At the end of Wednesday's practice the coach was not too worried about anything harming the tune-up practice plans as the Bulldogs prepare for the weekend's meeting with Alabama at Scott Field. While a few front-liners were limited today, there are only a couple of cases that could force any late-week alterations. "It's pretty much set," Croom said. "Right now I really don't expect anything."
There are two situations that Croom is holding his fire on. First and foremost is placekicker Keith Andrews, who missed the Kentucky trip after straining a groin in the Houston game. As of today Andrews was kicking balls off the tee but only from the ten-yard line. That was a five-yard progression from Tuesday, but still nowhere near what would be asked in a real game.
"We'll have to see where Keith is but it would be a miracle," said Croom. Less divine intervention hopefully will be needed for wide receiver Joey Sanders to be available by the weekend, as in the Kentucky game he aggravated an old hamstring condition. "It's going to be close but Joey is one of those guys who could wake up and be ready to go, I know he'll try to get back."
The wideout corps was further shorthanded as Lance Long took the day off, after straining a leg on an awkward landing in Tuesday passing drills. Also on offense, #1 fullback Bryson Davis has spent the week in a yellow jersey to protect a sore knee. The good news today was the return to full-strength by tight end Eric Butler, who was limited yesterday with a sore shoulder. Davis is expected to play this weekend.
Another offensive position has changed but not for injury. After playing all but the opening two series at Kentucky, redshirt frosh Mike Henig was pronounced the starter for this week. Three practice days has done nothing to alter Croom's plans as Henig has taken the first snap of every drill.
"I think he's done a good job," the coach said. Midway of the day Croom was less positive as Henig participated in a series of fumbled snaps, recalling the goal-line turnover that cost State dearly at Kentucky. It turned out though this was not a problem in technique; it was an equipment issue. "(Center) Chris McNeil came out with some real baggy sweats and I think it caused problems with the center-exchange," Croom reported. "I said why are we having these, problems and Mike said I can't feel the ball!"
So McNeil hiked his britches "just about to his armpits" as Croom put it and there were no more bobbled exchanges. "Just one of the lighter moments," the coach smiled. He also liked the way veteran Omarr Conner performed in practices today, throwing the ball with more crispness and efficiency and showing no signs of shoulder soreness.
As of Wednesday senior Avery House has regained the top slot at right tackle, where he started the first seven games before freshman Calvin Wilson was promoted to #1 for the Kentucky game. It was Wilson's first college start and he did get a slightly larger share of snaps. Now House is back on the first team, though it appears the two will continue to alternate as they did all October.
Royce Blackledge has maintained his starting job at right guard, while the rest of the starting line is the same as on opening night—McNeil at center, redshirt frosh Anthony Strauder the left guard and junior Brian Anderson the left tackle. Blackledge took the RG position from senior Johnny Wadley, who has been in reserve duty the last two weeks and Wednesday was wearing a red-cross shirt with a knee bothering him again.
With Wadley sidelined, the #2 line was Wilson, freshman Anthony Dunning at right guard, redshirt frosh Dio Herrera center, true freshman Chris Spencer left guard and true frosh Michael Gates at left tackle. Dunning and Gates both dressed at Kentucky but did not play, as did junior tackle James Redmond who is still hampered by the knee strain at Auburn.
The defense is healthier, as has been the case all season. One starter who was missing Wednesday was end Willie Evans, who had to take the day off after being kicked hard in the helmet the day before. He should be back to work by Thursday and in the lineup this weekend; for this day he was replaced by soph Titus Brown on the first team. Soph defensive tackle Corey Clark, kept off the travel team last week for not taking care of classroom business, continues to practice in second-team blue.
Croom has not been happy with the tackling in the last two games, especially from the linebackers. So there has been plenty of alternating and rotating in those units with various combinations taking turns whether in run- or pass-defense drills. This week true freshman Jamar Chaney, who got a good bit of action at Kentucky, has taken as many snaps with the first unit as most of his elders.
Quinton Culberson is set at starting middle linebacker, but the outside guys are being pushed and current starters Anthony Littlejohn and Gabe O'Neal are not entirely sure of being onfield for the first snap judging by this week's work. Whoever does line up at linebacker, the coaches are demanding a return to the tackling form they showed in September.
If Andrews is not available redshirt Adam Carlson will again kick off and placekick. Otherwise, Croom expects to be able to set his lineup as usual on Thursday and tell the team before Friday's walk-throughs. "Unless something comes up tonight that I didn't anticipate. We'll respond tomorrow if it does."