DT Deljuan Robinson reported in limited-purple today, an upgrade from the red cross he wore while watching Tuesday's practices. He will be able to play this weekend, though how much is a question. With Robinson being guarded, freshman Kyle Love moved up in the tackle rotation behind Antonio Johnson.
Better news was the return to full-speed of HB Arnil Stallworth, who had to leave the West Virginia game after the ankle injured at UAB became an issue again. Stallworth was running #1 in drills today, ahead of fellow freshman Anthony Dixon and Brandon Thornton.
*IT HASN'T been the junior season TE Eric Butler had hoped for. Nor his coaches, who expected Butler to improve on two impressive seasons. Instead halfway through the season Butler has caught just three passes, for 59 yards and no scores, in the five games played. He missed one whole contest with a severe sprain of his right-big toe and has to wear a protective boot much of the week.
"It's getting a little better," Butler said today. "I have to miss a couple of days of practice each week just to get the soreness out. It's starting to come around better." But not so much that he can play on the digit without help. A good wrapping doesn't do the trick, either. "Most of the time I have to shoot it up just to go out and play. If I didn't I probably wouldn't be able to contribute."
Even then there are thing Butler struggles with on a numbed toe, limiting his role in downfield patterns and blocking. "There's a couple of things I can't do on it. It's very frustrating." Butler does understand why this has cost him the starting job the past three games, with Dezmond Sherrod the first tight end to see the field. Jason Husband's role has also been increased, especially when State goes primarily to passing.
"I'm unable to practice and that's a key part of the gameplan," Butler said. "You don't get the work you need going into the game. I've been hampered by it and Coach Croom and Coach (Reed) Stringer know. I'm just trying to contribute."
*THE QUARTERBACK situation is clear enough these days, with soph Mike Henig the only regular left after injuries to Omarr Conner and Tray Rutland. The latter came to practice again to watch, not needing crutches as he did Monday but still with the left knee braced. He will have surgery in a couple of weeks after the swelling is gone to repair the torn ligaments.
Henig himself has twice come off an injury since the summer; a broken toe in June and the broken left (non-throwing) collarbone in the season-opener. Henig says even though he was able to throw the ball for weeks preceding activation he wasn't sharp. Now, "It's a lot better." But mentally he didn't miss a beat getting right back into action Saturday after Conner was hurt.
"Getting those couple of weeks off with the injury, I knew the stuff. I'd been watching in the meetings and I was up-to-date on everything. And I came out and felt real poised in the huddle and on the field."
*ONE DOG who hopes his play-making poise does not get tested this week is WR Lance Long, who Tuesday was tabbed the ‘emergency' quarterback. That is, in event Henig and both of the backups go down, Long will go from split-out to under-center.
"I don't know what to think about it!" Long said. "Coach Croom just told me Tuesday. I've never played quarterback here before but I can throw the ball pretty good. Hopefully we don't have to come to that situation!" This doesn't mean quarterback is entirely new to Long. "I played it some in junior high, a little bit of high school, but not the college level.
"I was very surprised. But Coach said he wanted somebody in there that everybody could look up to and he thought they looked up to me. So in case of emergency he said it would be a good idea. I do know the plays, the check-downs, and the concepts. So we'll see!"
Or rather, if everybody including Long has their way, they won't see.
*ONE BULLDOG who does hope to get on the field this week is OT Mike Brown, who this week has been officially cleared to play. Brown transferred to State after two falls at Florida and is a sophomore. Normally he would have had to sit out the whole season under transfer rules, but he made a hardship appeal based on family situation and the SEC was able to work out a compromise that allows him to play a half-season instead of losing the entire year.
And Mississippi State can certainly use another able body at tackle. Brown thinks he is prepared. "Coming here from Florida it's a totally different offensive scheme so it took really the whole summer to learn. Coach (J.B.) Grimes and (GA) Jody Wright worked with me a lot on the plays, so if the time came—like it did now—I'd be ready."
Brown has been consistently running #2 at left tackle since August, even when it wasn't certain he would be able to play. His physique still looks more guard-like, but Brown likes being on the end of the line now that he is on this side of the ball.
"When I went to Florida I played defense and when they moved me to offense it was on the left side. That's really all I've been playing. I feel very comfortable on the left side, I can play both sides but I feel better at left."
Still Brown, with two seasons left after this one, knows he has work left to do if he is to offer more than just depth. "Right now I feel my pass-blocking is my strength. I'm working to get my run-blocking better, it's alright but I'm just really trying to get better at both."
While many fans are upset Brown will only have a half-season this first year at State, the staff is satisfied with the SEC's compromise. Because they, too, are concerned with preserving the general rule about transfers within the conference having to sit a season. The fear is that opening this door too widely would lead inevitably to ‘recruiting' off rival rosters, if there was no penalty such as sitting a whole year. And there is talk that the SEC will now strengthen this rule next spring to close such loopholes, regardless of what the NCAA policies are.
*AFTER ENDING the 2005 season by intercepting three passes in the Egg Bowl win over Mississippi, Johnson has not been able to pick off a ball this senior season. He has had a hand, or shoulder, in 20 total tackles the last two games. Still he badly wants to snare a pass, and is irked that younger teammate CB Derek Pegues was the first this year to return an interception for a defensive touchdown.
"I've been itching for a long time. But I'll wait for my chance. And when my chance comes I'm going to run one in."