Croom Comments On Second Preseason Scrimmage

Mississippi State held the second and last game-type scrimmage of the preseason Saturday at Scott Field. Coach Sylvester Croom took the ‘game' part more seriously than the scrimmaging as the 90-minute session involved almost all aspects of getting a ball team out of the locker room, on the field, and ready to kick it off. Real referees even monitored the action, from sideline control to clock management.

Just as in his first season, Croom closed the second scrimmage day to media and all but a few admitted observers. But the coach took time afterwards to review the day's activities and offer observations on the scrimmage, the state of the Bulldogs after 15 days of work, and what the next two weeks hold in store as Mississippi State prepares to kick off the 2005 campaign.

Croom: We scrimmaged some normal stuff out in the field but we primarily worked from the 33-yard line on in, working on our strike-zone and red-zone stuff.

We worked first units vs. second units, and we moved the ball better offensively. But it should have been even better, we missed some opportunities. We had too many dropped balls when they were open. With our first unit I wasn't quite pleased with our tempo. Our substitution and kicking games were not up to snuff, we had some young kids who haven't played well enough. Even substituting our personnel on offense we had some breakdowns there which we can't have.

I thought Omarr Conner threw the ball well, and Mike Henig threw the ball well at times. We ran a little short of tight ends because Eric Butler was out and Jeremy Jones was out, Dezmond Sherrod is hurt. So we put a lot of burden on the other guys (Jason Husband, Britt Cross).

We got real tired today, to be honest with you. But we were thin and that's the way we're going to be, the way it is. As much as anything else this was a conditioning practice, just getting them mentally ready for the way it's going to be on game-day.

Our defense is still tackling well, I think the time we spent tackling has paid off very well. We had a couple of times where we popped a couple of runs in there on our second unit, it was a little over-pursuit on defense and we probably had a couple of missed assignments. But for the most part I thought we tackled the ball pretty well.

Still my concern is a couple of spots, particularly our (offensive) tackles. Working against Michael Heard, hey, right now Mike is having a field day. I don't know if it's him being real good or us being real bad at that left side right now, so we have to pick that up. I just hope he's as good as we think this. I know this, he's working awful hard so I think he'll have a good season for us.

Those were the most obvious things I saw out there today. we've got to get our tempo better, substitutions in the kicking game have to be better. Those are the things I look at from a game management standpoint which is what this was primarly about.

We did get some work with Michael Gates, he got a little more work today. Anthony Strauder got some more work today. We're starting to get some guys back healthy in the offensive line, and I think we can get better. I know they're young, and as I keep reminding myself we're working with a better level of talent in the offensive line than what we had this time last year. So what that means is there is hope, it's not where it needs to be right now by any stretch of the imagination but there is hope. And I figure if we got better with what we had last year we can surely get better with the kids we've got now, if we can keep them healthy.

It's time to play now, I don't know how well we'll be able to do that. We'll try to get them rested up a little next week, but we've still got a ton, a ton of work to do. We'll primarily be in shoulder pads and shorts next week, we won't have another full scrimmage even though I may do something to try to help some of these young kids along. We're a little bit better today, still got a ways to go but we got a good week of work next week, and the week of gameplans getting our minds ready to play. Because that first game, no matter how much you study what your opponent has done last year, you still go into that first ball game blind. Because I'm sure they (Murray State) will have changed some things. And we'll change some things.

It's all according to who is going to be the most physical in the first game, who doesn't do dumb stuff and have big penalties and turnovers. It's like today, we had one of our best pass completions, a perfect play, a run play going for the biggest gain we've had in training camp…and we had a wide receiver out there holding and he's not even a factor in the play. Those are the things we just can't do, we can't shoot ourselves in the foot right now.

Q: What are the plans for next Saturday?

I'm not sure yet.

Q: How is Eric Butler's knee?

It's just a bruise. As far as I know deep bruises, high ankle sprains, all that aggravating stuff, there is nothing anybody (of other limited-practice players) won't come back except for the things we've already talked about. Like the surgery on James Redmond, he should be back in three-to-six weeks. Beyond that there's nothing that is going to keep anybody out a long time. Calvin Wilson is a day-by-day deal. Gates came back and got a limited amount of work, Strauder got a limited amount of work today. They probably don't think it was limited!

Q: Do you expect Will Prosser will be at practice?

Yeah, he's coming back this week.

Q: When will actual preparations for Murray State begin?

For the players? The week of the game.

Q: Did today help solve anything about the five guys you'll work with on the offensive line?

Yeah, I think I've got an idea. But I want to wait and watch the film before I make a judgment on that. A lot of it depends on who is healthy. But I've got a pretty good idea who that will be. We'd like to have ten, be two-deep at every spot, but that's probably more wishful thinking than anything else. If we can get a three-man rotation at tackle, get three guys to swing at guard, and two centers, that's about all we can hope for right now. Everybody else would be just to go in and give them a blow.

Q: How much farther along is Henig than two weeks ago?

Two weeks! He's two weeks better! The thing about it, the guys that haven't played any games, better in practice is one thing. Better in games is a whole different deal. That's what really amazes me, I've seen a lot of NFL guys still come from the preseason to the regular season. But just coming from a practice to a scrimmage, like last Saturday, it was a huge difference with those young kids. And let me tell you something, that first ball game? They're going to be like a deer (in headlights) no matter what you do or how you calm them down. I remember the same way myself when I played. You can talk about it all you want to but when you run out of that gate right here and that crowd starts yelling, it ain't high school any more. It's a whole different deal.

Q: Have one-a-day practices helped some younger players get up to speed?

Well, it's not football all the time. I think they get tired of all this ‘chocolate pie' they eat out here all the time. I think everybody likes football just like you do chocolate pie, but you don't want to eat it every day! And they've been eating it every day, all day. I think they're glad to go to school and talk about other things besides down-blocks, zone-blocks, and back-pedaling, stuff like that. So I'm sure they're glad to go to class to get a different conversation right now.

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