Tuesday Practice Report

Mississippi State put in over two hours of work Tuesday afternoon as preparations continue for Saturday's home game with Tulane. The Bulldogs practiced in full pads, though without serious scrimmaging by either varsity or reserves. And after a mid-day rainstorm, Coach Sylvester Croom had the 11-on-11 drills moved indoors to the Palmeiro Center to protect the soaked grass fields.

*The Bulldogs are of course practicing specifically for the Green Wave. But after two shutout defeats to begin this 2006 season it is as the real attention is still focused on State's own offense rather than the impending matchup. Croom said Tuesday that preparations are satisfactory…but that has also been the case since early August.

"Practices have been good since we started," said Croom. "We're just not taking it to that stadium, something's lost in the transition."

Two SEC games have been lost in the process. The current NCAA statistics do little to boost Bulldog confidence, either. After two weeks Mississippi State is last in Division I in both scoring and total offense. Not that Croom is overly concerned about stats at this point anyway.

"Right now I don't worry about that, I'm more worried about winning. The rankings will take care of themselves."

*While the offense still has yet to break the goal line, and for that matter only once has gotten as far as an opposing red zone, Croom does have positive things to say about how quarterback Tray Rutland is performing. It's a task the redshirt freshman was thrown into by first-game starter Mike Henig's injury. Rutland hasn't had great stats either in his six quarters in charge; but just keeping poised under such unplanned pressure is a good sign. The Auburn defense may have hit but did not rattle Rutland," Croom said.

"Tray had good tempo and command." One facet not so pleasing was how long the offense needed to go from call to lineup; Croom said the goal to shoot for is breaking a huddle at 18 seconds, but Rutland was averaging more like "11 or 12 seconds."

Otherwise, "He threw the ball well and moved around in the pocket well. He still forced some things, he needs to learn to take what is there, manage the game and protect the ball." Croom did say that the gameplan will be reduced to allow for Rutland's experience, which is not the same thing as simplified. "We will reduce how much we ask him to do," he said, adding "There were a lot of things we worked on last week that we didn't get into the game."

*Omarr Conner is still the #2 quarterback. But he continues his work with the wide receivers, wearing maroon instead of no-touch red in drills. So redshirt frosh Ty Evans was taking more snaps and throwing more passes with the first offense as Rutland's backup.

"Omarr is in a role now that fits him best," Croom said. Which means the senior will be in a starting job again this Saturday.

*Croom confirmed that freshman Anthony Dixon is the #1 halfback and should get his first college start this Saturday. Dixon played against Auburn despite a broken left-pinky that forced him to wear a pad on the digit and wrap that made gripping the ball more difficult. He still wears protection on the left hand in drills but gives no sign now it bothers him. Asked if a freshman back is up to the challenge of not just playing but taking a leadership role at the position, Croom only had to say "This one can."

As to the depth chart now soph HB Brandon Thornton is out with an ankle sprain, freshman Arnil Stallworth goes into the Tulane game as #2 and transfer Christian Ducre—who spent last year as a redshirting freshman at Tulane—will also get to make his backfield debut. "He's our third guy," Croom said. "He'll play on special teams and in some (backfield) situations."

Dixon, Stallworth, and Ducre were the only halfbacks in first-team maroon Tuesday.

*The full injury list Tuesday included Thornton (ankle), TE Eric Butler (toe), DE Titus Brown (knee), DT Quinton Wesley (ankle sprain), LB Jamon Hughes (hamstring), and LB Gabe O'Neal (shoulder). Hughes has been slowed by the left hamstring pull for over a month and at this rate is a strong candidate to redshirt. Thornton will definitely not play for at least this week and maybe two, while Wesley is all but ruled out for Saturday's game with the high ankle sprain. Brown is expected to play and Butler is day-to-day.

One more positive development is having DB Demario Bobo finally wearing varsity-white on defense. He has been sidelined by a hamstring since early August, but is finally getting back into drills. Tuesday he was working as the #2 strong safety behind Keith Fitzhugh, having moved even and perhaps ahead of freshman Anthony Summers.

And as noted Henig is still on the injured list with the broken collarbone suffered in the opening game. Croom said he will be out for four more weeks but will be throwing normally before then. "He may be able to start as early as next week." But playing is another matter entirely and Croom won't project a return date for the sophomore.

*Because of practice time lost to injury in August, transfer wideout Ryan Mason will probably be redshirted this season.

*With Brown missing another day's work (he stayed in the training room) Charles Burns was running first-team at left d-end with true freshman Rodney Prince his backup. Prince has not played in the first two games.

*Wesley's place in the tackle depth chart was taken by freshman Kyle Love, who is wearing first-unit white now. Still it is likely State will stick to the three tackles used almost exclusively in the first two games. Deljuan Robinson and Andrew Powell were the top two in base drills, though Antonio Johnson got the start in the Auburn game in place of Powell at nose.

*The offensive line has been able to stay healthy through two games, no small achievement after a couple of injury-dogged seasons. Croom plans no changes in the starting unit though Calvin Wilson is gaining ground on J.D. Hamilton at left tackle. Wilson played the last three series in relief of Hamilton.

The second line Tuesday, left to right, was Wilson, Michael Gates, Johnny Carpenter, Anthony Dunning, and Mike Brown. The latter is still in green and still has not received his waiver for play this season as a transfer from Florida. Croom intends to stick with a eight-man group of blockers, as Wilson, Gates, and Carpenter are dressed in maroon.

"The offensive line held up well against a good football team," Croom said of gradings from the Auburn game. "That group was pretty solid, all in all, with the improvement of Wilson and Gates."

The third line is a full five again with Mark Melichar, Chris Spencer, John McMillan, J. C. Brignone, and an unlisted walk-on at right tackle.

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