Coach Croom Sees Good and Not So Good

With over 100 of the top juniors from the state of Mississippi and the surrounding states watching the Mississippi State football scrimmage, the Bulldog defense, as has been the common theme for most of head coach Sylvester Croom's time at MSU, was the part of the team that drew the most praise from the head man.

"The defense continues to do a great job of getting turnovers when the opportunities presents itself," said Croom, who helped host Mississippi State football's Junior Day. "We had a couple of tipped balls today that were picked off. I think we might have had one loose ball on the ground that they knocked out. They did a great job of running to the ball and we are tackling a lot better."

But Croom wasn't ready to say his defense is perfect.

"The only thing disappointing about the defense to me was that at critical times we weren't able to stop the run in the redzone and on short yardage," he said. "We can't take that for granted. Even though we are running to the ball and doing all these other things well, we have to always stop the run and make a team one-dimensional as far as throwing the ball. If we can do that, (then) we will be very good defensively."

While the defense drew praise, his comments about the offense was a mix bag. And one position, a position that was a strength last year due to the presence of veteran Jerious Norwood, is very much a concern.

"We are really, really going to miss Jerious Norwood. I knew that, but it was very obvious today," said Croom. "It was simple things like our steps, our landmarks, the reads from the running back position; we were very, very poor today at that position. Other than Brandon Hart, who does a good job in short yardage, Brandon Thornton, who is out right now (due to shoulder surgery), is the only running back we have that even has a chance of playing and giving us a chance. I'm probably being a little hard on Derek Ambrose because he's not well (due to rehabbing an ACL surgery)."

But he sees hope for the future at that position.

"Those three freshmen better be ready to play," said Croom of his three freshmen signees, Alex Carpenter, Courtney Jones and Anthony Dixon. "They better be in great shape and ready when they get here because we are going to work them to death. Definitely, one of them will probably be number 2 (on the depth chart) and could be the starter by the time that first game comes around."

He did have some good things to say about quarterback, wide receiver and the offensive line.

"(Starting quarterback) Mike Hening is throwing the ball well, so we are solid at quarterback," Croom noted. "He continues to improve. The way he is right now, I feel very good about him at quarterback.

"(Backup quarterback) Tray Rutland throws the ball pretty well, but he has a lot to learn. Things like where to go with the football and just being a quarterback. Physically, he has all the tools, but he has to learn to be a quarterback.

"(Wide receiver) Keon Humphries made some plays for the first time at wide receiver. Tony Burks didn't practice again today (due to a slight hamstring pull), but Keon, Omarr (Conner), Lance Long (did well). (Tyler) Threadgill had been having a good (spring), but I think he had a couple of drops today. We are going to be better at wide receiver, so that's encouraging.

"I thought the offensive line blocked better in the running game, but we missed a lot of opportunities to run the football (due to the running back situation)."

What has to happen for the offense to be where he wants it to be by the time spring practice ends?

"Our offensive line has to continue to mesh and we have to find a running back," said the third-year coach. "We have got to find a running back. That is the most urgent thing right now. If we can solve that running back thing, then we have a chance to be pretty good."

Practice Notes:

  • Several Bulldogs were held out of the first spring scrimmage either by injury or off-season surgery rehab. Wide receivers Tony Burks (hamstring) and Will Prosser (hip), running back Brandon Thornton (shoulder), and tight end Eric Butler (shoulder) did not scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. Defensive backs Demario Bobo (knee) and David Heard (shoulder), as well as linebacker Jimmy Miller (hamstring) and end Charles Burns (shoulder) did not scrimmage.
  • Sophomore linebacker Jamar Chaney continues to impressed everybody with his play. During the scrimmage, he had 9 tackles, 4 for losses (including 3 sacks) and a 32-yard fumble recovery that he ran in for a touchdown.
  • Another sophomore, safey Keith Fitzhugh, led the team in tackles with 11 and also had a fumble recovery that he ran in for a 56-yard touchdown.
  • The reason for the quarterback praise from Coach Croom: Heing and Rutland completed 22-of-36 passes for 209 yards and 1 TD. Heing was 12-18 for 100 yards, while Rutland was 10-18 for 109 yards and 1 TD.
  • Receiving, Lance Long led all receivers with 5 receptions for 73 yards.
  • NCAA rules forbid media from listing any juniors that were at the scrimmage. Over the course of the upcoming week, I will contact as many of the juniors to find out their impressions of their experience at Mississippi State.



  • Carlson 36 FG
  • Chaney 32 fumble return
  • Jones 7 pass from Rutland (Andrews PAT)
  • Hart 4 rush (Carlson PAT)
  • Fitzhugh 56 fumble return


  • RUSHING - Hart 14-57, Ambrose 8-23, Henig 4-(-2), Rutland 2-(-3).
  • PASSING - Henig 12-18-1 100, Rutland 10-18-0 109.
  • RECEIVING - Long 5-73, Humphries 4-33, Rogers 2-36, Jones 3-28 TD, Conner 3-24, Bowser 1-21, Young 1-20, J. Smith 1-8, Sherrod 1-4.
  • TACKLES - Fitzhugh 11, Chaney 9, Culberson 8, Chambers 6, Robinson 6, O'Neal 5, Jer. Johnson 4, Pegues 3, Mar. Evans 3, Horton 3, Brown 3, Wesley 3.
  • INTERCEPTIONS - Culberson 1-12.
  • SACKS - Chaney 3-19, Robinson 1-4, O'Neal 1-8, Brown 1-7.
  • TACKLES FOR LOSS - Chaney 4-22, Robinson 1-4, O'Neal 1-8, Brown 1-7, Fitzhugh 1-2.
  • FUMBLE RECOVERIES - Fitzhugh 1-56 TD, Chaney 1-32 TD, Robinson 1-4.
  • PASSES BROKEN UP - Robinson 3, Chambers 1, Jer. Johnson 1.
  • BLOCKED KICK - Aubrey Bell (punt).

    Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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