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Notes & Quotes: Mel Tucker says Michigan State is “light-years ahead” of where it was previously

Tucker discussed spring football practices, the upcoming scrimmage, the transfer portal and a variety of other topics.

Northwestern v Michigan State Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Michigan State Spartans head football coach Mel Tucker met with the media today to provide an update on spring football.

Overall, Tucker is fairly pleased with what he’s seen from his team so far this spring. With that said, he knows the Spartans have a long way to go and much to improve upon for the duration of the spring season and heading into the summer and fall.

“Practice is going well,” Tucker said. “I’m just really, really excited about how we’re approaching the meetings and the practice(s). The coaching is outstanding — I go from meeting room to meeting room prior to practicing, and everyone’s on the same page. We’re really focusing on technique and fundamentals — just the aggregation of marginal gains.

“If we can just get a little bit better at the critical factors that are important to each player to execute their job at their position. Just the technique and fundamentals, we have to do simple, better — hand placement, footwork, pad level, upper-body violence and effort to the ball, eye discipline — that’s really where our main focus is. It’s just one step at at time, gaining ground. I’m really pleased with what I’ve seen so far. We’ve got a long way to go, we have a lot of work to do, but we’re trusting the process and we’re getting better.”

Tucker noted that he likes what he’s seen from the special teams units, and thinks the Spartans are looking much-improved in that area. However, he knows there is still a lot of work to do with the team overall, and the team is still trying to figure out how to properly and safely practice the way that Tucker expects.

“We still need to learn how to practice,” Tucker said. “We have too many guys on the ground. We talk about it all the time — when we’re not scrimmaging, no one should be on the ground. That’s how guys get hurt. You can’t make plays when you’re on the ground. It’s just a bad look for us. We had less guys on the ground today, but just the practice etiquette, how we work — practice like a pro, stay up, get your work in, focus on technique and fundamentals, have a good base, play with good pad level, have great balance and body control, have contact balance, stay on your feet and play through the whistle. We really need to get better at staying off the ground — that’s one thing, I just can’t stand that.”

Tucker noted that the Spartans plan to have the team’s first scrimmage of the spring season on Saturday. He says the teams plans to hold the scrimmage at Spartan Stadium if possible.

Of course, who actually participates in the scrimmage depends on who is healthy and available, but Tucker plans to simulate several scenarios, such as first down, second down and third down situations, red zone work, two-minute drills and other things. What he wants to see from his players in this weekend’s scrimmage is competition and discipline.

“I just want to see guys compete in a game-like situation and see how they carry things over from the meeting room to our practices to a scrimmage,” Tucker said. “Sometimes when the lights come on and you start to scrimmage, a guy’s technique and fundamentals just go out the window. That’s discipline, that’s trusting your training and it’s really one step in the process.”

Tucker also discussed the transfer portal and how Michigan State is it embracing it .While the coaching staff doesn’t want to use it to build the majority of the roster, it’s an added tool that can help better the roster, and it is a big part of college football in 2021.

“The portal’s here to stay, and we embrace it,” Tucker said. “It’s part of our process of acquiring players. Everyone’s in the portal for different reasons. You have to do your homework. We have to make sure that the guys that we decide that we want are a great for for our culture. They fill needs on the field, but obviously, they need to fit in off the field as well — academically, socially, we’re looking for good teammates, guys that are unselfish and guys that love football.

“But the portal means different things to different people. What the portal does for us is, when we evaluate players out of high school, either they’re what we want for our program, or they’re not. We don’t need to reach for guys. If we’re not convicted on a player coming out of high school, then we won’t take them. That makes sure that we feel great about the guys that we’re recruiting from the high school ranks. We want to build our team through the high school ranks, but we want to supplement our roster and complement our roster with guys from the portal.”

When the conversation turned to last’s year’s rushing attack, Tucker was brutally honest. He shared similar sentiments as Chris Kapilovic — MSU’s assistant head coach/offensive line coach/run game coordinator — that the inefficiencies in the run game in 2020 simply weren’t good enough or up to the coaching staff’s standards, but expects an improvement in 2021.

“The run game was not nearly good enough (last year), we all know that,” Tucker said. “I think ‘putrid’ might have been a word that could be used to (describe the run game). It is what it is. We need to get better. (If) we can’t run the ball on our terms, we can’t beat good teams, we just can’t do it. We need to be able to run the ball when we wanna run it. That’s going to take everyone. We have a sense of urgency in the our run game. I expect our run game to be much better this season, but it’s one day at a time right now in a spring ball. We’re getting there, we’re getting better.”

Speaking of the run game, Tucker also mentioned that Wake Forest transfer running back Kenneth Walker III has been as advertised thus far, saying he is “the same guy we saw on tape” and a “tireless worker.” Tucker also complimented the competitiveness of transfer quarterback Anthony Russo (Tucker often says the quarterback should be the best competitor on the team), and that he “likes what he sees” so far from the early enrollee freshmen: tight end Kameron Allen, quarterback Hamp Fay, offensive tackle Ethan Boyd and defensive back Michael Gravely Jr.

While Tucker never wanted to use the COVID-19 situation as an excuse for Michigan State’s poor performance last season, he clearly understood that having spring practice, summer workouts and other team activities taken away last year really hurt the team’s development. Now with a chance at spring ball in 2021, he’s already seen a huge improvement with where his team stands now, four practices into the spring, compared to where it was after four practices last fall.

“We’re in much better condition right now, as opposed to when we were four practices in last season,” Tucker said. “I think there’s better understating of what we’re supposed to do in terms of our assignments. And then our culture in terms of how we practice and how we compete, how we train, how we meet, it’s better. It’s being cemented right now. But we’re light-years ahead of where we were last season in terms of preseason preparations — it’s really not even close. With that being said, we’ve got a long, long, long way to go. We need every practice we can get with these guys, but it is good to be able to have spring ball, which we didn’t have (last year).”

Full Mel Tucker Remarks