Croom Telling Dogs To Get Tough For Second Half

The players were naturally looking forward to a free weekend. But as the Bulldogs wrapped up an open-week of practices, Coach Sylvester Croom did not want his team totally taking their minds off of football. In fact, the coach ended Thursday's session with a stern warning.

"As much as anything else we wanted to remind them that when we come back it starts the second half of the season," Croom said after dismissing the Dogs following a short afternoon of work. Mississippi State spent barely an hour on the field, in shorts and helmet, and most of the drills were full-team sets pitting first and second units against each other. There was minimal instruction, largely because all but a couple of assistants and the head coach were already on the recruiting trail for the weekend.

Croom did say that Thursday's drills went well, and the team's attitude was positive. "But when we come back Monday, we start all over again," he added. "There are some things that as we started to go into a downward spiral we got away from, things like finishing plays, protecting the football, stripping the ball on defense, our tackling. And I have to take responsibility for all that."

The head coach may be taking overall blame for Mississippi State's 1-5 record, and for many of the contributing factors to the five-game losing streak. But he also made it clear Thursday that the players are going to be held to an even higher standard for the last five games of the season. "I told the players today, if they think I've been cruel and unusual when they get back they're going to see cruel-and-unusual if things don't start to pick up here. It better start Monday."

Monday begins preparations for next Saturday's home game with Florida. Croom said he expect to have most of the roster healthy by then, particularly starter quarterback Omarr Conner. The sophomore is wearing a brace to protect the sprained right knee suffered at LSU, but has otherwise looked full-speed this week. The injury certainly has not affected his strong arm, and Conner was throwing very well again Thursday in short-pattern drills.

He did not have all his targets to work with though, as McKinley Scott (hamstring) did not practice again. Co-#1 tight ends Eric Butler (ankle) and Blake Pettit (knee) also missed the day's drills. In their absences, Tee Milons and Joey Sanders were the #1 wide receivers along with flanker Will Prosser, while Dezmond Sherrod and Linzy Patterson took the snaps at tight end.

As there was no contact work, the regular first line took snaps with Brian Anderson looking more like full-strength at left guard and Will Rogers healthy at right guard. The second line had James Cochran at right tackle, Royce Blackledge at right guard, Avery House at center, Johnny Wadley at left guard and Donovan Davis at left tackle.

On defense for the first round of full-team plays the first team included the second unit's linebackers with Titus Brown in the middle flanked by converted safety Quinton Culberson and Gabe O'Neal. The regular threesome of starters was short-handed, or –footed with MLB Kenny Kern nursing a sore right foot. Marvin Byrdsong and Clarence McDougal got their turns in with the usual first-line also. Starting CB Mario Bobo was back out at practice but stood out with a sore hamstring suffered Tuesday; David Heard was back with the first unit.

The day's work ended with some running, which the Bulldogs will do more of at 6:00 Friday morning before Croom dismisses them for the weekend. Unlike the regular student body, who have a two-day fall break to start next week, the players have to be back on campus by Sunday night. The head coach doesn't want to hear any complaints, either. Just the opposite, as he is trying to turn this team tougher for the rest of this schedule. "We've got to get a lot nastier," Croom said. "Our attitude is too nice right now. We've got a lot of sweet guys out there, so I've got to show them how to get nasty.

"We'll be in shoulder pads and shorts Monday, and get things started. And come out with a new commitment for the second half of the season."

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