Bulldogs Get Back Into Practice Routine

After storm-forced disruptions to begin game week, Mississippi State was able to get into a more routine sort of schedule Tuesday as the Bulldogs prepare for Saturday and kickoff of their 2005 season. Coach Sylvester Croom got his team back out on the now-dry practice fields for 2-1/2 hours of work, and the head Dog seemed satisfied that things are getting back on track.

Which means team attention is now focused on Murray State and not Hurricane Katrina, even though a number of Bulldogs still have not heard from homes in storm-ravaged areas. At least Croom had reason for relief, having gotten a second-hand message from his daughter's family in the Mobile area. "I couldn't get in touch this morning but my niece got a text message from her, they were OK," he said. "They had some structural damage to the house but other than that they were OK." Croom said that his wife had left for Mobile on Tuesday morning and arrived without problem.

As far as more local and immediate matters, Tuesday's practice involved finalizing some aspects of the opening-game plan as well as polishing other items such as first-down plays on both sides of the ball. At this point, Croom explained, there is little chance of additions to the Murray State playbook.

"We finalized some touches on some things. Not anything new, just repeating. Really we're at a point we can't do too much new, we still have to clean up on our base stuff. I can't see us anything unusual, anything fancy this first game because we just have too many kids that still have to learn the details."

When the Bulldog coach talks about too many kids he is not kidding. As of now he can count "10 to 12" true freshmen that are going to play in the 2005 opening game, and another ten or so redshirt rookies as well as players who did not letter in 2004. "So we've got close to 30 guys that it will be their first game in college. Right now that's a concern.

"It's good in that you have young players you can play where last year we were looking for guys. We're a lot better along in quality and ability to play with, but they're so young and inexperienced, we may have to hold their hands to get them out of the dressing room. They're going to have butterflies, but hopefully the first time one of those Racers hits them in the mouth they'll know how to bounce back."

A couple of Bulldogs have bounced back from injuries or should by game-day. Only five players came to practice in anything other than a regular practice shirt. Halfback Jonathan Lowe (shoulder) and tight end Jeremy Jones (ankle) wore limited-work yellow, which makes them questionable for the weekend. Meanwhile offensive tackles Chris Wilson, James Redmond, and Craig Jenkins were all in red jerseys and are definitely out for this game. Croom has hopes of getting at least one of these tackles back by next week.

Meanwhile the offensive line line-up remains unchanged from last week's practices. The starting five, right to left, is Avery House, Johnny Wadley, Chris McNeil, Anthony Strauder, and Brian Anderson. Croom is anticipating ‘flipping' left tackle Anderson to the right end at some point in the game, which would let freshman Michael Gates move into the first-team in relief. The backup line has, right to left, Roland Terry, Anthony Dunning, Royce Blackledge, Dio Herrera, and Gates; but at this point Gates and Dunning are the top backups at both tackles and guards, with Herrera the likely reserve center.

The defensive front will have a deeper rotation, with the starting group of ends Michael Heard and Willie Evans backed up by Titus Brown, Charles Burns, and Quinton Wesley. In the middle, tackles Deljuan Robinson and Andrew Powell will be spelled by Antonio Johnson and Corey Clark with Avery Hannibal in reserve.

"Our depth chart is pretty much set right now," Croom said, "unless injuries change something the next day or so. It's pretty much set."

The chart is also deeper at some receiver positions. Flankers Will Prosser and Joey Sanders are back in the mix and shaking off some lingering rust from injuries. "Will looks better," Croom said, "Joey is still not full-speed but he made some nice plays. If he is healthy that will definitely be a nice plus." A definite plus has been the addition of Aubrey Bell to the corps last week as a ‘big' receiver. Croom now wishes the true freshman had not been tried at strong safety for the first three weeks of camp. "We should have had him at wide receiver, he'd be a lot farther along. But better late than never."

It is getting late in the preseason-day and while State doesn't intend to add any new wrinkles in the next two practice days there is still lots of things to work on. Croom saw a lot of things Tuesday he called "ragged," especially when the scout defense managed to strip the first offense on downfield plays. "I'm still not pleased where we are offensively, we were careless with the football. It displeases me greatly when I see a ball laying on the ground." Even the defense, which was complimented as usual for effort, is being asked to "clean up" some things involving assignments.

"More than anything else we're trying to get our players to where we don't do things on both sides of the ball to give up plays," said Croom. "We don't want to give away cheap plays in any area, offense, defense, or kicking. We've still got a ways to go in that."

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