Spartan Talking Points: RBs, WRs & Home Runs

The Spartan program is "on first base trying to get to second," coach Mark Dantonio said. "Our goal will be to win a Big Ten Championship this year." In the Big Ten, though, against a juggernaut like Ohio State, a conference title wouldn't be just advancing a runner; it'd be like knocking a grand slam off Roger Clemens in his prime.

Head coach Mark Dantonio used a baseball analogy at the Big Ten Media Day in Chicago yesterday. Fresh off throwing a tailing fastball at Tiger Stadium, Dantonio said the Michigan State football program is "on first base trying to get to second."

"First base was a bowl game for us," he said.

GSN's managing editor Mike Fowler got a chance to ask the coach to expand on that metaphor, inquiring whether Dantonio thinks the team can make it all the way home with a championship.

"Our goal will be to win a Big Ten Championship this year, and I have no problems standing up here staying that," Dantonio responded. "I said last year our goal was to go to a bowl game, and we were able to accomplish that."

If a championship is won, it wouldn't be right to describe the feat as scoring from first on a double to deep left-center; rather, in the Big Ten, against a juggernaut like Ohio State, it'd be like a grand slam off Roger Clemens in 1990.

Wide Receiver Dream

Looking back, it almost seems like a dream. Did Devin Thomas really rise from obscurity and become one of the best wide receivers in America?

"Devin Thomas," Dantonio noted, "didn't catch a pass last year in our spring football game." Now he's got a multi-million dollar contract to run routes for the Washington Redskins.

Did Thomas really get the kind of production he got in a system most analysts expected to be dominated by a power running game?

"He had an outstanding junior season," Dantonio said, with a Spartan single-season record 79 receptions to go with 1260-yards. Plus, there's a hole left in the special teams unit without Thomas returning kickoffs in big chunks.

So who's likely to grab the reigns and pick up where Thomas left off? The coach says it won't be one guy.

"Can we get the same production out of one particular person? That's tough. But can we do it as a committee? We're going to look forward to doing that," Dantonio said.

B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell could be the one-two punch that makes the passing game go. Cunningham brings a lithely game to the field, with a long body, ability to leap and deceptive speed.

Dell is a sophomore veteran, having earned playing time as a frosh. He catches like a vacuum and brings toughness to a position that serves the running game through downfield blocking in addition to the aerial attack.

Other members of the committee will include senior Deon Curry, who brings important leadership to the field, Blair White (Jr.) and Chris D. Rucker (R-Fr.)

"Sometimes it's what your quarterback can do, your ability to run the ball, if he's able to give the wide receivers opportunities, as well," Dantonio notes. "It's a team game."

Running Back Hole

MSU certainly lost talent and production with Thomas turning pro. But with the graduation of Jehuu Caulcrick, the Spartans lose talent, production—and leadership.

One of four captains, Caulcrick brought a quiet, confident determination to the team. He was the kind of leader who kept a steady temperament while he looked relentlessly forward, on the field and off.

After a tough loss, he was the first to tell teammates to quit hanging their heads, that focus must be brought to defeating the next opponent and nothing short of victory is expected week-in and week-out.

Plus, the guy was Michigan State's most reliable warhorse in the red-zone—ever. He set an MSU single season record with 21 touchdowns and carried the ball 222 times for nearly 900 yards. That kind of production doesn't grow on trees.

Despite the return of a premier running back in Javon Ringer, one of the best in the nation, somebody will need to step up to the plate and shoulder some of the load.

"I believe in this day and age there's got to be a two-tailback system or three," Dantonio said.

Andre Anderson (R-Fr.) and A.J. Jimmerson (Jr.) will get the first chance to make MSU's running game multifaceted. Anderson could have an edge with more yards than any other back in the spring game, but the battle should be fierce—and beneficial—to the offense.

In the end, though, this team will go as far as Ringer's legs can carry it.

"Javon certainly will be a lead player for us," Dantonio said. "He's going to be instrumental in us having success this year."

If the Spartans are going strong in November, and someone's rounding second with the third base coach waving him home, Ringer is the guy Spartan fans want on the base path.

Quick Hits

The Spartans face another tough season—on paper, at least.

"Our schedule is very difficult. I think last year when I stood here we had the No. 4 ranked schedule, in terms of toughness, in America," Dantonio said. "This year we're No. 13." . . .

An outstanding recruiting effort is generating an exciting buzz in Spartan land.

"Recruiting is going very, very well right now, an outstanding group that is committed. I don't think I've ever been in a program that has had this many commitments early in the process," Dantonio said.

"We've got an outstanding group of young people coming," he continued, "probably highlighted by a quarterback—an outstanding quarterback—two outstanding running backs. Outstanding skilled receivers and a couple defensive backs, and an outstanding group of linebackers. So we're looking very much to the future in that regard." . . .

Dantonio remained diplomatic on new Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez:

"I think what he brings to the Big Ten is a great football awareness in terms of what he's been able to do. . . . Outstanding recruiter, worker, outstanding staff. . . . Great coach."

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