**The term 'Spartan Dawgs' has been used frequently by current Michigan State players on Twitter – note the #SPARTANDAWGS hashtags.
But what is a Spartan Dawg?
"That goes back to when I was playing here," said Michigan State assistant coach Harlon Barnett. "I don't know if it was prior to me getting here when players were saying Spartan Dawgs. A lot of us back in those times, no one was part of a fraternity. Our fraternity was the Spartan Dawgs. That is what we have been. We have each other’s back. We are going to play hard. We are going to do what is necessary. We are going to be tough, smart and physical. That is the synopsis of a Spartan Dawg.”
So what does being a Spartan Dawg mean to current Michigan State players?
Sophomore safety Kurtis Drummond: "Someone who is trying to eat. Dogs try to eat to survive. On the football field we are trying to eat, trying to grind, just trying to get better every day."
Sophomore defensive end Marcus Rush: "Tough, quick, thick, smart and powerful."
Sophomore punter Mike Sadler: "A hard worker that is going to come every day and bust your butt for your teammates. Just bleeding green for your teammates, coaches and your university. It's a special place here and a lot of special people go here."
Junior defensive end William Gholston: "Someone who is relentless at everything they do. Someone who won't give up and don't take no for answer. That's a Spartan Dawg."
Junior wide receiver Bennie Fowler: "It's a legacy. We have each other’s back wherever we go. Don't matter where we are across the country, we always have each other’s backs."
**The true sleeper in Michigan State’s 2012 recruiting class could be walk on freshman offensive lineman Jack Conklin. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound Conklin gest very high marks from Spartans offensive line coach Mark Staten.
Conklin had a growth spurt during his senior year of high school and looks solid. Don’t be surprised if Conklin is on scholarship after this season.
**According to a source, freshmen quarterback Tyler O'Connor has “flat-out looked amazing” the first few days of practice. He has been so good there is thought O’Connor is in the running for the No. 2 spot behind junior starter Andrew Maxwell.
Word is O'Connor also has been a vocal leader on and off the field. Physically, O'Connor looks great and condition-wise he is above par and not your average freshman.
**Defensive lineman Micajah Reynolds has impressed during the first few days of camp. Look for Reynolds to see the field and crack the two-deep as the season progresses. Reynolds has made the biggest improvement from last season to this season and now understands what it takes to make an impact at defensive tackle.
**Sadler wants to average at least 43 yards a punt. Sadler feels he can actually do better than that but is setting the bar to have at least a net average of 43 yards.
"Mostly the mental part of things,” Tressel said. "Chris looks great. He’s always been chiseled. The biggest thing now is that he trusts himself. He knows how good of a football player he can be. He got a new trust in himself and a trust in everything he does. He committed to himself and is believing it. I can see the confidence and the inner-trust in him right now."
**Gholston said there is one thing he’s done to hone his craft heading into this season.
"I finally have a good left-hand stance,” Gholston said. "That is one thing I improved the most. I get off the ball a lot faster. I feel more comfortable. I feel like I did in high school.
"Technique-wise, I just started the [defensive end] position when I got here. If I need to get better then I need to control everything I need to control. I feel mentally that I've grown. I feel a lot more stronger mentally than I am physically. There’s some stuff I need to work and improve on. The sky is really the limit for me and my teammates.”
**Michigan State wideout Bennie Fowler is the most experienced Spartan receiver on the roster excluding DeAnthony Arnett, who made all his contributions as a true freshman at Tennessee. Fowler emerged as a reliable playmaker as a freshman in 2010, and great things were expected of No. 13 before he missed most of his sophomore season due to a foot injury. But this year’s Fowler is new and improved, according to wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel.
“His foot is good, he’s feeling good and he understands the offense,” Samuel said. “He understands all the positions. It’s a different Bennie. And he doesn’t have the older guys that he has to kind of take a step back to. He knows we want him to go out there and make plays so it is a different Bennie right now.”
**Snapping and holding may not be the most exciting element of football, but it’s certainly important. Coach Mark Dantonio has made that clear on numerous occasions, while poor snaps nearly cost the Spartans their Outback Bowl win in January.
Receiver Brad Sonntag saved the day with some crafty holding, but MSU will look to replace both roles in 2012. According to kicker Dan Conroy, the early standout snapping candidates are freshman Taybor Pepper and offensive linemen Connor Kruse and Nate Klatt.
Pepper is on scholarship as a long snapper but weighs under 200 pounds, which can become a problem on field goal team where protection is at a premium. So it’s possible MSU could utilize two different snappers – One for punts and one for field goals. As for the holders, quarterbacks Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook, Sadler, receiver John Jakubik and receiver Tony Lippett have all received looks there. MSU scored a crucial two-point conversion with Sonntag at holder during the Big Ten Championship game, while Lippett would open up all sorts of possibilities at the position.
**MSU has utilized a “Unity Council” over the past several seasons, comprised of roughly a dozen members to make team decisions and generally act as leaders along with the traditional captains. The group will have a new name in 2012.
“Coach D, he said he didn’t want to keep saying unity council so he changed it to the Eagles,” Lippett said. “Eagles stand out and an eagle brings other eagles with him as far as a team.”
The group recently came up with four characteristics for the season which will serve as somewhat of a theme for 2012.
