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Sound bites: Michigan State’s Matt Allen and Xavier Henderson talk early practices

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Pinstripe Bowl - Michigan State v Wake Forest Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Thursday night Michigan State Spartans senior center Matt Allen and junior safety Xavier Henderson spoke with media via Zoom primarily focused on the initial practices in pads thus far and how the lead up to “fall camp” has been going. The Only Colors was able to join the call, and I have a quick summary of their noteworthy comments below, paraphrased for accuracy.

Matt Allen:

Note: video courtesy of the Detroit Free Press

Despite having roughly a month off of practices that focused instead on strength and conditioning, practice coming in is not as bad as you think it is, but it is not as good as you hope it would be, either.

Despite the lack of time in practice for the new coaching staff and players, Allen doesn’t believe COVID-19 is a disadvantage for MSU. The team got more time with the playbook to review and memorize it than they otherwise would have, for example. He believes everyone is headed in the right direction and is energized with a deep desire to do well and succeed.

The offensive line has been struggling, to put it lightly, with injury issues the past few seasons. The Offensive line staff knows health was a problem, and is focused on efforts such as stretching before and after practices and workouts to help keep the line healthy.

Training is intense as well, but everyone is keyed in during the intense workouts toward making sure they power through it so there is no fading off in the fourth quarter this fall. Additionally, the line is focused on developing depth in these early practices with a next man up mentality.

Something Allen and the line need to improve on is getting vertical movement rather than just lateral. He believes he did well last season with establishing himself and blocking his man at the line, but looking back on last season he realizes he needs to improve his vertical push. Allen elaborated that if the line can push the defense off the ball even just two yards most plays in addition to blocking laterally then the running back can still gain roughly four yards simply by falling forward even if there isn’t an open hole to cut through.

On the new offensive line coach Chris Kapolovic, Allen says he is honest and up front right away when somebody makes a mistake. Kapolovic is quick to correct it. As for players Allen has noticed stand out, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jalen Hunt is “another force and another guy offenses are gonna have to worry about come this season.” Defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton also praised Hunt yesterday during his media availability.

Xavier Henderson:

Note: video courtesy of the Detroit Free Press

One of the first questions up for Henderson was whether he honestly thought there was even going to be a season. As to that, he didn’t think there was going to be one, but he and the team made sure to prepare like there would be one anyways.

Asked about what he thinks has most improved among the secondary since last season, Henderson thinks that communication among the group has been the biggest improvement. Losing Khari WIllis was a big detriment to the group for communicating across the field last year, but guys in the group are stepping up and making their voices heard amongst each other.

As for retaining Mike Tressel as the safeties coach, Henderson thinks it is great having coach Tressel back working with them this season as a carry over. He is also ecstatic coach Harlon Barnett is back. Henderson wanted to play for Barnett really badly, but Barnett left as Henderson arrived on campus, taking a job as defensive coordinator at Florida State. He noted that when Barnett left, he told Henderson that: “this isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later.” Clearly that proved true in a way probably nobody saw coming at the time.

As for the new position group for the season under new coaching, the core traits of the Spartan secondary are still there. The group aims to be the toughest guys out there and run to the ball hard. They want to be the most physical team on the field.

On the other side of the ball, Henderson says that the quarterbacks are all looking good. In particular, Rocky Lombardi is getting the ball out quickly and it’s been coming in hot, but accurate. Henderson is looking forward to seeing how Lombardi handles pressure when they start to bring it to the quarterbacks live, though. As he notes, that is when it really matters most how the quarterback position performs.

As a defense, the unit has been focusing heavily on tackling in practice. This is in part a special focus after they lost spring ball and haven’t tackled in quite a few months now.