EAST LANSING — Head coach Mark Dantonio has stressed Michigan State’s chemistry as an important factor heading into 2018, and the first day of fall camp came and went without pads, but with the high expectations the program has had for the better part of the decade.
“Our message here has always been ‘how do you handle success’,” Dantonio said. “What you do immediately after that, it epitomizes your teams. It’s all about taking steps forward…and I think we’re poised to do that.”
MSU’s players won’t put pads on until Aug. 7, but with 41 of 44 players returning to the two-deep depth chart, the preseason may be less about identifying starters and more about developing the youth on a team that is as experienced as any in the nation this year.
The Spartans were recently picked at the No. 12 spot in the preseason coaches’ poll, and the familiar feeling of being among the Big Ten’s best had Dantonio focused on something other than the team’s expectations.
“It’s always good for people to put you up there,” Dantonio said. “The message our players understand is do the work, do the work up front and when you get an opportunity to play, be ready to play.”
Sokol looking to make the most of final year
Senior tight end Matt Sokol has seen both sides of college football between 2015’s Big Ten title and a 3-9 2016, but after a mixed bag as the starter last year, he knew there were adjustments to his game that he had to make.
“I’ve gone through a lot of our film from last season,” the Rochester, Mich. native said. “Trying to learn to learn things, see things that I didn’t see earlier in the season, making more pre-snap reads.”
After a young offensive line struggled to create consistent space for running back LJ Scott, Sokol thinks there is a chance for the line to improve dramatically heading into 2018.
“I’m excited for some of the things we’re going to do as a running offense this season,” Sokol said. “I think that’ll be a really key strong point for us this season.”
Sophomore Matt Dotson caught just two passes last year but is already being talked up as someone who could battle Sokol for playing time.
“Dotson’s going to be a very good player here,” Sokol said. “We all have things to get better at and learn, but he’s made a lot of progress, especially mentally.”
Smith out for year, football career up in the air
Senior cornerback Tyson Smith will not play in 2018 due to further complications surrounding the stroke he suffered after the 2016 season. Smith had the team’s only defensive touchdown of last year, returning an interception in the season opener against Bowling Green. Dantonio said that Smith may move into a coaching role with the team during the season as he pursues a career off the field.
“It’s a tough thing,” senior linebacker Andrew Dowell said. “He’s in good spirits, he’s going to help out with the coaching staff. That’s just a tough situation from all angles.”
A new-look team?
The front seven’s two standouts from last year both sported new haircuts on Thursday afternoon, as both Bachie and defensive end Kenny Willekes took the start of camp as an opportunity.
“We have a good group of guys,” Bachie said. “We’re jokesters, but we know how to work. [Willekes] is one of the hardest-working guys I know, last year running around at 230 [pounds]and being one of the best defensive ends in the country, that just speaks to what he works on. Me and him have a special relationship going, and it’s fun.”
Wide receiver Felton Davis seemed hesitant when asked if he’d ever cut his trademark locks.
“I’ve thought about it at some point,” Davis said. “[Atlanta Falcons wide receiver] Julio Jones had dreads and he cut them, but they grew back. It’s something different when you’re used to having all that hair.”
Michigan State’s media day is on Aug. 6. Follow @WDBMSports for more Michigan State football content.