Bulldogs Prepare For Fast-Paced Spring Game

The end is in sight. For 2006 spring football practices, that is. The Bulldogs will pull on the pads and uniform jersey one last time this camp, and for public display in the annual Maroon-White Game.

But Coach Sylvester Croom has a literal heads-up for those Mississippi State fans planning to be at Scott Field Saturday to watch the Dogs line up and square off. He warns everyone to be there on time for the noon scrimmage. "It will be over before you see it."

The 2006 spring game, scheduled for a noon start, will be a fast-paced affair because once the clock starts it won't be stopped very often…if at all. Croom plans to have the split-roster teams play four ten-minute quarters, which means a good extended drive would likely eat up an entire period. It isn't so much that the coach is impatient to leave the stadium for the baseball game or anything, of course.

"I'm hoping we get out of there alive," Croom said. "That's all I hope." As in, for everyone who reports to the field for scrimmaging to leave under their own power and undamaged going into the off-season. Besides, there is no use showing too much to visiting scouts from 2006 opponents, even if it means fans don't get to see the full range of things practiced the previous 14 sessions of camp.

"It's not going to be anything special," Croom said. "We'll have four ten-minute quarters, take a five-minute break so they can get a drink of water, then it will be over. Fast. We hope the kids have a good time but my one wish is to get it over fast and get everybody out of there healthy."

There are a number of Dogs who won't participate for health reasons already, most from winter repair surgeries and a few from spring injuries. Fortunately none of the hurts acquired in camp work were serious, nor will they be a factor when preseason drills open in August. Players who will definitely not be dressing out Saturday who were hurt in practices include MLB Quinton Culberson, WR Tony Burks, and MLB Jimmy Miller (all hamstrings).

Players held out of camp for pre-practice conditions were RCB David Heard (shoulder), WR Will Prosser (hip), RB Brandon Thornton (shoulder), TE Eric Butler (shoulder), and S Demario Bobo (knee). Thornton and Butler have been able to participate in most non-contact drills the last three weeks, but will still sit out the spring game as a precaution.

Also, six players under team suspension—QB Tray Rutland, CB Derek Pegues, S Keith Fitzhugh, DE Charles Burns, OT Michael Gates, and DT Quinton Wesley—will not be on the sidelines.

The rosters for the respective teams were being finalized this evening, but at Thursday's abbreviated practice it was clear that the Maroon side should be heavily favored. This group is made up of the first offense and defense along with most of the primary alternates in positions that rotate. In fact, when that group went to one practice field, the only player not in either first-team maroon (offense) or white (defense) was backup DT Solomon Ona.

The Maroon team not only gets starting QB Mike Henig, but has most of what running back depth is on the spring roster with HB Derek Ambrose, FB Bryson Davis, and combo-back Brandon Hart. Omarr Conner and Lance Long are the first-group wideouts.

By contrast, the White team is almost entirely in backup blue (defense) or green (offense), with very few wearing varsity numbers. The one exception was MLB Brad Horton, who due to injuries to Culberson and Miller has been running first unit the last two weeks. He will play with the Whites. This squad has also been assigned DE Titus Brown and WR Tyler Threadgill, who both lost their first-group colors this week and were in blue and green respectively both days.

The White team will have a complete offensive line, though, as the fivesome in green has practiced as a group for most of camp. They will be blocking for quarterback Ty Evans and running back Justin Williams. Threadgill, Aubrey Bell, Joey Sanders, and Jamayel Smith are the leading receivers on this squad.

The Thursday session, the 14th of spring, barely merited the title of a practice. In fact, Croom left after the sixth and final period of actual drills when the Bulldogs had worked barely 45 minutes with their position coaches. There was no real 11-on-11 work at all Thursday, save when the first defense drilled in some goal-line situations against the scout defense. The first offense did run several two-minute situation drills.

But when the actual practicing ended, and Croom left, the players did split off into Saturday's teams and spent a half-hour going over such game-type items as getting in for kicking plays and sideline management.

There were no noticeable changes to the first units on either side of the ball from Tuesday's practice, save at MLB where walk-on Carvel Jones not only has a white shirt now but is wearing #63 as a sign of promotion. Also, Marcus Evans has edged ahead of De'Mon Glanton for the first job at the safety spot left open for now by Fitzhugh's suspension and Bobo's rehabilitation.

The first offensive line remains Calvin Wilson and Craig Jenkins at tackles, Anthony Strauder and Brian Anderson at guards, and Royce Blacklege at center. The backup line, left to right, is Chris Spencer, Dio Herrera, Johnny Carpenter, Anthony Dunning, and Roland Terry.

The finalized rosters will be available Friday, and for the first time in camp everyone will be wearing uniform numbers for the spring game. Some of these numbers might not be the same as on the regular roster, though, and there are sure to be duplicates in opposing colors. But at least fans, and media, will be able to tell who is who from a distance now.

If Thursday's session was short, the spring game itself will be even shorter. And Croom—who will undergo left-shoulder surgery on Monday himself--makes no apologies for what will be at most a one-hour cameo appearance to wrap up 2006 camp.

"I know all I need to know about this football team," he said. "This is just to welcome the fans—thank everyone for coming, hope y'all have a good time, but don't blink."

Prior to Thursday's short session Croom announced the spring player awards. Sophomore QB Henig was named Most Improved offensive player, and senior defensive tackle Anthony Johnson the Most Improved on defense. Senior halfback Ambrose earned the Bulldog Award given to the player who displayed the best work ethic, leadership, and character. Ambrose is coming off a torn ACL from the third game of 2005, and has been a strong runner this camp.

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