Thursday Practices Preps Dogs For Scrimmage

It's probably inevitable at this point of spring football camp. So Coach Sylvester was neither surprised nor worried by what he called a "little bit lethargic" day on the practice fields by the Bulldogs.

"It was sort of a grind today, very business-like," the Mississippi State coach said at the end of the two-and-a-quarter-hour Thursday session. The day's practice was the 11th of this camp and the seventh in a ten-day span, which had to take some sort of toll on the team. So while the Dogs did accomplish some encouraging things in the afternoon, as Croom put it, "There wasn't a lot of enthusiasm."

Despite lack of emotional energy the Bulldogs did put forth enough effort to satisfy the staff, and even make some progress in Croom's eyes. Besides, he added, "A lot of kids had to go to class and that kind of stuff so that was disruptive, it got a little bit thin towards the end of practice and they got tired. But that was good, you want to see what guys can do when they're tired because it may happen in ball games."

Just as on Tuesdays, a number of varsity players do have conflicting class schedules on Thursday. That took such first-teammers as defensive end Michael Heard and offensive guard Anthony Strauder away before the session was half-done, shuffling assignments on both the first and second units. Other areas were working short-handed due to injuries or rehabilitations. Middle linebacker in particular was thin with starter Quinton Culberson and third-teammer Jimmy Miller (both hamstring problems) sidelined. Regular right corner David Heard and safety Demario Bobo (winter surgeries) were also in red-cross jerseys.

But there was some good news on the health front as starting defensive tackle Andrew Powell (knee) returned to active status after missing a couple of days. And on offense split end Tony Burks, sidelined almost two weeks by a hamstring, was back and running a few patterns in non-contact yellow. "We were just trying to get him back out there," Croom said. "He's still not well." Also in yellow were halfback Brandon Thornton and tight end Eric Butler, being protected after winter shoulder clean-ups. Both have been participating in non-hitting drills this week.

Just as on Tuesday, the Bulldogs spent much of this day working in red-zone situations. "Doing some things down there defensively and offensively," Croom said. "It was OK, nothing spectacular." This was partly because unlike Tuesday, when most plays began at the 30- or 20-yard lines, this time the ball was snapped closer to the goal. This gave the offense less room to work with and it showed. "We didn't make as many plays offensively but it was a little tighter from the 11-yard-line in," Croom said.

Also, he added, "We did a lot of throwing where normally in ball games that's where we really like to run the football in. But we really have to work our passing game down there. It was OK, nothing to get excited about."

Moving out into the more open areas of the field, Croom continues to like much of what the offense is showing. The first two weeks saw about an 80% focus on throwing the ball; this week brought somewhat more emphasis on the ground game. Here there were still some limits on what the offense could attempt with Thornton limited and Derek Ambrose still getting up to full-speed. Brandon Hart and walk-on Justin Williams did the largest share of the ball-toting again.

"I think we're running the football OK," Croom said.

When Strauder left for class Dio Herrera moved up to run first-team at left guard, though in some sets starting RG Brian Anderson took a turn at his 2004 position. Otherwise the first line was unchanged. The second group had Roland Terry and Chris Spencer alternating at left tackle and Michael Gates at RT.

On defense, Brad Horton not only moved up into Culberson's #1 role at middle linebacker but for the first time in camp wore first-team white. So did cornerbacks Adron Chambers and Anthony Johnson, though the latter is still on the second unit behind Derek Pegues on the left corner. Chambers is running first-team in David Heard's absence. Keith Fitzhugh, now awarded his number after a strong camp, and Jeramie Johnson remain the first safeties ahead of Marcus Evans and De'Mon Glanton respectively.

With Powell back to speed the staff was able to run a three-way rotation at tackles along with Deljuan Robinson and Antonio Johnson, and let Quinton Wesley spend this whole day at defensive end in place of Michael Heard. Avery Hannibal, who practiced Monday at linebacker, is back at end behind Titus Brown.

Several early segments were spent in kicking work, including for the first time in camp 11-on-11 kickoff drills. Keon Humphries was the first deep-return man, ahead of Tyler Threadgill. Omarr Conner and Lance Long were the short-return men. Conner, Pegues, and Anthony Johnson also are the primary punt returners.

These units will get to show more of their stuff come Saturday when State holds the second full scrimmage of spring at Scott Field. Croom said the plan is to work on specific aspects of the gameplan rather than attempt to play a game itself.

"It will be similar to last week we'll do some stuff out in the field. But we'll spend a lot of time working on red-zone stuff. Then we'll do some kickoff and kickoff return, before getting ready next week to finish up. We're getting all our situation stuff in.

"The biggest thing we're trying to get done, particularly in the passing game, is experiment with some things in some different areas of the field and seeing what our guys can do and can't do so we can decide to either work on them some more in training camp or throw them out altogether. Because when we get back in August there will be no experimentation. We're going to commit to what we're doing and get it done."

After Saturday's scrimmage the Bulldogs will have two pads practices next week before wrapping up camp with the April 8 spring game.

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