Coach Croom Talks About Playmakers

Playmakers win games. That's an obviously statement. But what is a playmaker? Are playmakers born that way, or can they be developed? And does Mississippi State have on the offensive side of the ball the kind of guys who are or can become playmakers? MSU head coach Sylvester Croom answers those guestions.

What is a playmaker?

Coach Croom - "I'll put it this way, when you talk about playmakers, you are talking about the throws that shouldn't be made, the catches that are not routine; the third down catch when the ball is a little bit behind or not perfect. The guys who routinely make those plays are playmakers. You just do what you are supposed to do and a little bit more, particularly at critical times during the game."

How do players become playmakers?

Coach Croom - "You see them in high school, but sometimes, as they get in college, it's experience. You need to be in the right place. You can't be in the right place and do those things if you don't think about those details. That's what I mean by practicing things over and over again. If you don't practice those details, you will never get better. Again, confidence, experience, talent, all that has to come together."

Based on the Tulane game, who were the MSU's playmakers on the offensive side of the ball?

Coach Croom - "Omarr (Conner) was obviously one. (Tony) Burks was one. (Arnil) Stallworth was one. He played pretty well the whole night. Will Prosser is another one. (Anthony) Dixon is a playmaker. Lance Long is a playmaker. He is not a proto-type receiver. A guy like Lance Long does things beyond what his talent should allow him to do. Those are the ones that come to mind."

You've talked about Anthony Dixon's and Lance Long's playmaking skills previously. Talk a little more about some of the others.

Coach Croom - "(Omarr Conner) ran the ball better than he did the previously two years. His feet were great. To be honest with you, the first two years I didn't think Omarr ran the ball very well. That was the kind of things we anticipated him doing, but he's 10 pounds lighter than he was when he played quarterback. I thought that his decision-making was a lot quicker. The ball was out on our three-step drop patterns, he knew exactly where he was going with the football. There was no hesitation.

"Will Prosser has always been capable of making plays. It's just that he's missed a lot of time. Even now, we still have to be careful about not wearing him down in practice. He's at a stage where he knows what to do. We want to keep him greased up and ready to go, but, at the same time, we can't wear him out with a lot of reps in practice.

"Tony Burks is a big-play receiver and has great capabilities. And still, to me, he hasn't scratched the surface of what he's capable of being because he's still learning. One of the things that really hurt Tony was when he missed spring practice. That slowed his development, but he hasn't missed a practice since we came back this fall. Tony Burks has gotten better due to the details and because he is at practice every day. He runs well and catches the ball well and he's a great person. He is not a blazer, but he's 220 pounds of pretty dog-gone good speed and he's explosive. Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice didn't have blazing speed. Keyshawn Johnson doesn't have blazing speed. But all those guys are playmakers.

"The first day I saw (Arnil Stallworth) practice, I said this kid has something. He has a maturity about him, he's smart, he catches the ball well, he blocks well on protection, he's a tough runner who has a good change of direction. He seems to play quicker than what I was told his 40 was coming out of high school. But you worry if you throw him in there and the lights come on it could fade. That hasn't been the case. I was hesitate at first about playing him, particularly in the first ballgame. Then, last week, after watching him in practice, I said ok, he's not totally ready, but there is something there. So, we decided to give him a role in the game and he took that role and made some good things happen. He's a special young man. I think Arnil is going to be a special player. The biggest things about him is he is a playmaker and he doesn't make mistakes."

Another player, returner Derek Pegues, is fast becoming a playmaker on special teams.

Coach Croom - "He gives you some explosiveness when that ball is being punted. You have a chance to change the field position or put points on the board when you have a return guy like that. And when you have a returner like that, the guys who are doing the blocking, it gives that extra juice to them."

There is quite a bit of inexperience on this team, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. What is being done to help the young guys develop into playmakers?

Coach Croom - "We lack experience on offense, but I think, because we didn't throw everything out and kept doing things over and over, guys are starting to get confidence now. I think the more we continue to do that, the guys with that ability to make plays will come forward.

"I learned this a long time ago. Particularly at the receiver position, when you are doing a lot of thinking, even in the NFL with the most talented guys, the first-round guys, when they are learning during those first days of training camp, they drop a lot of footballs. But once they learn what they are doing, and once they are confident, that is when you start to see that ability show."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

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