Scrimmage Results Settle Offensive Line Plans

It turned into an overcast afternoon with threatening clouds and occasional flickers of distant lightning. But Coach Sylvester Croom was able to crack a couple of post-practice quips about seeing rays of Monday sunshine.

What the Mississippi State coach meant had nothing to do with weather and everything to do with the improving health of some first-team Bulldogs. Being able to watch, say, flanker Will Prosser running pass patterns; or halfback Jerious Norwood dotting the ‘I' set made everything seem better. So did the return of fullback Bryson Davis and H-back Dezmond Sherrod to regular work. With kickoff now just a dozen days away, Croom welcomed the sight of some players in their expected places.

"I was very pleased to see them out there, it brightened up the day."

On the whole the Bulldogs were a bit brighter in their own right, not only refreshed by a day-off following their Saturday scrimmage but stepping more lightly in just helmet and shoulder pads. With the ‘camp' portion of preseason out of the way Croom has eased off on some physical aspects of practices and turned the attention to getting his team ready to play a game on September 3 when Murray State comes to Scott Field. In fact, this Monday was a lot like the start of a game ‘week' according to the coach.

"We just went in shorts today, as much as anything else it was to get in a little bit of a Monday routine. The guys that don't play a lot in our games will probably have a light contact period on Monday, but for the most part we'll get in our season routine early in the week."

Also for the most part Croom was pleased with review of the second and final scrimmage. "Looking at the film from Saturday I thought we got better in all areas," he commented. This satisfaction did not result in any promotions as such, but it did reinforce some opinions among the staff about how to line this team up for continued instruction. Most importantly, in regard to blocking roles and rotations.

"We settled on the offensive line we're going to work with," Croom reported. "Brian Anderson is going to swing left and right tackle, Michael Gates will be our backup at left tackle. Right now Anthony Strauder and Johnny Wadley are the two guards with Anthony Dunning backing up. Chris McNeil and Royce Blackedge are centers, Dio Herrera can be a guy to fit in there. And hopefully Calvin Wilson can start getting some work towards the end of the week, he's progressing well and he's got to come through at right tackle."

Wilson's inflamed knee nerve continues to slow the freshman, who spent Monday in the training room. Fellow frosh Craig Jenkins is also out with a knee, and junior James Redmond will be several more weeks recovering from disc surgery. But even with those three tackles sidelined, the line is getting healthier and on Monday the whole #1 group was in Maroon for a change. The second group had three in first-team colors: freshman Gates at LT, center Blackedge, and RG Dunning. Herrera was at left guard and Roland Terry right tackle, both in green shirts. That left tackle Chris Spencer and guards Daniel Kennedy and Johnny Carpenter as the short-handed third group.

The offense is still not exactly intact. Backup halfback Jonathan Lowe hurt a shoulder in the scrimmage and was in yellow Monday. So were both top tight ends, Jason Husband and Eric Butler, along with still-limited flanker Keon Humphries. But that didn't keep them from participating in some sessions and even running some full-team segments. The only defensive Dog held out Monday was backup middle linebacker Brad Horton, still slowed by a groin.

The #1 defense has not changed practically since camp began, and Monday saw nothing new at the top of the depth chart. Yet while the second group is called the ‘blue' defense only four of the guys in that group actually still wear the official #2 team color. The other seven are in white, just like the first team, showing that as good as the first unit is there is also confidence in the alternates. Freshman Charles Burns, for example, was promoted to a white shirt Monday.

"We've been very fortunate on that side of the ball health-wise," Croom said.

With Horton held out Carlton Rice ran #2 at MLB, flanked by Jamar Chaney and Gabe O'Neal. Freshman Jimmy Miller is back as the third middle ‘backer. The second safeties remain Marcus Evans and De'Mon Glanton, with Jarvis Kyles and Jonathan Hill the third pairing.

Jamaal Johnson and Leron Yarbrough were promoted to second cornerbacks. That's nothing new for Johnson, who alternated with LCB Kevin Dockery all last season anyway. Still he and walk-on Yarbrough benefited from a poor scrimmage by freshman corners Derek Pegues and Keith Fitzhugh who were demoted as a result and spent much of Monday on the scout team against the #1 offense.

"I thought #1 corners played well and they have all camp, right now we're solid there," Croom said. "I'm a little disappointed in our two backup corners, Pegues and Fitzhugh, they didn't play as well as they've been practicing. Maybe school starting has them thinking about other things, they've got to get out of that freshman syndrome and get back to playing football. Both of them have the talent to be excellent players and they have been practicing well, I'm sure they'll bounce back. Otherwise they'll stay on that second team."

A rookie bidding to get off the second unit is punter Blake McAdams who had a strong scrimmage alternating with veteran Brooks Crabtree. "Blake stepped up and challenged for the #1 job," Croom said.

The coach reported one position change, as freshman safety Aubrey Bell is going back to his recruited position of wide receiver. "He's going to have a difficult time breaking into the rotation at strong safety," Croom said. "There's still some room at wide receiver. We'd like to get a big receiver in there and he has a big-body and can catch a lot on our crossing routes and do more stuff for us in the red zone, and he's strong enough to get off bump-coverage. We put him at safety first because we were concerned about some dept there, everything seems to have worked out OK there. For a first time I didn't think he looked bad."

The Bulldogs plan to practice in shells again Tuesday.

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