burbridge is another guy who can cross the realm and play corner, play wide receiver, tailback. He'll play wide receiver for us. Madaris, MacGarrett Kings, DeAnthony Arnett has to be included in this class, and he's a phenomenal player, one of the top wide receivers in the country last year.

It's a tremendous group, wide receiver especially. When you lose a B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol, that's a lot of offense. Those guys will have an opportunity to play immediately. And on the defensive side, Ezra Robinson and Cox, Edmonson and Mark Meyers are guys that can tackle, play the ball in the deep part of the field, change direction very well, they run very well, they're very explosive players. All 10 of those guys are kick returner, punt returner guys.

I also think that because we lose [Kirk] Cousins, we needed to bring a quality quarterback into the program. We don't overload our football team with quarterbacks. We don't have six or seven guys on scholarship. We'll have three quarterbacks on scholarship next year, and Tyler O'Connor was an Elite 11 quarterback, a guy that has great mechanics, has the ability to run with it, he's big, he's very intelligent, he's got a great release and great arm strength. He's going to be a tremendous asset to this program as time goes on. And then we took three offensive linemen who are going to be able to play, and one defensive lineman in David Fennell. Two outstanding linebackers in [Jamal] Lyles and [Riley] Bullough, who are very, very good athletes and played a variety of positions. Fennell's a defensive tackle flying under the radar from Oregon, who just moved to the U.S. from Canada. He shows great punch. His dad is in the Hall of Fame in the CFL. The guy has great explosiveness, extremely strong, very quick, plays with a high motor. I think he'll be an outstanding player.

With the wide receivers you're losing, how many of the guys you're bringing in will stay at receiver and have a chance to play immediately?

MD: All of these guys are going to have a chance to play. We basically have five wide receivers on scholarship, so our numbers are low in that area, not just because we lose the three [starters], but we lose two backups as well. Edwin Baker going [to the NFL] hurts at the tailback position, so there's opportunity to play and play early. They're quality players. They're guys who we've either had in camp or watched play in person. They're big-time players, and they'll all have an opportunity to play. And there are some guys who might cross over and be pretty versatile as well. And on the defensive side, you can pretty much say the same thing. Jeremy Langford is going to go back to tailback, so it's going to open a possibility at corner. Tony Lippett's a guy we played at corner last year. He'll go back to wide receiver. So it was important to get a defensive back class as well.

I'll make this statement. I've been coaching for a long time, and I don't know I've been anyplace where we've recruited 10 quality athletes like this at the skill positions. I think they're excellent football players, and they all fit our identity, they fit our mold in terms of our chemistry. Great people with good values, all with the vision of being outstanding. I think Cox is a tremendous player.

Do you guys now have pipelines at defensive backs and wide receiver?

MD: I think we are. If you're good enough, you're going to play here. We only played one freshman [defensive back] last year, but the year before, our entire second unit was made up of freshmen. We've had to move people around a little bit, so there's opportunities for these guys, and they see themselves playing early in their careers. They also see the success that we're having. The other thing everyone has to realize is last year, we took seven defensive linemen. We redshirted every single incoming freshman last year except for one. So we're going to have about 40 freshmen in August camp. This is a very bright future at Michigan State. We've got some excellent young players, predominantly defensive players ... who would have played in the bowl game. We probably would have played six of them in the bowl game if they were eligible to play.

You mentioned the lineman from Oregon. How do you feel about the defensive tackles with Jerel [Worthy] moving on? Is it something you looked for in this class, or might look for in the junior college ranks?

MD: We looked more in terms of defensive end at the junior college route a little bit. We felt like we wanted to stay the course with our guys. We came down to the end on a couple guys that, if they come our way, maybe solidify that a little bit. But you've got to go back to last year. We recruited six defensive linemen and had a seventh transfer in from Vanderbilt, as an offensive [lineman] for them. He was a four-star player, James Kittredge. So we've got seven defensive linemen, and five of them are defensive tackles. So our numbers are good. We've got guys like Damon Knox and Joel Heath and Brandon Clemons and Matt Ramondo and Kittredge, those guys are all pushing about 280. We'll be fine there. Obviously, we're going to miss Jerel. You can't replace a guy who was first-team all-conference, a first-team All-American and maybe a first-round draft pick. But we've got guys coming, and I'm sure coach [Pat] Narduzzi will get those guys ready to play.

