"I was pleasantly surprised for him to be that effective, coming off the bench like that," Croom said. Henig actually had been cleared for action nearly two weeks earlier and made the LSU road trip as the #3 man behind Conner and Tray Rutland. Croom said not much work was done with Henig at the time. Besides, "I can remember the first couple of passes he threw after coming back, it was not a thing of beauty!"
But Henig looks awfully good now, as the only experienced triggerman on the depth chart. Redshirt frosh Ty Evans has moved up to the backup position and walk-on Zach Harrington is working as the #3 in practices. He will dress this weekend in that role as well. Still it is clear that State's first offensive priority from now through November is simple: keep Henig healthy. Croom admits this will cause some nervous moments.
"I'm going to be scared," he said. "I don't want Kyle to play scared, but I'm going to be scared! But we have to line up and play." And the line has to pass-protect better than in the first half of the season. If this means leaving backs and tight ends in, so be it.
But Croom also says Henig has to do his part to avoid taking sacks by finding and firing. That's the best way to help out the blocking. "As long as we can get a hat on a hat, he'll get the ball out of his hand," Croom said.
*THOSE BLOCKERS are adjusting to a third different starter here in the seventh game of the season. Certainly Henig is nothing like the more mobile Conner. Fortunately this is a situation the linemen are familiar with as Henig was #1 all spring camp and preseason. And the adjustments for style are subtle, OG Brian Anderson said.
"I wouldn't say you do anything different. They both have their plusses. Omarr may make things happen with his feet. Mike may sit back there a little long and see somebody down the field a little farther. But you try to do the same thing, you try to keep them off the quarterback. I guess there's a little extra emphasis on that this week." He paused. "And for the rest of the season."
*AFTER LISTING safety Anthony Summers as the new fourth-string or ‘emergency' quarterback Monday, the offensive staff has had a change of mind. Tuesday WR Lance Long was ‘promoted' to the role, primarily because Croom thinks it will be easier for an offensive player already familiar with the general system to handle the pressures of taking snaps…if the case should become so serious.
"Lance is the guy I would look at right now," Croom said. "He's very smart, he does have some quickness and some running ability. We could put him in the shotgun and do some of the things we're doing right now." Long also knows all the terminology, something a defensive guy would not be expected to.
Still, Tuesday's quarterback drills saw just the familiar faces taking snaps, and Long running patterns as usual. Meanwhile Summers remains the #2 strong safety behind starter Keith Fitzhugh. Other backup Demario Bobo remains hobbled by a groin injury.
*THE OUTLOOK for Omarr Conner returning before his senior season ends is doubtful at best, as the MRI of Conner's groin showed the most serious grade of strain. For now the medical staff is trying every treatment in an attempt just to avoid having surgery, which would surely end the year and perhaps impact his 2007 draft status. Croom said State's training staff has been talking with a national expert—"they call him the ‘Groin Guru'," the coach reported. Every practical avenue will be explored. "So that when he does play again he'll be 100%"
But Croom won't rule out entirely the chance Conner could still suit up again in a Bulldog uniform. "If there's any chance I know he'll do anything. Personally I do expect him to be back. But we'll plan to go with the guys that we have."
*WHILE HE proclaimed Monday he intends to play this weekend, DT Deljuan Robinson is officially questionable with the knee injury suffered at LSU. Croom won't rule out the chance the senior gets on the field. "There is a possibility. I talked to the trainers, he may participate but it may be in a limited role. We can't count on him to play as extensively as he normally does. But I think he will participate."
Robinson certainly plans to. And even though he was again sidelined Tuesday, the senior wanted his presence to be known. He removed most of the red-cross on the front of his jersey, leaving only the outline. And inside that he wrote in big red letters ‘BOSS.'
*DURING THE press conference, Croom mentioned hearing of comments from Jacksonville State that the Gamecocks have been talking openly of shutting State's offense down. "That's the rumor on the streets," Croom said. Of course the Bulldog offense, which ranks last in the SEC in both scoring and yardage, has little to say on that subject at the moment. But no one seemed particularly ‘offended' by the rumored comments.
"Any time a team says something like that it's just a little extra motivation," OG Brian Anderson said. "But I'm not going to take anything away from them, they look l like a pretty good team. We just have to approach it like any other game and play the way we can."
By the same token Croom is using this week to stress another lesson learned the hard way. He is still frustrated how the Bulldogs, having played a couple of SEC foes, relaxed for Tulane and paid the price by falling behind too far to make up. And Croom has made the reason why clear to his players. "He has said we play the name instead of the team," FS Jeramie Johnson said. That works both ways; with the Dogs opening hesitantly against heavyweights while taking lesser labels too lightly. Either way, it meant slow starts and defeat.
"But we're going to try to be really mentally and physically prepared for this game," Johnson said. "We're going to try to check all the X's and the O's and do what we have to do. We're going to play like Mississippi State."
*ALSO ON the line, OT Mike Brown, who finally received permission from the SEC to play after transferring over the summer from Florida, was practicing in a varsity-maroon jersey Tuesday for the first time. The sophomore is working as the #2 left tackle, though he got plenty of snaps with the first team today alternating with starter J.D. Hamilton. The latter also had some work at right tackle, the thinnest position on the line.
Starting center Royce Blackledge missed Tuesday practice to take a late-afternoon test, so redshirt freshman Johnny Carpenter was the first-team center for a day. Carpenter has played briefly in the last two games in late-game relief. Chris Spencer was running #3 center, but until Brown was activated he was actually the backup at both tackle spots. Spencer has yet to play a college snap.