Bulldogs Scrimmage as Camp Winds Down

Coach Sylvester Croom prefers not to comment in detail about scrimmage results until he has had time to review the video and make a more accurate evaluation.

But the Mississippi State head coach was in a better mood after Thursday's practice at Scott Field than he had been the day before. "I wasn't elated, but I wasn't disappointed, either," said Croom at the end of the two-hour session.

As the scrimmage was closed, reporters only had the word of coach and players about how things went. Still the Bulldogs echoed Croom's sentiments. "We had a better scrimmage," safety Quinton Culberson said. "Today we worked pretty hard. We tried to do the best for Coach Croom and give our best effort. We hit, but he backed off and gave us a break because we've got a game coming up. But we will continue to work hard."

No statistics were kept at this scrimmage, but then again it was not as ‘game type' as that on the previous Saturday. In this scrimmage the coaches focused more on specific situations, either setting up down-and-distance plays or starting series at various parts of the field. The plan was to get as much tape for late-camp review as possible.

"It was more like just get the fundamentals down," Culberson reported. "Get lined up right and execute and go full-speed."

Croom also relented from his notion of having the first- and second-units do a lot of intrasquad hitting in the scrimmage, following lackluster Wednesday showings by the varsity. "I backed off," the coach smiled. "I get emotional sometimes, but late in the night my senses come back to me!"

Still the players must have gotten the message already. Croom saw progress in some offensive areas from the first scrimmage, such as getting plays called and snapped. "I thought we handled the 25-second clock relatively well. It's still not where I want it to be, I want to see us breaking the huddle at around 20 seconds. We were decent at 18, but I want those other two seconds so we're not under duress."

There were still some lingering problem areas. Croom noted a few fumbled center exchanges by the second unit with a damp ball. He said top tailbacks Jerious Norwood and Fred Reid ran well, while #1 quarterback Omarr Conner was "OK. He's had a lot better days than today."

The defense didn't make things easy for their counterparts, forcing a number of turnovers and scoring on one fumble with a pair of interceptions. Croom did like this unit's ability to force things, but the bottom line is that after almost three weeks of work the defense remains clearly in front of the offense in terms of execution and consistency. And the weak point on that side of the ball is still the blocking, which has been unable to use the same five starters for any length of time in camp.

"Our offense is working hard, but we still aren't pleased with where we are, particularly in the offensive line," said Croom, the former all-SEC blocker. "It seems we've hit a plateau, we're not making much progress and I'm really not pleased with our leadership in that group right now. I guess I haven't done a good enough job of getting them to understand exactly what it takes to have the kind of line to win championships."

The brightest spots of the day were in special teams, and specifically on kickoff return. For the first time all camp the Bulldogs went full-speed and end-to-end in these drills, and one returner--Reid--did go all the way. "Surprisingly for the first time going full-speed I thought our kickoff return looked pretty good. Fred broke one for a touchdown and Jonathan Lowe had another good return. So it looks like we might have a decent return game. I know we're going to need it to get points on the board."

The Bulldogs got through the day with no new casualties, save #1 wide receiver Will Prosser banging-up a shoulder. The receiver corps, already missing senior Ray Ray Bivines all camp with the still-healing leg, did without Joey Sanders just for the day. The redshirt will probably practice Friday. The offense hopes to get right guard Will Rogers (ankle) back by next week, and defensive end Deljaun Robinson should be activated as well. New defensive end Rob Walker (neck) returned to duty Thursday.

"We don't have any major injuries, we held some guys out today," Croom said. "Hopefully we'll get everybody close to being healthy. The guys that are going to play we're going to take good care of next week."

Friday's practice plan is for the shortest session of camp, about an hour, with kicking plays getting half the time. "We'll hit some special situations, we'll cover every possible kicking situation our players can handle for about 30 minutes. Then we'll work some special fronts against our defense, to make sure we've got our protections and blitz-looks handled. We' ll do the same thing with the defense, spend time on unusual things whether Tulane has them or not just so we'll be prepared."

Croom is giving the players Saturday off, but not his staff as the coaches will finalize the September 4 gameplan over the weekend. "Game week starts Monday and we just have to get our minds right and continue to work hard," Culberson said.

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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