Mark, you've recruited the Midwest for a long time. Was there any different dynamic this year competing for recruits with some of the staff changes at Ohio State, and with Michigan's staff having a full year to recruit?

MD: I really don't think so. It's always difficult to recruit in the Midwest when you're surrounded. Michigan State has its own identity, but Michigan certainly and Notre Dame and Ohio State and Wisconsin and Iowa. We're right in the middle of all those guys. And usually when we want 'em, they want 'em. You can throw Penn State into that mix, and you have some teams coming up from the Southeastern Conference, so it's extremely competitive in terms of the guys you're going to get. But we're competing on a scale with those guys. We're very competitive with them, and this is a great opportunity for young people to look at, so we're going to get our guys.

Recruiting has accelerated. There's no question about that. With that said, you've got to get guys on your campus earlier, and usually those guys have to be within four or five hours of your campus. After that, they have to fly, or they're taking cross-country trips. It's so important you get players on your campus to see the place with a parent or a loved one, because when you come down the stretch, for a guy to make a visit like they used to, come in January on a visit by himself, if they have not been here before, the opportunity for you to get them to come to Michigan State or anyplace else goes down drastically.

Are you guys changing the types of players you're going after at all?

MD: Not really. We've always tried to look to see who's going to fit our program. Just because you can play corner at one institution doesn't mean you can play corner here based on how we play the corners. We're looking for a different type of player at times than maybe somebody else would. Doesn't mean it's right or it's wrong. We try and look for who's going to complement our football team. There's a foundation that's being laid here, there's good things happening. We're not to the end yet, and we want to continue to push forward, but the guys we've recruited have helped us win, there's no question about that. They've won. So we're taking the right guys. We have very little attrition on our football team, so consequently we have a smaller class. I don't think we've ever taken 25 guys. I think the biggest class has been maybe 21, 22. We make assessments based on guys who can play for us, in our schemes and fit our chemistry, our profile. I think we've done a great job with that. We've got some guys here who have been two-star players who are going to play in the NFL, there's no question.

Big Ten lunch links

February, 14, 2011
2/14/11
12:00
PM ET
Be mine.

Michigan State recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011
2/03/11
12:30
PM ET
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

The class

Recruits: 21 (20 high school seniors, one junior college transfer, one player enrolled early)

Top prospects: For the second consecutive year, Michigan State's top recruit is a defender from Detroit. ESPNU 150 linebacker Lawrence Thomas headlines the 2011 class, following William Gholston in 2010. The Spartans added to an already deep receiving corps with Juwan Caesar, rated as the nation's No. 37 receiver by ESPN Recruiting. Center Jack Allen leads a promising group of offensive linemen in the class.

Needs met: Michigan State likely will be a consistent Big Ten title contender it if upgrades its line play, and this year's class should help with players like Allen and defensive linemen Brandon Clemons and Damon Knox. The Spartans lose two multiyear starters at linebacker (Greg Jones and Eric Gordon), and they addressed the area with players like Thomas and Darien Harris, rated as the nation's No. 32 outside linebacker by ESPN Recruiting. Joe Boisture's departure creates a need for a quarterback, and Michigan State adds one in Connor Cook.

Analysis: Mark Dantonio and his staff have made Michigan State a consistent upper-tier recruiting presence in the Big Ten. This year's class not only includes strong in-state prospects like Thomas, but nice additions from other regions like Caesar (Florida) and Harris (Maryland). There aren't as many big names this year as there were in 2010, but if the Spartans continue to build on their on-field success, their recruiting profile will continue to grow.

ESPN Recruiting grade: B-

Big Ten lunch links

January, 24, 2011
1/24/11
12:00
PM ET
Signing day is getting closer. Check the blog Tuesday as I attempt to identify recruiting needs for every Big Ten squad.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12