East Lansing — Contrary to speculation that Michigan State football’s annual Green-White spring game would revert to a draft format like in 2016, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio told assembled media at practice on Tuesday afternoon that the Saturday game would be played in the same offense vs. defense format as last year.
“I think we get more out of it from a team standpoint when you look at film and build on the things there,” Dantonio said. “So we’ll play in that confined type way we did last year. I think it’ll be competitive.”
The offense will get points for scoring like normal, but the defense will earn points for various achievements like turnovers and sacks.
The format is better for continuity with teammates playing alongside their usual partners instead of a draft format that would divide starters onto opposite teams.
Dantonio said the spring game would give fans a preview of fall’s team and that he mostly looks for effort.
“It’s an afternoon game and there’s a baseball game as well. Fans will get a chance to watch the 2018 Spartans. There’s going to be some good, some bad, but what I look for is playing hard,” Dantonio said.
The game kicks off at 5 p.m.
Dantonio echoed defensive end Kenny Willekes in highlighting Justice Alexander as a player who is turning heads this spring.
“I think Justice Alexander is making great progress so far,” Dantonio said about the redshirt junior defensive end. “He’s 6-5, 260, vertical (jumps) 34 or 35 (inches). He’s finally starting to play fast, and we’re seeing good things from him. There are a bunch of guys making moves.”
Dantonio compared Alexander to former Michigan State defensive end Joel Heath, who similarly came on strong late in his career.
“Very, very similar to Joel (Heath) in a lot of respects,” Dantonio said. “Joel now is playing with the Texans. Joel played defensive end for us for quite some time before he transitioned to defensive tackle, so he (Alexander) is getting bigger and stronger.”
Dantonio commented on the graduate transfer of Jalen Watts-Jackson to Tennessee. The Spartans legend returned a botched punt for a touchdown on the final play of the game to beat Michigan in 2015.
“Jalen will always have a place here,” Dantonio said. “Like other guys, he just wants to play a little bit more. I support him in anything he wants to do. He’s been a good teammate and he works hard. He’s had some injuries along the way, more significant than others at times. I think he’s healthy, but he’s got to make the decision that’s best for him.”
… Michigan State re-hired its former offensive coordinator Don Treadwell in January after a seven-year absence, and Dantonio seemed pleased to have his longtime collaborator back.
“I was taking a walk with Tread today,” Dantonio said. “There are so many things we have in common, and we can talk about it in the same terminology, same language. He was here (Michigan State) in such a vital role for me as offensive coordinator. He’s working in the secondary for me now. It’s a new situation for him, and it’s exciting.”
… Senior Grayson Miller’s move from safety to the star position is permanent, Dantonio said.
“I think we’ve got too many players in the secondary and he can do too many things,” Dantonio said. “And that star position is a hybrid safety position.”
… Michigan State finished 12th in the Big Ten in punt returns last season, and Dantonio is hoping that stat turns around this coming season.
“We used three guys, actually four last year (for punt returns),” Dantonio said. “Three of them true freshmen. Cody White did a nice job fielding the football. We need to get more out of it after the catch, and we’ve been working hard to do that.”
MSU SPRING GAME
Kickoff: 5 p.m., Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Notable: MSU players and coaches will conduct the annual youth clinic on April 7, from 12:30-2 p.m., on the practice fields just south of Spartan Stadium.
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.