Croom Pleased With Friday Workout

He waited until the players had left for the locker room. Then Coach Sylvester Croom allowed himself to smile, a little. "I saw a lot of good work today," the Mississippi State head coach said after Friday's morning practice session.

That makes three-straight days where the head coach was pleased with how the Bulldogs performed in preseason camp. State wraps up the first full week of fall drills Saturday with two practices, a 8:00 morning session and 3:45 afternoon workout. They will have Sunday off, at least as far as on-field work, but still have to report for meetings.

And, in a growing number of cases, for attention from the training staff. "We're starting to get a little nicked-up," Croom said. "But that's part of it." The Bulldogs hit full-speed for the first time Thursday morning, and did some more full-contact work Friday. The inevitable results are aches, pains, and a few outright injuries. But the players have found that minor ailments are not an automatic day-off with this coaching staff.

"We've still got to practice with hurts," Croom said, "they've got to understand there's a big difference between hurts and injuries. If you're injured you can't practice, if you're hurt you've got to be able to go. You' ve got to be able to practice with it and play with it."

On the whole Croom was satisfied with how the Bulldogs bounced back from the first round of two-a-days, which included an aggressive conditioning drill following the afternoon session. "I thought we ran well," he said Friday morning.

"I think we're starting to develop some mental toughness. Some guys have a little farther to go than others, but we have some guys that have stepped up. (Nose tackle) Ronald Fields continues to impress. I thought (center) Chris McNeil is starting to make a little more of a move now. I was very pleased with the way (defensive end) Rob Walker practiced."

Junior college transfer Walker was moved from tight end to the defensive side Thursday afternoon and has already impressed both coordinator Ellis Johnson and Croom. So much so that the head coach sees Walker on a fast track for playing time. "It's good switch for us. It gives us some more depth in the defensive line. It's starting to create some competition between him and Deljuan Robinson as to who ends up with the starting job."

Johnson said having Walker show up so quickly is allowing rookie lineman Anthony Strauder to stay inside at tackle. Croom also pointed out a new name, freshman walk-on Soloman Ona (pictured). "He has been a pleasant surprise." Ona, a Louisiana native, is working at defensive tackle. Look for an interview with him later today.

On the injury list, right offensive guard Will Rogers did not return Friday after hurting his left ankle Thursday morning. In his place Otis Riddley worked as #1 ahead of Royce Blackledge and Jeffrey Farr. Johnny Wadley continues to be limited in workouts, wearing the yellow jersey signaling he is restricted in the number of snaps allowed. When Wadley does practice it is with the first-team. When he steps aside soph Brian Anderson steps in at #1 left guard, backed by David Price.

Injured players not practicing were wide receiver Ray Ray Bivines and running back Demarcus Johnson, both still nursing hamstring pulls, and defensive end Stephen Arant (shoulder). Fullback Bryson Davis was in a yellow jersey after tweaking a hamstring the day before. Fullback Nick Signaigo was back out after a muscle strain limited him Thursday afternoon.

For the first time this week punter Jared Cook (hamstring) was not wearing the yellow shirt. He was in regular practice gear and working again. The Bulldogs spent a good early portion of the session in punting drills, both kicking and catching. Freshman Adam Carlson was the #2 punter. A host of speed guys took turns catching punts, including Jerious Norwood, Fred Reid, Tee Milons, Rickey Wright, Brandon Wright, and true freshmen Jonathan Lowe and Keon Humphries.

Also in punting drills the coaches tried out a number of ‘gunners' for downfield coverage, including #1 cornerback Quinton Culberson. In this first week of camp punting has received the bulk of the kicking game work, but by next week Croom wants to get more done to settle both the kickoff squads (coverage and return) and placekicking units.

"We're doing a lot of phases in special teams, a lot of drill work to teach everybody on the team as much as we possibly can so we can create some depth and get guys in the right positions," Croom said. The coach also explained why the drills to-date have been at less than all-out intensity with no true returns or rushing.

"We won't do a lot of full-speed special teams work, trying to prevent some injuries. In our scrimmage we'll cover all special teams situations and that's about the only time we'll do a lot of full-speed work."

The defensive backfield is without a pair of spring regulars. Croom said senior cornerback Eric Fuller has been suspended for undisclosed reasons. Fuller has attended every practice and is dressed out, but is limited in participation. "He's on suspension for six games of the season. He'll be eligible to play the Florida game, he'll practice (but) he won't play any earlier than that."

Fuller played #2 cornerback as a junior transfer last season, finishing with 29 tackles and two interceptions in 12 games. He came out of spring behind Kevin Dockery at right cornerback. Sophomore cornerback Adrian Griffin is not practicing and reportedly will not be eligible for this fall. Griffin played all 12 games as a true freshman in 2003, mostly on special teams, and finished spring running first-team at left cornerback.

Monday is the last two-a-day session for State under NCAA 2-1-2-1-2-1 guidelines. The Bulldogs will also move to daily afternoon practices when the fall school semester starts August 18.


David Murray is the editor of Dawgs' Bite magazine and the featured writer for the Dawgs Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. You can contact him by email at dawgbite@ebicom.net.

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