Offense Improving In Effort And Execution

They still aren't getting into the end zone often, or at least often enough to satisfy the staff. But after four intensive practices in three days, the Mississippi State offense appears to be getting back on its collective cleats. At least the head Dog thinks so.

"We didn't make too many plays offensively but I still think we got better," Coach Sylvester Croom said following Wednesday's afternoon session. "Everybody worked hard and our intensity was good."

Make no mistake, the defensive team still was the better bunch on the practice field. Part of that, Croom pointed out, was the nature of Wednesday's work. The ‘feature' periods were inside the 20-yard line and run at full-speed with full-contact, which gave an experienced defense some advantages. "We worked a lot in the red zone," Croom said. "We didn't score too many times. The defense has been playing well down there and when you get in the red zone you get a lot of one-on-one tackling and covering."

At the same time the offense wasn't just overpowered, as in last Saturday's scoreless scrimmage showing. The unit made the right reads and calls, and quarterback Mike Henig opted for the correct passes given what he saw. So in Croom's eyes both units played well in the red zone with the veteran defense a bit better…as it should be at this point in practice.

"We got good work today," the coach said. He also reported that Henig is having no problems with sore arms despite all the attention given the passing game these past ten days of camp. "We try to limit our quarterbacks to so many throws a day and so far we haven't had any problems. We've got three guys we're working there and that helps too." Nothing has changed in the backup battle with Tray Rutland holding the advantage over his fellow redshirt Ty Evans.

The offense was without a starter as fullback Bryson Davis banged up a shoulder yesterday and was wearing a sling over his red-cross shirt. Brandon Hart stepped up to the top-job, and with backup Casey Rogers (shoulder) in limited-work yellow walk-on fullbacks such as Eric Hoskins and Cleveland Tubbs were getting more turns in running game drills.

The offensive front, re-vamped only Monday, also had to shuffle for health reasons as right guard Michael Gates was wearing a red cross after shaken up by a blow to the helmet. It was the second time of camp the true soph has had his ‘bell rung' in contact work and missed practice. The other offensive holdouts were receiver Ryan Mason (thigh) and tackle Roland Terry (back) in red crosses with reserve tight ends Brandon Henderson (hamstring) and Chris Herrera (ankle) in yellow.

Better news was the return of wideout Will Prosser to no-hit status after re-injuring a shoulder in Saturday's scrimmage. This was his first working day back. Wideout Joey Sanders was, like Prosser, in protected-red. The defense remains without linebacker Gabe O'Neal (shoulder), linebacker Jamon Hughes (hamstring), safety De'Mon Glanton (hamstring), and safety Marcus Evans (ankle) while corner/safety Demario Bobo (hamstring) and tackle Rodney Prince (leg) were in no-contact purple. Bobo was able to take part in more drills, particularly in the ‘nickel' pass defense as the extra safety.

With Gates out, the offensive line adjusted and Anthony Dunning moved up to first right guard. That made today's ‘starters' Brian Anderson and Dunning on the right side, Royce Blackledge at center, and guard Anthony Strauder and tackle J.D. Hamilton the left side. The second line, right to left, was Craig Jenkins, Chris Spencer, Johnny Carpenter, J. C. Brignone, and Calvin Wilson. Mike Brown and Mark Melichar were reserve tackles, right and left, with John McMullan a third right guard.

Croom was positive about the day's results, until turning attention to special teams. Specifically, placekicking. Neither Adam Carlson nor Keith Andrews were efficient in full-speed practices and matched miss-for-miss from all ranges. That isn't a good sign to the staff.

"We're still not as consistent as we need to be with our kickers," Croom said. "Our punters did well today. Our kickers, I don't get into all the technicalities but I know when we do hit the ball well it's great. It ws very inconsistent. Our two kickers have to step it up real bad. I'm starting to lose patience a little bit. From the 25-yard-line in we should never miss a field goal, and every time we kick off the ball should land from the five-yard-line to off the field. That's what I expect and if we can't do that I've got to start thinking of other things."

With the new school year starting Thursday, practice moves back fifteen minutes to a 4:00 start.

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