Since the new Center won't be an indoor option for at least another month, the Bulldogs rearranged practice plans and squad placements for about an hour's work on the Shira Complex's familiar indoor field. It was just a case of making the best of the situation as Mississippi State gets into a true preseason program leading up to the season kickoff on September 3.
"We didn't get a whole lot done today," Croom said. "I'll look at the film and see, but the weather curtailed a lot of work. We tried to finish up the periods as best we could working against ourselves. We didn't get a chance to work a lot on Murray State because we just don't have the room to break up and do what we need to do."
The first seven periods working outdoor did appear to be productive though. In fact the offensive staff showed they could deal with another form of adversity, specifically a number of hurting and restricted players, and get things done.
The wide receiver positions was missing a few participants Tuesday with two wearing yellow jersies (Will Prosser and Keon Humphries) and two in red crosses (Joey Sanders and Adron Chambers) who did not participate. Added to that were a pair of yellow-shirted tight ends, Jason Husband and Eric Butler, who could run some patterns but not all in limited work. Still the absences did not shut down the passing part of the offense before everybody went indoors.
The available split ends were #1 Tee Milons, Lance Long, Corey Gardhigh, Rashad Smith, and newest member of the corps Aubrey Bell. The freshman spent the first 15 practice days working at safety, then moved to split end on Monday. He even got to wear first-team Maroon with Milons and Long, and while Bell did show some signs of receiver-rust in running and catching the ball he also demonstrated ability to bump-and-run with defensive backs.
At one point he muscled off #1 safety Mario Bobo for a nice over-the-middle grab; later he made corner Derek Pegues pay as in a tangle-up collision the receiver came out better than the defender. While the coaches would still love to have Prosser and Sanders working every play, every day, the time to spend on Bell could pay off. Meanwhile the flanker group was particularly shorthanded, with #1 Jamayel Smith, Tay Bowser, and Tyler Threadgill taking turns. #1 quarterback Omarr Conner and backup Mike Henig spent two periods throwing in multiple-receiver set drills, then Conner moved to the next field to direct the varsity offense in running drills against a scout defense.
As the Dogs are not making contact at the moment senior halfback Jerious Norwood is able to practice the ground-game plays without concerns. The knee that was strained on the first day of full-pads drills almost two weeks ago is 100% again and Norwood is showing all his fancy footwork again, inside and out. With #2 man Jonathan Lowe nursing a sore shoulder Demarcus Johnson and Brandon Thornton are the backups I-dotters again. Bryson Davis is also 100% again at fullback.
The offensive line lined up the same as Monday, when Croom reported he had settled on a basic starting five and alternates in multiple backup jobs. The first group, left to right, is Brian Anderson, Anthony Strauder, Chris McNeil, Johnny Wadley, and Avery House. Freshman Anthony Dunning is the ‘swing' guard backing up both starters but for drills lines up at #2 RG with Dio Herrera at second LG. Freshman Michael Gates is Anderson's backup, though the starter would spell House at the moment. Roland Terry worked at #2 RT again with Royce Blackledge the second center.
There were no changes to note on the first defense. The second unit is getting competitive again, as one day after demotion to the third-team defense freshman cornerbacks Keith Fitzhugh and Derek Pegues had gained at least some ground with the coaches. Though still the third pair of cornermen used in 11-on-11 team or 7-on-7 passing game drills, the two rookies did get to take a number of snaps with the #2 defensive front-seven. The #2 cornerbacks were again Jamaal Johnson and Leron Yarbrough, backing up starters Kevin Dockery and David Heard. Croom had been disappointed by the way Pegues and Fitzhugh scrimmaged Saturday, calling it a ‘freshman syndrome' for both, but he still expects them to bounce back and resume #2 team status before the season begins.
Pegues did get another sort of scare, though, when during individual receiver/coverage drills he got tangled up with fellow frosh Bell and was left on his back, holding his right knee. "He's OK," Croom said later, with Pegues running around the Shira Center apparently unhampered. "He just wanted somebody to come over and pet him." Naturally no such sympathy was to be found.
Croom reported that the competition for #1 punter remains unexpectedly tight with rookie Blake McAdams giving veteran Brooks Crabtree a very serious challenge. Placekicker is another story as Keith Andrews continues to impress the coach. "He's kicked the ball well, his timing is good, he's got good range and he can get the ball up. I've got a lot of confidence in him." Enough that Andrews hasn't even had to prove himself in scrimmage work, which worries Croom not at all. "Nah, if he was a freshman I would be."
The Bulldogs will be back to work with regular afternoon practices Wednesday and Thursday, then a return to Scott Field on Friday to tune up some game-management matters. At the moment the plans are to give the players a Saturday off…but then plans can always change, just like the weather.
"We'll go back out tomorrow and see what we get done," Croom said.