"Today was our worst practice of the spring. The last two practices we had last week were very good, the scrimmage was very good, then we come off the Easter holiday (and) it was bad."
How bad? The official who helps at MSU's practices was busy throwing, retrieving, and explaining flags during much of the offense-on-defensive drills. Strength coach Jim Nowell rarely went a series without having to take a Bulldog aside for some ‘up/downs' after mistakes. And, Croom noted, "We had more balls on the ground and more penalties today than we've had the whole spring."
No, it was not a great day to be a Bulldog catching the coach's eye for the wrong reason. The real letdown was that there had been welcome signs of progress last week, not just in the scrimmage but in practice field sessions. For that matter, even on a bad Monday Croom found points worth praising, such as on offense. "We've made some strides. Skill-wise I think we're better at every position right now."
Such as wide receiver, where two veterans are playing largely up to expectations. "Tee Milons and Will Prosser are doing some good things," Croom said. "And one of the pleasant surprises of the spring is Jason Husband at tight end, he's really helping us there." Husband, moved from wideout this spring, got plenty of snaps Monday. Partly this was due to starter Eric Butler's illness, but Husband has also thrived in the new role. "He's catching the ball, he had a nice hit, he's just getting better," Croom said. "When he was at wide receiver I never noticed him unless he was doing bad, now at tight end he's doing something every day to catch your eye."
As to the defense, Croom confirmed impressions from last week about the play of end-turned-tackle Deljuan Robinson. "Deljuan had a heck of a scrimmage the other day, I mean he's playing with a sense of urgency. He beat James Redmond every play, in fact right now James calls him ‘Mr. Robinson'." Robinson's interior-line partner, Andrew Powell, didn't scrimmage as well and actually lost his jersey number as a penalty. "I think it got Andrew's attention," Croom said, "he came out today and had a good practice."
Linebacker Quinton Culberson had a solid Monday, though at times fast-improving Clarence McDougal got to work in that position with the #1 defense. Gabe O'Neal drew praise Monday, and on the second unit Brad Horton and Anthony Littlejohn executed well in running-game drills. On the ends, "Titus Brown is getting better, Michael Heard had a good day today," noted Croom. "But it's hard to judge our defensive ends because they're going against our tackles."
Any discussion of which put the coach back in a bad mood. Tackle, or tackles, are the glaring weak points on this offense. "We're bad there. Johnny Wadley is trying to play left tackle and he's fighting and trying to do the best he can. James Redmond on the right side is not getting much done right now, in fact he was better before he left and went to junior college. He's got to improve. But now we're waiting on those freshmen to get here on the offensive line.
"(Center) Chris McNeil is playing hard and playing well, (left guard) Brian Anderson is playing well, (right guard) Anthony Strauder shows potential. But those freshmen tackles may be penciled in as #1s the first day they get here. It's definitely #2 and it might be #1. We're going to have to play with them if that's the case because they're better than what we have here."
If that sounds harsh, it is not because the coach enjoys pointing to areas of serious concern. And he really was encouraged, briefly, by the efforts and execution in many positions last week. "But overall it wasn't very good today, and I'm disappointed because we're still in that roller-coaster mode. We have two good days and a bad day, we can't get steadily climbing and that's what we're looking for."
Tuesday will be a full-pad session after the Dogs worked in shoulder pads and shorts Monday. There will be a regular Thursday workout and then a closed scrimmage Saturday on the practice fields to wrap up week #3, leaving three more practice dates before camp ends. The last session, on April 9, will be the public full-team scrimmage.
Which, it has been reported, has been selected for televising by ESPN2 according to the cable network and replay on the new ESPN ‘U.' The news had not been confirmed by MSU officials as of Monday afternoon. But if it is to be shown by the network, presumably the full team will get to wear jersey numbers…unlike the preceeding 14 sessions where only players who have performed up to Croom's standards have digits on their shirts.
"That's about the only original idea I think I've ever had," Croom said. And it goes beyond just this 2005 camp, he added. "What we'll do is at the end of the spring, the guys that have got numbers if they want to change it's their right to do so."