Michigan State Spartans running back coach William Peagler is “fired up” about his chance at Michigan State and the running back room at his disposal. He feels “blessed” to be able to coach these players.
Peagler, the youngest of the 10 assistant coaches on MSU’s staff at just 35-years-old, spent last season as the director of quality control under Mel Tucker at Colorado. He now steps into a bigger role in East Lansing, coaching the halfbacks.
Peagler met with the media yesterday and discussed several of the tailbacks on the roster, and what he’s seen from them at practice. While he did note that the rotation (most likely behind Elijah Collins) isn’t quite figured out yet — which he thinks he’ll have better answers to after this weekend’s scrimmage — there is a lot of talent at the position.
“Honestly, very pleased with everybody in the room,” Peagler said. “I think one thing we’ve done a really good job of is we’ve established a culture for how we do things — a standard of performance. I think everyone’s really bought into that because we’re gonna need everybody. Everybody’s really bought into the team setting of a ‘we not me attitude’ and everybody, when it’s their rep, they’re watching, getting mental reps. We’re really splitting reps pretty evenly because we want guys to be fresh and want guys to be able to go out and play. But, love the guys, love their attitude and love their effort.”
As noted above, Peagler is impressed with the running back group overall, but more specifically, he is pleased with the work ethic and competition he’s seen out of those players. He knows the roster has a lot of talent at the running back position, and he isn’t taking that for granted.
“We’ve got good players, I won’t deny that,” Peagler said. “I’ve been very blessed to walk into a good situation as far as who we have in that room, and they’re competing against each other. It’s ball security, it’s job security, they’re taking care of the football, at least we’re preaching that. The guys we trust the most are the guys we’re gonna put out there, but a great group that’s working their tails off.”
Here are some other notes from Peagler’s presser:
On Connor Heyward fitting in with the running back room and his leadership:
Peagler says Connor Heyward has gone “above and beyond” to be a leader in the running back room.— Ryan O'Bleness (@ryanobleness) October 8, 2020
“Connor, I think, has approached the COVID situation as well as anybody,” Peagler said. “He’s re-shaped his body, and he’s come back ready to play. He knows what he’s doing. He’s running more physical than he ever has. (I’m) really encouraged by what he’s doing. And obviously the versatility that he has in the passing game, we’re gonna hopefully do some things, move him around and create space and give him opportunities to show that skillset.
“He has gone above and beyond to be a leader for that room,” Peagler said. “I’ve been over-the-moon impressed with Connor and the approach he’s taken. Sometimes when you have that outside noise when you transfer and decide to come back, there’s some riffraff and things like that. But he’s been unbelievable. The kids respect him, the kids love him. They ask him questions, you can tell he’s the oldest guy in the room, and he’s been a great leader for those guys. Very, very pleased with him.”
On sophomore running backs Anthony Williams and Brandon Wright:
“I think Brandon’s got a unique skillset,” Peagler said. “And how big he is, he’s 240 pounds, he’s a physical kid that runs hard. He’s got great speed and can get to the edge if you need him to. Maybe (we use him) in a short-yardage situation, but he’s shown the ability to be an every-down back.
“Then Anthony, Anthony’s got so much potential. He’s a guy that is untapped and we’re still working. He’s getting better every day. He’s a guy that can hit his head on the goalpost any time he touches the football, and that’s what we’re looking to do — get him out in space. The big thing with him that we’ve been working on, is sometimes when you have that speed and you have that skillset, you learn to bounce the football too often and get it on the edge. But the reality is, it’s bang the ball downhill and the chances of hitting the big ones are going to happen more often. He’s getting there. He’s really improved over the last two weeks — I’m very impressed.”
On how many running backs Peagler expects to use in games this season:
He sees no reason why he can’t play three or four running backs per game. Collins, Heyward, Ant Williams and Brandon Wright and the freshmen all possibly in the mix.— Ryan O'Bleness (@ryanobleness) October 8, 2020
“It’s a matter of finding the hot hand late in the game.”
“I think this year is truly unique in the way everything’s working out — we’re gonna need more guys probably than what you would usually think going into a year,” Peagler said. “But I see no reason we can’t play three or four guys a game in certain situations, having certain packages, maybe it’s a certain third-and-one situation — just different things like that. But we’ve got a unique group because really no one is exactly the same, so it’s about finding the right fits.
