Bulldogs Wrap up First Week With Saturday Workouts

Coach Sylvester Croom liked what he saw in Saturday's practice sessions at Mississippi State. He liked even better what he heard.<P> "I thought we got better," Croom said. "I thought we sounded like a football team out here."

The coach certainly sounded pleased with the results of the long day. The Bulldogs practiced in full-gear in the morning, then were in shorts for the afternoon session that concluded the first full week of camp. Naturally the a.m. work featured full contact, but even in the p.m. hours the players didn't mind laying a few licks.

"We had some hitting," Croom said. "And I thought we competed very well."

On both sides of the ball, too. Croom commented on how the defense consistently runs to the ball now. At the same time the offense, which is still busy learning as much as doing, appears to be getting on their feet. Croom and coordinator Woody McCorvey were able to spend much of their weekend time installing new plays, particularly third-down offense. "We're getting our core stuff in for every situation that we might encounter on third down," Croom said. "Some of it was new from the spring and I thought they picked that up pretty well."

The big position news Saturday came on the defensive side, though. First-team cornerback Quinton Culberson worked as a strong safety, something he had been approached about by Croom and coordinator Ellis Johnson. "Because he's a real good football player and we've got to get him close to the football," Croom said.

The initial results were promising as sophomore Culberson made a series of plays in nine-on-seven drills. "More than we've done in all our practices together," Croom said. The coach added that the ankle Culberson wrecked last November at Kentucky still gets sore, a problem for corner-coverage. "And out there at corner he's just too far from the football," Croom added.

"He likes it now, and no question it will be a benefit to him. And I think he's got a lot better chance of being a high draft choice at safety than at corner. I don't know too many 220-pound corners playing in the NFL." The move was also made because the cornerback positions are looking better after a week of work. Left CB Kevin Dockery has been consistently praised by the coaches, and on the other side sophomore David Heard is progressing.

Croom likes what he's seen of Mario Bobo at right corner, as the rookie took some snaps with the first team; and he has hopes for transfer Brian Staley there. "He's just got to get in shape, but he can move around at that position."

A good portion of the day was spent in nine-on-seven and five-on-seven drills to test the skill players on both sides of the line. The offense used three and four receiver sets while the defensive practiced in regular and ‘nickle' coverages to test the revised back-seven. This also allowed quarterbacks Omarr Conner and Kyle York more practice against different defensive schemes.

The first secondary now shows Marvin Byrdsong, Brad Horton, and Clarence McDougal (over his dislocated finger) at linebackers, ahead of Kenny Kern, Titus Brown, and Chris Swain. Darren Williams is set at #1 free safety with Slovakia Griffith and Brett Morgan battling for the second spot. Now Jeramie Johnson has to fight off Culberson at strong safety with freshman De'Mon Glanton and converted walk-on quarterback Brett Wilcutt practicing third-team.

Tailback Jerious Norwood did not practice either session Saturday, sidelined by back spasms. Offensive guard Will Rogers (left ankle) stayed inside for treatment most of the morning, then watched his unit working out in the afternoon. None of the players missing Friday were activated Saturday. Wide receiver McKinley Scott is taking it easy with a minor hamstring pull. Fullback Bryson Davis (hamstring) and offensive guard Johnny Wadley (ankle) wore yellow jerseys and were limited to non-contact drills. Starting deep snapper Russell Cook also wore a yellow jersey after rolling his ankle earlier in the week. Wide receiver Ray Ray Bivines (hamstring rehab), running back Demarcus Johnson (hamstring pull), and defensive end Stephen Arant (shoulder) have worn the red-cross jerseys and did not practice all week. But Arant did not have his left arm in a sling this day.

Croom is giving the Bulldogs a day-off from regular practices Sunday, and the team will attend Ebenezer Baptist Church for morning worship services. Monday is the last round of two-a-day practices.


  • Some Bulldog players and staffers were relieved to hear good news from the home front in Florida, that Hurricane Charley had passed through without doing real damage. Senior running back Fred Reid was particularly nervous all week with reports Charley was aiming right for his home in Tampa. By late Friday night Reid was relieved. "My family seems to be OK, it didn't quite come their way. I talked to them to see if they were alright. I haven't had time to talk to anybody else."

    Reid had kept up with weather reports, and he knew the local history that Gulf hurricanes usually miss the Tampa bay area. Charley looked to be an exception. "They were worried because they were pretty sure it was going to come their way," Reid said. "And it was an hour away, but it didn't come. It was real scary because this about the first time one was going to come their way. They got lucky again. It took a load off my mind because I'd been hearing about it all week."

  • The afternoon practice featured extensive kickoff practice, both coverage and returns. Taking turns running back the ball were veterans Fred Reid and Tee Milons, as well as three new faces. Freshmen Jonathan Lowe and Keon Humphries, already noted this week for their precocious talents as a receiver, put on a show in runbacks as did redshirt freshman wideout-turned-back Rickey Wright. All three showed sharp moves to go with their young speed, Lowe and Humphries looking quicker while Wright appeared smoother.

  • There was a new face on the sideline for the weekend. Highly touted 6-foot-3, 293-pound tight end Jeremy Jones, who was offered scholarships by Alabama and Auburn as well as Mississippi State, arrived on campus Friday night and came out to observe Saturday's practices. The Harvey, Louisiana native was heavily recruited by Mississippi State last winter out of high school, before agreeing to greyshirt with LSU. A senior-year knee injury (a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury toward the end of the year) kept him from joining the Tiger program this fall, and instead of enrolling in January Jones has opted to sign on right now with a MSU staff that got into the recruiting picture late. Croom said Jones will enroll as a true freshman and be eligible immediately. "He'll be put on scholarship. He has to go through that acclimation period, but we'll condition him some and get him through academic orientation and go from there." Jones should be able to join team practices by the end of next week.

  • Brandon Thornton, a freshman running back from Homewood (AL) High School, observed Saturday's practices, having just arrived on campus. The rookie will be able to enroll at State this year but only as a partial-qualifier after a NCAA ruling that came in just a few days ago. Thornton and Fred Akines, a defensive back from Clarksdale (MS) High School, did not meet all eligibility requirements but fall within strict guidelines for enrollment on athletic scholarship. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Thornton can practice but will have to start with a five-day acclimation period required by the NCAA - which essentially means he will be watching the rest of the team work out for five days while wearing practice gear. Akines has done this for four days, and can begin full practices this coming Tuesday.

  • As the offensive linemen loosed up for the morning workout they were joined by the boss. Coach Sylvester Croom joined them. A former offensive lineman himself, Croom said he needed to do some stretching and plopped to the turf between center Chris McNeil and guard Brian Anderson. Croom's typical practice regimen is to spend the first few periods in a covered golf cart, making the rounds station-to-station. Midway of the session he will park the cart and monitor various squads, most often on the offensive side. In the afternoon, while watching kickoff drills, Croom's cart took a direct hit to the hood as Keith Andrews boomed one longer than expected, but the coach never budged as he tracked the incoming ball.

    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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