"Jerious will probably return punts now, unless something changes between now and the ball game," the coach said. "He'll probably be our starting punt returner."
The ‘probably' indicates that the decision is not entirely final. But after the scintillating, if negated, runback at Gainesville it is hard not to want to have Mississippi State's best offensive threat get the ball in his hands in this sort of open-field situation…even with the obvious risk of injury or overuse. "We'll have others in case he gets tired or gets nicked or something like that," Croom said. "Jonathan Lowe and Derek Pegues are the other guys that have been working at it all the time."
Interestingly, there was no punt-return or even punting team practices Wednesday. As usual, the second working day of the week had kickoff coverage and return as the special teams focus with Pegues in deep-return. There was also placekicking practices. Tuesday did see segments devoted to punting and protection, and the kicks were fielded by Lowe and Tee Milons.
Norwood hasn't even practiced fielding and running back punts since August camp, but as his initial effort this past Saturday showed the senior doesn't need a lot of brushing-up. After the day's practice Norwood said he didn't mind the added duty, if that is what the team needs. As for whether Norwood will stay on-field after returns and line up in the backfield, Croom doesn't see that as any problem. "Hey, we get the ball, it's first down, let's go! It'll be just like we ran a toss-sweep, just another play. He gets one extra down, that's how I look at it." And every extra time Norwood gets a down the potential for a big play is there.
Just in case, Lowe and Pegues—who has not returned a punt this year, either, specializing in kickoffs instead—will both be on call. "The thing is trying to keep a guy back there fresh," Croom said.
The Tuesday and Wednesday workouts revealed no other changes in any aspects of the various kicking teams, whether it was who kicked, caught, blocked, and covered. These units received a harsh post-Florida review after a series of mistakes that, by most figuring, scored or set up at least 18 points for Florida and cost the Bulldogs three more in a missed field goal by Keith Andrews. Yet Croom is not ready to demand wholesale rebuilding of these units just yet.
"We just had a calamity of mistakes in one ball game. It's been good for a year-and-a-half now. It's like everything else, poise in pressure situations." That said, practices in kicking situations have been scrutinized a bit more closely this week.
Wednesday's session ran just over two hours, with the Bulldogs in full pads a second-straight day. Croom said Thursday's early-morning practice will also be in full gear, though "We're not doing a lot of hitting." At least not to the point of outright tackling. But there was plenty of contact in unit and full-squad drills nonetheless, whether in interior running plays or downfield pass coverage.
Three players were held out entirely Wednesday. Flanker Will Prosser is resting the left foot that cracked in summer, and the juniors has been limping a bit lately. Wideout Jamayel Smith (leg) and fullback Bryson Davis (back spasms) also wore red-cross jerseys and watched others work. So did re-habbing offensive tackle James Redmond, who should be cleared for work by next week. The offensive line also hopes to have guard Anthony Dunning return to practices in time to prepare for the October 22 Homecoming contest with Houston, but his status remains a question.
After not throwing a pass Tuesday, quarterback Omarr Conner was back in full action this day and running the varsity offense along with backup Mike Henig. Conner had trouble yesterday fully extending his arms, an after-effect of a bruised chest suffered when he took a helmet flush on the sternum at Florida. The day-off seemed to put some zip back in Conner's arm, too, as his passes looked crisper than last week before the injury.
The top-two quarterbacks also got to throw to a couple of wideouts who had not been in the primary rotation recently. With Prosser and Smith sidelined, true freshmen Tay Bowser and Corey Gardhigh worked with the first unit in all passing drills.
The defensive unit is at full-strength with none of the first or second team players limited by injuries.
The Bulldogs left the practice fields at 6:15, and will be back out there in less than a dozen hours as Croom scheduled a 6:00 am Thursday session that will wrap up on-field work for this off-week. The players will run on Friday before being turned loose for the weekend, with a Sunday evening curfew. Their coaches will leave town tomorrow for a weekend of recruiting trips, though Croom said this will have to be done in staggered schedules for the head coach and nine position-aides.
"You can seven out at a time, so there will be seven each day," said Croom, who will himself be on the road Thursday.