“But you also don’t want to be predictable and have those guys in situations where ‘Oh, great, Anthony’s in the game, we’re gonna fly sweep him.’ We’re not going to do that. We’ve got to be creative and unique with the way we’re doing things, but I would love to play three to four guys because I think we have a good enough room where we can win with anybody we trot out there. It’s a matter of finding late in the game who has the hot hand going with it.”
On younger running backs, such as true freshmen Jordon Simmons and Donovan Eaglin:
Peagler says he is really pleased with true freshman Jordon Simmons. Says he has some “home run in him.”— Ryan O'Bleness (@ryanobleness) October 8, 2020
Also likes what he has seen from fellow true freshman Donovan Eaglin.
“The good thing is, if you really look at our roster, they’re all pretty young,” Peagler said. “Both those young guys (Simmons and Eaglin) really have a good patience behind the line of scrimmage. We talk all the time about being ‘slow to and fast through’ — they’ve got a really good feel for being slow to to the line of scrimmage, and pressing the line scrimmage, and exploding through the hole. Those guys are smart football players that take pride in it. That’s the thing that I’m most proud of is the approach everyone in our room is taking — those guys study and they know what they’re doing and are working their tails off. Jordon’s probably got a little more home run in him than (Eaglin), but both those guys have the ability to help us right now.”
On the potential use of the fullback:
Based on the roster, the fullback position has seemed to be eliminated. However, Peagler isn’t ruling it out quite yet.
“That’s probably a better question for Coach (Jay) Johnson, but what I do think is that we have guys that have unique skillsets. Whether that be with the tight end, and we talked about Connor (Heyward) earlier, he’s got a unique skillset, and also Brandon (Wright) with his size — maybe we can do some of that stuff. We’re still trying to figure out what we’re gonna do from that standpoint, but I’m not gonna shut the door on anything, because I’m willing to do whatever and put them wherever they need to go to help the football team.”
On Elijah Collins:
Peagler says Elijah Collins is trying to improve his running between the tackles and getting his pad level down.— Ryan O'Bleness (@ryanobleness) October 8, 2020
Peagler adds that Collins’ pass protection has really improved just in the past week with pads.
Also says Collins has done everything they’ve asked of him.
“Elijah is no different than anybody else, including myself, we can all improve on something — and that’s what he’s doing,” Peagler said. “He’s trying to improve on some things in-between the tackles and pushing the pile a little bit more, and also getting that top end (speed) going. He’s done everything we’ve asked, he’s been really good. We’re trying to get those pads down a little bit more and just finishing runs, and things like that are going to make him a better football player and take care of him for the future.”
“(Pass protection) is something (Collins) is improving on,” Peagler said. “I think we put pads on last Wednesday and I’ve seen improvement from last Wednesday to this Wednesday. Everybody’s gotta get better in pass protection. When you think about it, we haven’t made contact with anybody since last football season up until last Wednesday. Obviously, you get the things you do in shells, but just the technique and fundamentals that go into pass protection — it’s rep based thing — but that’s really, in our individual periods, a lot of what we’re working on is developing that.”
On Mel Tucker’s leadership and getting the players’ bodies right through COVID and any previous injuries:
Peagler says he’s been “over the top impressed” with Mel Tucker’s leadership.— Ryan O'Bleness (@ryanobleness) October 8, 2020
“Love that man.”
“Coach Tucker’s done a great job of telling our guys when we’re gonna go and when we’re gonna back down — and when we do back down, that doesn’t mean the intensity backs down, that just means we’re doing things to take care of their legs,” Peagler said. “Coach has done an unbelievable job of managing this situation — having a plan for every situation and putting us in a situation to be successful. I’ve just been over-the-top impressed with his leadership through all this. He’s awesome — love the man.”
Peagler on his excitement level for the opportunity to be a position coach in the Big Ten:
“I’m fired up,” Peagler said. “I was so excited when we got the opportunity to get back out on the grass. It was really unique, not having that routine with football, it threw me off for a few weeks. But now that we’re back at it, I love it. I’m excited. We’re gonna have a chip on our shoulders in everything we do. Why not try to be the best unit in the country? And it’s my job to try to be the best coach in the country, and that’s what I’m after. Then, on the recruiting side of it, I’m trying to sign good football players to come in and take someone else’s job.”