“Toughness, unity, hard work and finish,” Lippett said. “That’s four characteristics that we have been striving for and that’s the standard. … That’s the standard as you sign off on coming into Michigan State University. We’ve seen that throughout summer conditioning, throughout spring ball. It’s gonna be tough, it’s gonna be hard, but at the end of the day we gotta do what we gotta do. We want to be great, so we’ve got to practice great and prepare great.”
** Barnett said the Spartans could travel as many as 10-12 defensive backs this season, given his players' versatility and important roles on special teams. So much for the idea that third-string players are irrelevant.
Barnett, a starting cornerback on MSU's last Rose Bowl team 25 years ago, said he hates the term "cover corner," because it connects softness. He prefers "complete corner," will accept "lockdown corner" and acknowledges that Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard are the total package. They're also the best pair of corners the Spartans have had since Amp Campbell and Renaldo Hill in 1999.
As for starter at free safety, with mainstay Trenton Robinson a 49ers rookie, Barnett said, "You've got to go with Kurtis Drummond. You've got to go with R.J. Williamson. Believe it or not - and he hasn't really been playing that field safety in camp, but the past two days he looks pretty good - there's Jairus Jones. And there's Demetrious Cox, the freshman. We'll see when they put the pads on."
Though some might assume the runner-up there would become the No. 1 nickelback, Barnett said that distinct role will almost surely be played by strong safety Isaiah Lewis. That means the real question is who'll be the No. 2 strong safety, with Jones a leading candidate. There's also a chance Dennard could play strong safety in that defense, freeing up more playing time for a third corner.
** Converted defensive end Tyler Hoover will be as successful as his discipline and leverage allows as one of the tallest nosetackles in college football history. The 6-foot-7 senior said if stays low and locks out his arms, he can make any play. But if he starts to stand up and quits bending his knees …
"That's the difficult part of it," he said Monday morning. "But when I do stay low, I can extend my arms and have such an advantage that they can't reach me. And Coach (Ted) Gill has us doing almost every drill under this tiny sled. You either stay low or get driven off the ball."
Along with Gholston, Hoover could give opposing passers fits by disrupting their lanes and deflecting their passes. That may prove to have a greater impact as a recipe for takeaways than simply sacking the quarterback. And with his knowledge of every position on the D-line, he can always answer questions and provide advice for a new D-end like former linebacker Lawrence Thomas.
There's a chance that Hoover could apply for a sixth season of college football in 2013, while taking graduate classes. He laughed at the idea that it would be hard to be a sixth-year senior and an NFL rookie at the same time. For now, he's only thinking about 2012.
** Tight end Dion Sims said it makes a tremendous difference not to have to wear the cast he had on his fractured left hand last season after punching a bag in a drill before the Nebraska game. The player Andrew Maxwell said has the best hands on the team is ready to prove that, as he did by going 16 or 17 practices without a drop as a freshman.
""If [Maxwell] said it, then it must be true," Sims said with a smile. "I think we have a lot of guys on this team who can catch. If we have one play to get to the Rose Bowl, of course I want the ball. But it's really a matter of who can make the play. That's all that matters."
At 280 pounds with 13-percent body fat, Sims is an unusual physical specimen for his position. He wants that body-fat index to drop below 10 percent. And with Brian Linthicum and Garrett Celek gone, Sims said he's ready to line up and excel for 70 plays a game, whether that's as a run blocker or Maxwell's security blanket.
"With all the new guys, it makes my role very important," he said. "I'm sort of like a safety valve. But the other receivers are coming along well. And Maxwell is following in Kirk Cousins' footsteps. He throws the ball harder than Kirk. He gets it to you right on time where it needs to be. As far as accuracy, they're pretty much the same. They know where to put it."
**Damascus (Md.) linebacker Zach Bradshaw has decommitted from Penn State and re-opened his recruitment. Michigan State offered Bradshaw in late June but it appears to be a case of too little, too late.
Bradshaw wants to commit before his senior year and doesn't have the time to visit Michigan State and start building new relationships. Though Michigan State was his dream school at one point, expect Bradshaw to commit to Virginia because the Cavs have been recruiting him for close to a year now and he has a solid relationship with the coaching staff.
According to a source, had Michigan State recruited him from the beginning, the Spartans would have had a solid chance to secure his commitment.
** The Spartans have a commitment from quarterback Damion Terry (Erie, Pa./Cathedral Prep). One might think if Terry’s teammate, safety Delton Williams, also commits to Michigan State a big part of the reason would be Terry.
And while Terry would certainly have to be given an assist, and even bigger factor would be the Spartans’ “Hail Mary pass” and victory over Wisconsin in Spartan Stadium. That game was Williams’ first visit to Michigan State and it made a huge impression on him. Months later Williams still talks about the stadium shaking and how great it was to be at that game in East Lansing. Williams has the Spartans as his leader over Nebraska and West Virginia.
**The Spartans are hoping to land the younger brother of offensive lineman Jack Allen, Brian Allen (Hinsdale, Ill./Central). Brian, a 2014 prospect, worked out at Ohio State’s Friday Night Lights on July 27, then headed for a nine-day camping trip in Canada. We caught up with Brian on his way home on Monday night and he told us he is looking forward to a visit to East Lansing when the Spartans host Notre Dame the weekend of Sept. 15.
Brian said he would also like to attend the Spartans game against Boise State on Aug. 31, but he has a game himself that night. With his brother a Spartan, Brian has of course been to Michigan State a number of times. Brian has scholarship offers from Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Purdue.