April 25, 2012

Bullough wants an earlier start on excellence

It may be spring but Max Bullough is in midseason form - at least when it comes to attitude.

Bullough, who will enter the 2012 season as the starter at MIKE linebacker for the second straight season, already has his mind set on what needs to happen in order for Michigan State's defense to be even better than last season.

That improvement will be showcased in Saturday's Green and White game.

"I just want to go out there and show what I really did this spring. I want to be able to go out there and say, 'I did that better, I was more physical there,' and that I got over that when I didn't do that last year. Things like that. I want to look at this spring game as if I played better than I did against Georgia (in the Outback Bowl) in our last game.''

That shouldn't be to hard for Bullough, who is part of a linebacking corps that is as deep, in regards to the number of players pushing for playing time this season, as it's ever been since Mark Dantonio's arrival.

It's a unit that has shown during spring football practice that it has the potential to legitimately boast game-ready talent two and three players deep at all three linebacking spots.

Bullough, who finished last season, after starting all 14 games, as the team leader in tackles with 89 - earning second-team All-Big Ten honors by the coaches and an honorable mention nod from the media - said everyone is pushing each other to higher levels of excellence, including those below him at the MIKE spot.

"I have complete confidence, especially at the MIKE position, with the guys behind me. Steve Gardiner and TyQuan Hammock, those guys are phenomenal players that could be starting as easily as I am, and that goes all the way across the board,'' said the 252-pound Bullough, who had 7 tackles for loss, including 3.5 sacks last season. "With guys like Kyler Elsworth, Darien Harris, Taiwan Jones and Ed Davis. All those guys are good football players and they're going to be starting someday and they're going to be playing. It's just a matter of waiting their turn. Right now, it's just about learning as much as they can so they're as good as they can be when that change happens.''

While much of the attention this spring has been on the depth and potential at linebacker, Bullough was quick to point out that the loss of All-American Jerel Worthy, who left early for the NFL, won't be as detrimental as people might think.

"People kind of forget about the guys that were there (with him). Guys like (Anthony) Rashad White, he's a phenomenal football player. And obviously Will Gholston and Marcus Rush on the outside. And then we get a guy like James Kittredge, a transfer, who sat out last year and had a chance to lift and get himself in shape. I think it's really shaping up well. There's obviously some things that still need to be learned, like having a couple of first-year guys in there (on the inside) like Tyler Hoover (who is making the transition from d-end to d-tackle) but that's a good unit we're going to have this year.''

In regards to Hoover, who will be playing his final season inside on the defensive line after finding success on the edge, Bullough said the transition has gone better than expected for the 6-foot-7, 295-pound fifth-year senior.

"He's adjusted pretty well for someone who's never played inside a 7 or 9 technique in his life. It's a big adjustment for him taking on a double team and things like that but he's worked really well and he's further into the scheme almost better than I thought he would at first. If you watch film, you see he's making plays and doing things right.''

WAITING PATIENTLY, ALMOST: One of the players Bullough talked about in regards to waiting his turn in the linebacking rotation is Taiwan Jones, who was able to get more reps at the STAR linebacker spot this spring while senior starter Chris Norman recovers from a shoulder injury.

Jones, who is known for being a devastating hitter, is using the added reps to polish his skills so he'll be ready when his time comes for more playing time.

While most people in his shoes might have trouble working through the waiting game, the 232-pound sophomore seems comfortable working and waiting for his opportunity.

"It's easy to get down mentally in this game, but I knew it was going to be this competitive because everybody's young and everybody's eager to play,'' he said. "A lot of people got redshirted last year and they want to play now. They want to show their friends back home and their family, that they're ready to play, just as much I am. But you're going to play.''

Last season, Jones, who saw action primarily on special teams, played in all 14 games and was the only true freshman to see playing time, recording 18 tackles.

Something he's using as a stepping stone to get an edge and something that seems to have given him a better outlook on the situation as a whole.

"The way I take it is that everybody's competitive, everybody's good. So the way I go into is that I've got to have fun everyday because if you take a step back somebody's going to come in and replace you. So you'll have to fight extra hard to get the spot back and fight even harder to keep it. Of course, everybody wants to be the dude that gets in there and plays every down, be the guy that the defense can depend on, but even if your role is just coming in for a few plays, like on third down or goal line, it's your job to do whatever you can to make the team successful.''

Despite realizing and understanding the present situation, Jones said he had to fight through the trap of putting too much pressure on himself.

"I feel like last year, I played a step faster because basically I didn't know everything that was going on, so I was just playing ball but this year I started off thinking too much and started off slow but now I'm starting to get it back. I'm just having fun, I'm out there laughing and just playing fast.''

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