Bulldogs Resume Camp With Monday Drills

Mississippi State returned to the practice fields Monday, starting the ‘second half' of 2006 spring camp. As the Bulldogs were coming off the first scrimmage of spring, they spent this afternoon's two-and-a-half-hour session working in shells.

Still the partial-gear didn't stop State players from making a fair amount of contact Monday, particularly in some of the full-team work. In fact at several points there was about as much hitting as in a scrimmage, and a few times tempers flared with mini-scuffles. The coaching staff never let it go more than a few moments, but they seemed pleased with an occasional show of emotion during drills.

Or, more likely, they were showing their general satisfaction with detailed post-scrimmage analysis. Certainly Coach Sylvester Croom had some good things to say about Saturday's skirmishing. "After looking at the film we had a pretty good scrimmage Saturday. I think we got better in all areas. We're not anywhere near where we want to be, of course, but we're making progress."

Monday's workouts did not show a lot of moves on the depth chart, other than from scrimmage hurts. Middle linebacker Quinton Culberson (hamstring) and defensive tackle Andrew Powell (knee) did not participate Monday, joining several Dogs who were already limited with existing injuries or rehabilitation. In fact middle linebacker was thinner than usual as Jimmy Miller is still slowed by his own hamstring problem.

That left veteran Brad Horton as the #1 MLB this day, backed up by one Dog who did change jobs. After working two weeks at defensive end, Avery Hannibal is back in a linebacker spot he practiced a year ago.

The defensive line did get a couple of players back at full-speed Monday. Quinton Wesley returned at tackle and, with Antonio Johnson on the first-team for now replacing Powell, the redshirt was the primary backup to Deljuan Robinson. Solomon Ona and Anwar Phillips are the reserve tackles. And after missing several days last week Charles Burns returned and is running second at defensive end.

In the secondary there have been no changes on the first group since camp opened, though right corner David Heard has been kept out of full contact work following winter shoulder repair. Former wideout Adron Chambers has worked his way up to the top backup at RCB, ahead of Leron Yarbrough. On the other corner juco transfer Anthony Johnson is behind starter Derek Pegues.

Whatever the rotations, this side of the ball continues to set the tone when practices get seriously physical. "The defense continues to get better," Croom said. "We're hitting very well on defense and we're still getting turnovers. Any time the offense makes a mistake the defense is converting it into a turnover, and that's good."

The Dog defense has gotten plenty of chances to collect turnovers, not all of them forced. "Offensively we're a little careless with the ball right now," Croom noted. Yet the coach added that more and more of these mistakes are matters of tuning and timing, such as when ball-location on passing plays is slightly off. These don't usually end up in direct interceptions, but more often as tips because the receivers are getting hands on the throws. That was the case in Saturday's scrimmage with a number of caught caroms besides outright drops.

At the same time, Croom came away from offensive reviews with a better opinion of how that unit scrimmaged. "Overall our passing game is definitely improved. And the running game was better than I thought."

The air attack has certainly had issues the first two weeks of drills. Yet this has been at least partly due to the veteran defense, as well as a few injuries limiting wideouts Omarr Conner (groin) and Tony Burks (hamstring). The latter has been out for a week now; Conner returned to drills and had a strong Monday with some excellent grabs over the middle. He is one of the top-three wideouts in multiple receiver sets, along with Tyler Threadgill and Lance Long. Aubrey Bell and Keon Humphries are currently in the second grouping.

"The passing game is getting better even though Burks is not practicing," Croom said. "But the receivers we have out there have definitely improved from last year. And (quarterback) Mike Henig continues to improve each day."

The first two weeks of drills focused mostly on the passing game, but starting with Saturday more attention is being spent on running the football. #1 halfback Brandon Thornton remains non-contact, though at one point Monday he was tackled by Chambers, drawing a reprimand from the coach. Backup Justin Williams is still getting most of the carries in real hitting, but Croom likes how Brandon Hart is performing in an expanded role.

"Brandon ran well (Saturday), and that's despite mistakes in the steps and landmarks and those type things because he hasn't been a halfback very long. So even though I'm still mourning the loss of Jerious Norwood we're going to be OK in the running game, I'm not worried about that now. Even though we're still counting on those freshmen to come in and give us some help. We'll be a little more running back by-committee this year, but we're getting better."

Croom also had some encouraging comments about the blocking. "I feel good about the protection, the offensive line is getting better." For Monday, soph Calvin Wilson returned to first-team status at left tackle while redshirt Craig Jenkins is holding on to the #1 spot at right tackle that he was promoted to last week. All 13 linemen were back in drills Monday, with one shift as guard Chris Spencer was running second-team at left tackle. Michael Gates, who began camp first at right tackle, is on the second unit for now.

Much of Monday's work was spent in team-situation drills, such as second and third downs. Several segments were also devoted to portions of the punting game as a variety of catches (Conner, Pegues, Humphries, Anthony Johnson) and coverage players went through the rounds.

After Monday, the Bulldogs have just six more practice days set. Croom said drills Tuesday and Thursday will be full-pads, with another Saturday scrimmage. He hopes the rest of the work follows the tone set in the last few sessions.

"All in all we're making steady improvement," Croom said. "Nothing dramatic or anything like that. But we're going in the right direction."

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