Well, almost everything, because Croom noted—again—that the wideout corps continues to have issues finishing off the passing plays. But otherwise there were good things to say about the evening as a whole, including the air game. "I thought Mike Henig threw the ball well and Trey Rutland made some better throws today," Croom said. "So all in all we made some improvement.
"Our defense is still running to the ball, that's the most obvious thing. And we're competing well, I thought our secondary and receivers competed well in one-on-one stuff. All in all it's a lot better today than it was yesterday. We're still a long way away from being close to playing a game, but I like the way we're working and I'm pleased with what I've seen so far of the skill level of our new players. And even some of the walk-ons at some point will make contributions."
There were a couple of changes in the first and second offensive lines on day-two, likely a result of failure by three blockers to meet their target times in speed testing. In fact that was the primary reason the coach had been unhappy on day-one. So this time right tackle Craig Jenkins was demoted to the second team and his place taken by Wednesday's #1 left tackle J.D. Hamilton. That promoted day-one backup Calvin Wilson to the first unit at LT, and the true soph was also allowed to put on first-team maroon. There were no changes at first guards or centers.
On the second unit Roland Terry stayed at left tackle, Anthony Dunning left guard, Chris Spencer at center, and Michael Gates right guard. Mark Melichar and redshirting transfer Mike Brown are the third tackles with Johnny Carpenter at center.
An area of obvious interest since spring has been who gets to replace Jerious Norwood at halfback. But fans seem far more concerned than the coach, who is comfortable with that portion of the depth chart. "Brandon Thornton is the guy," he said. "Derek Ambrose is a backup, and as long as he (Thornton) holds the job that's the way it goes."
Sophomore Thornton certainly has looked the part these early days, and told reporters before practice the shoulder that limited him in spring feels fine again. For his part senior Ambrose shows no signs of the season-ending knee injury from last September. So while Thornton is ‘the guy' there is still enough competition to energize both veterans.
Besides, Croom said, "They do know we're going to play more than one, probably three guys. We're going to have guys who have specific roles in the offense based on personnel groups and situations. Right now we don't have a ‘feature' guy as we did with Jerious." Rookies Anthony Dixon and Arnil Stallworth are contending for that third spot in the rotation, though Mississippi State is also still playing the waiting game on signee Courtney Jones and transfer Christian Ducre, neither of whom have been cleared or admitted respectively for practicing. Croom said there was no update on either as of Thursday, nor signee wideout Alex Carpenter.
There were no changes in the #1 defensive front-seven from Wednesday. On the second unit, tackle Antonio Johnson missed the start of practice for an end-of-semester test; his place was taken by true freshman Reggie Odom. The other backup tackle Quinton Wesley was wearing first-team white on the second day and lined up behind starter Deljuan Robinson. Freshman Kyle Love is working as a backup tackle also.
Michael Heard and Charles Burns remain the starting ends, backed up by Avery Hannibal and Titus Brown respectively. The third unit was rookies Rodney Prince and Brandon Cooper, with transfer Cortez McCraney (eligible for practice but not games this year) in reserve.
The depth chart in the secondary has taken shape as expected, though with some old faces in new numbers. Behind starting safeties Jeramie Johnson and Keith Fitzhugh are, respectively, the pairings of De'Mon Glanton (now wearing 8) and Marcus Evans, with Jarvis Kyles on third team. On one corner starter David Heard is backed by Adron Chambers (now #40), Jarvis Williams, and Leron Yarbrough; while on the other Derek Pegues tops a chart of Anthony Johnson and Demario Bobo, both in first-team white, and Tay Bowser.
. One early period again was devoted mostly to special-teams work, with placekick drills for the interior line (both protection and blocking). Adam Carlson remains the starting kicker out of Brooks Crabtrees' hold.
With practice starting later the conditions were much milder than normal for an early-August workout. At one point cornerback Bobo had to be helped up from the sideline but he left under his own power, and otherwise the Bulldogs showed no ill-effects from a couple of days on the field. Croom is also pleased that the half-dozen players who had winter shoulder operations are having no problems so far.
"We expect all those guys to be full-speed and ready to go when we put the shoulder pads on tomorrow. Right now we're reasonably healthy, all we've got is the freshman tight end (Brandon) Henderson has a hamstring. We're not going to rush him back." Croom also talked about the extra attention given to protecting healthy hamstrings this fall with added stretching both before and after practices. "Just trying to prevent some of that, we have to have as few injuries as possible."
State will be back on the field at the same time Friday, and as Croom noted they will add shoulder gear for the first time. And with the same schedule it will again be dark by the time the players and coach head back to the locker room. Croom will use those headlights but might need more to weave through players en route.
"I thought I had a horn on this thing. I need to get one."