Spartans Start 2012 With First Steps

In Mark Dantonio fashion, his newest edition of Spartans took to the practice fields for the first official practice of the 2012 season with a sense of it being a new begging.

"We all start over, so everybody has a name tag - every coach, every manager, and every player has got one on his helmet," said Dantonio. "It's important that we all just reassert ourselves and understand that we're all starting over. So it's just a little mental thing we do every year."

Despite the program's success the past two seasons, Dantonio knows this year's team needs to be focused on the season before them.

"The single most important area to me is always getting back up," Dantonio said. "Refocusing who we are and trying to move forward, regardless of how many games we won last year, or didn't win. It's that presence of mind that you have to go to take the next step."

Allowed to carry only 105 players on the preseason roster, two names missing at the start of camp were Arthur Ray Jr. and Corey Freeman.

"Arthur right now is not in the 105," Dantonio said. "That's a conversation that's relatively private between he and I. He will be in school. He will play football again. So we'll see.

"Well you never say never (on Arthur returning to the 105-man roster)...At this point in time, this is the decision that both of us have made."

As for Freeman, a knee injury from the spring is still nagging him and keeping him from full contact.

"(Corey's) able to do some things, but not all things," said Dantonio. "We can't put him in a contact situation right now. He'll have to rehab it and see where it comes. Hopefully he can come a ways. That's a decision that's going to be made at a later time, not now."

One thing the Spartans coaching staff is always excited about on day one is seeing the new players in the program for the first time.

"Day number one is just a little bit of retention from our older players; for our young players, to see how they move," said Dantonio. "It's our first time really seeing them out here relative to our other players, so that's exciting and we'll look at that. I'm sure there's going to be some things in practice that we're going to say, `hey, we need to do this differently' in terms of the format or just the structure of practice, so we'll just re-evaluate and constantly trying to get back up to speed. But our guys came in shape. They ran this morning at 6:30 and they looked very good. So we'll take the next step."

After months of wondering if one of the new faces on the 2012 team would be Aaron Burbridge, Spartan fans got an answer early in the week when the state of Michigan's number one prospect in the 2012 class announced he'd enrolled in school.

Despite not taking part in the team's summer conditioning, Dantonio feels good about the work Burbridge had done on his own and is only looking for the him to show a couple of things.

"Obviously he's not going to be in the shape that some of these other guys are in, although he ran pretty well this morning," said Dantonio. "But you're just looking at him relative to the other guys. We're looking for athletic ability and the ability to catch the football, and he's been doing a lot of that down in Farmington."

Even if Burbridge is not ready to take major reps, Dantonio can see other young players earning time in the rotation.

" At wide receiver, we're going to have younger players," said Dantonio. "Are they red-shirt freshman, are they true freshman, are they sophomores, I'm not quite sure, but we're just young overall at that position. We lost some older players, but we've got good talent at that position. It will be interesting. "We're going to make sure everyone gets some reps and make sure that our guys are moving in there so everyone can get an honest evaluation. No different that we usually do."

Another area of concern going into camp is at the long snapper position following the off the field injury to Steve Moore. Dantonio first addressed Moore's health before explaining why he's confident they've got the position covered with scholarship long snapper Taybor Pepper.

"I talked with Steve this week, a couple of days ago," said Dantonio. "Tough situation for Steve. But he's walking, he's coming around. He's probably able to get back over here in a week or so. That will be promising for him. Our hearts go out to him and our prayers stay with him. The glass is half full and he'll make a full recovery. That's the thing that we need to recognize.

"In regards to our snappers, we've got Taybor Pepper. He was brought here to be the guy. He was going to have to compete with Steve, but we've never taken a guy (at long snapper) and put him on a scholarship at once. So that ought to tell you how we feel about him. We brought another guy (Leland Ewing) into camp to compete with him a little bit, so it will be interesting to watch him (Pepper) today because he'll be able to snap a little bit and show us what he's got."

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