Wednesday Practice Report

Mississippi State ran through a routine Wednesday practice as preparations continue for Saturday's season-opening contest with Murray State. While Coach Sylvester Croom wouldn't mind some more time to get entirely ready for their 2005 debut, he also recognizes that the Bulldogs are ready to get on the field, turn on the scoreboard, and kick off that ball.

"All in all I think it was good work," Croom said after the 2-1/2 hour session. "I think the guys are starting to get game-fever, and we're looking forward to playing."

State worked Wednesday in shoulder pads and helmet (‘shells') and there wasn't much in the way of contact, which is typical for game prep practices. By the same token the coaching staff liked much of the attitude shown by their ball players, and even Croom was content with the intensity. "I thought we had good work today."

Not surprisingly to anyone who has tracked this preseason's progress, the defensive team is clearly the better-prepared of the squads. There was only one segment Wednesday of actual O vs. D, and as Croom said "Our defense was dominating in our one-on-one." More than that the Dog D demonstrated an increasingly feisty approach to drills that says they are ready to hit someone other than their offensive counterparts.

"I hope they're as good as they think they are," Croom musedd. "And I think they can be pretty dog-gone good. Right now they're very quick, strong up front and have good speed to the football. And I know we're a better tackling team. Right now I think it's a matter of making sure we know what to defensively and we'll be alright."

Both starting lineups as well as the second units appear set for Saturday. On the defensive side, Anthony Littlejohn is on the first unit at outside linebacker, in the place of Gabe O'Neal who was the 2004 starter. O'Neal was slowed for most of three weeks after summer corrective knee surgery but has been 100% for ten days now. While he hasn't displaced the redshirt freshman Littlejohn, O'Neal will get action in the rotation. Behind the other starters, MLB Quinton Culberson and OLB Clarence McDougal, are alternates Brad Horton and Carlton Rice.

The secondary depth chart has Demario Bobo and Jeramie Johnson starting at safeties, with De'Mon Glanton and Jonathan Hill their backups. Kevin Dockery and David Heard, both often praised for their practice work by Croom, open at the corners. The second pair of cornerbacks in practice are Jamaal Johnson and Leron Yarbrough, but while they still wear backup-blue shirts freshmen Keith Fitzhugh and Pegues are very much in the mix. For much of the month Pegues has pushed Johnson for the right to sub-in at left cornerback when Dockery moves over to play nickel safety on passing downs.

While the defense is still clearly ‘ahead' the offense has put on a push the last ten or so days of drills. Wednesday Croom had nothing to criticize about this squad's effort. "Offensively the guys worked hard. I was pleased with how the receivers caught the ball. Omarr Conner threw the ball well. I think we know what we're doing, especially considering we've got so many young guys that have to play on that unit."

The offensive line had at least one new blocker practicing Wednesday, though freshman tackle Craig Jenkins' presence won't affect the game depth chart. The rookie, who hurt a knee in the first scrimmage game, has swapped his red-cross jersey for a yellow shirt and was working as #3 right tackle behind Roland Terry. Fellow frosh Calvin Wilson and junior James Redmond are still in red-crosses and like Jenkins out for the first weekend.

Also in yellow were halfback Jonathan Lowe and tight end Jeremy Jones, though Lowe will probably play in the opener as both a backup running back and a kick returner. This day, though, all the kickoff return team practices had freshman cornerback Derek Pegues as the middle-deep return man flanked by Brandon Thornton and Derek Ambrose on the sides.

No other players were limited at this practice for health. The defense has nobody injured enough to hold out of work, and on offense some wide receivers who have been restricted are back in action, full-speed. Tight end Jason Husband banged his right shoulder early in the day and needed ice but it should not affect him for game action.

The Bulldogs will practice in shorts and helmets on Thursday, then have a short Friday walk-through before the evening meal and departure to spend the evening in Columbus. The hotel they are staying at was reserved long before this week's hurricane, and State's party is not dislodging anyone forced to come to Columbus to escape the damage caused by the storm.

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