August 30, 2011

McGaha, Rush surprising candidates to start

EAST LANSING - Jared McGaha, Marcus Rush and Steve Gardiner appear to be the fastest risers coming out of August training camp, as the Spartans begin final preparations for the 2011 season, which begins Friday night against Youngstown State.

Nine-teen of Michigan State's starting 22 positions remain basically unchanged from the way things started when training camp opened in early August.

The minor changes:

  • McGaha, a senior left tackle, has at least drawn even with sophomore Dan France for the first-string job at left tackle.

  • Rush, a redshirt freshman, is listed as an either/or first-stringer along with Denzel Drone at one of the defensive end positions.

  • Tyler Hoover and William Gholston went into camp as solid first-string choices, at opposite defensive end positions. Now they are listed as either/or choices for the starting job at the same defensive end position.

    There is no differentiation between left end, right end, strong end or weak end in the starting lineup this year.

    "They (Hoover and Gholston) can both play on either side," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. "They can both play strong or weak, field or boundary. That gives us some flexibility."

  • Gardiner has risen from second-string status at the outset of August camp to either/or status with Denicos Allen at Sam linebacker.

    Allen is listed at either/or at both Sam and 'star' linebacker positions. He is listed as co-starter at 'star' with last year's starter, Chris Norman. Norman was bothered by upper body injuries midway throughout August camp.

    **

    The rise of McGaha and Rush are the most noteworthy this week. McGaha has started three games in his Michigan State career, including the season opener in 2008 at right guard, and a pair of starts at offensive tackle last year in injury relief. Michigan State won all three of those games, but McGaha was a decided underdog in the battle for first-string left tackle with France.

    But France faltered a bit in one of the August scrimmages, and McGaha has remained steady.

    McGaha is listed above France in the either/or listing. When asked if that meant that McGaha had overtaken France, head coach Mark Dantonio stopped short of making that declaration.

    "That's to say that he is a senior, he has game experience at that position," Dantonio said. "He is the guy that will probably start the football game. But I would not say that he has passed him (France). I would say Dan France needs to get game experience. We don't want to throw a guy in there and just have him be. He is going to play a lot of football on Saturday. We'll see who is playing the best and go from there."

    Rush Surprise Candidate For Starting Job

    Rush (6-2, 250, Cincinnati Moeller) wasn't listed as a candidate for a starting job when camp began. But as it came to a close and Youngstown State preparation began, he is squarely in the running for the first-string nod.

    Rush has impressed coaches with his quickness and non-stop motor at defensive end.

    "Marcus had a great freshman year and we were able to redshirt him," Dantonio said. "He got a little bigger, a little bit stronger. He received great coaching at the high school level. He is a very active player. He makes plays. He runs, he is tough, he is a physical player. The nice thing about him is that he is only a redshirt freshman. And he is a player. I think you are going to see him make a lot of plays this year."

    Fonoti Decisions Still Pending

    Three newcomers are listed on the official depth chart release on Monday. Junior college transfer Fou Fonoti is the No. 2 right tackle, behind redshirt freshman Skyler Burkland.

    True freshmenR.J. Williamson and Taiwan Jones are listed as third-stringers.

    Williamson is the No. 3 strong safety, behind starter Isaiah Lewis and second-stringer Kurtis Drummond. Jones is the No. 3 'star' linebacker, behind Norman and Allen.

    Williamson and Jones are the only true freshmen among the 61 regular position players listed on the official depth chart. The official depth chart includes third- and fourth-stringers at some positions.

    Fonoti competed with Burkland for the first-string right tackle job in August. Dantonio indicated on Monday that Fonoti could move to the left side.

    "Fou is another guy that you are going to see play a lot of football here," Dantonio said. "Is he going to play left tackle or right tackle? I don't know, but the guy has something to him. The guy has maturity. He is confident and he is athletic. Is he a left tackle or right tackle? I don't know; he is a football player though."

    Fonoti has three years of eligibility to play two. He is actually younger than Burkland, despite the fact that Fonoti is listed as a junior and Burkland is a freshman. Dantonio was asked on Monday if a redshirt year might be considered for Fonoti if he does not win a starting job.

    "That's a big decision," Dantonio said. "I would like to have it both ways; I would like to have him this year, and also redshirt. But you can't do that. We recruited him to play, so we are going to have to see."

    Quick Quotes

    Dantonio on Burkland:

    "He is big, physical, very athletic. I think he will have a great future here. He needs game experience. He is going to be jittery and he is going to be all anxious but I think he has had a very solid summer camp."

    Dantonio on second-string QB Andrew Maxwell.

    "I think Andrew, as we go into this, needs to get some reps in the football game. We aren't going to wait until the middle of the season to say let's put him in and see how he does. He has game experience. He has had a good fall camp. He needs an opportunity to play. There is nothing like playing in this stadium, to have game experience. Until you line up in a game with things on the line, you really don't have a great measurement of where you are at.

    "He played last year, but he needs to continue that game experience as he moves forward.

    "In these early games we have always tried to play our quarterbacks. We are going to try to play a couple of guys and get them ready."


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