Tuesday Football Practice Notebook

The rains weren't too heavy but distractive enough to move Mississippi State football practice indoors Tuesday, as the Bulldogs ran through a two-hour session at the Palmeiro Center. The shells-session was the second of this preparation week for Saturday's SEC West matchup with Arkansas at Scott Field.

*TUESDAY'S INJURY list included a pair of Dogs in red-cross shirts at drills. HB Brandon Thornton had skipped Monday's session; he was jogging around the Center today and even participating in a couple of unit drills. But Thornton is not expected to play this week.

The likelihood of QB Omarr Conner taking part in his last home game is not strong at this point either. Though, en route to practice Conner came by reporters to shake hands and assure all he will be playing against Arkansas. He was more active Tuesday, throwing passes in small-group receiver drills but not in full-team periods.

"I sure hope he's healthy enough to participate this weekend," Coach Sylvester Croom said. Conners' problem is that after a day of work the strained groin usually is too sore for a second day on the field. That will be watched Wednesday, as an indicator of whether Conner might be able to get on Scott Field one last time. Croom is hopeful of course, but…

"Whether he plays this week or next week is entirely up to him and the trainers. I've just told him to be smart." As in, not risking his chance of being drafted next spring by further damaging the severely strained muscle.

*UPDATING OTHER health situations, CB Derek Pegues was back with the team today in limited-purple. He took part in some coverage drills and fielded punts. At the moment Pegues is the second left cornerback behind Anthony Johnson.

WR Jamayel Smith reported in limited-yellow but did a good bit of practicing for a guy with a repaired right-thumb ligament. Smith said he hopes to get the cast off that hand in a day or two and play with a minimum of padding. He was able to snag several catches and did not seem bothered by pain, though getting a good grip was another issue.

OG Michael Gates was able to practice as the backup left guard in yellow; he should play this week. And FB Casey Rogers might be able to play this week, his damaged knee having recovered quickly. Croom points to the benefits from the open weekend on the team's health, though a number remain questions for playing against Arkansas.

"Maybe some of those guys will feel better by the end of the week," Croom said.

*SEVERAL DOGS brought back ‘souvenirs' from their free weekend…in the form of a few extra late-season pounds. It was inevitable, OG Brian Anderson admitted. "Well, I ate a lot of food and watched a lot of football," the senior said. "And slept in my own bed for the first time in a long time! I gained three or four pounds, he didn't say anything to me but I'm sure there are some guys that got on up there and are looking the weight a little bit."

According to strength coach Jim Nowell most players showed a decent degree of discipline in terms of home-cooking consumption. Though "Some of the receivers put on some weight," he noted. At this point of the season Nowell is not too concerned about extra bulk for the last two games. He hopes the guilty parties understand that anything added in November and December will have to come off the hard way in January and February, before spring football starts.

Seniors like Anderson don't have to be concerned with that. Even if he was, Anderson feels he earned the right by pulling extra duty during the open week when a number of fellow blockers stayed in the training room with aches and ills. "I know some guys got some good rest," Anderson said. "Royce Blackledge did, and some other guys did, I was joking with them that they left us out there taking grenades! But I just hope everybody goes out fresh for this weekend."

*LAST WEEK'S open date meant no press conference, and no chance to name ‘players of the game' from the win at Alabama. The winners were TE Dezmond Sherrod on offense, linebacker Quinton Culberson and DE Titus Brown on defense, special-teamer Keon Humphries, and scout teammers WR Ryan Mason and DE Cortez McCraney.

The choice of Sherrod on offense might have seemed odd as the tight end never touched the football at Tuscaloosa. Yet post-game review showed how crucial the tight end's efforts were in springing HB Anthony Dixon for crucial ground-gains. "He did an outstanding job in the running game," Croom said of Sherrod.

"Coach challenged me to get the job done on one of our power plays, basically to get some yards," Sherrod related. "Thanks to myself and the line we were able to get the rushing yards we needed to win the game. I just went out and played my best, I knew the success of plays would depend on my block and I just wanted to get the job done." It did, as State netted 131 yards of rushing at Alabama, more than the previous two SEC contests combined.

And Sherrod can take some personal satisfaction in that fact, as well as his offensive POTG recognition. "It feels real good. I know my job is important and they look up to me getting the job done. And I hope to exceed their expectations."

In many minds he already has. Everyone knows about junior Eric Butler, an all-star candidate doing what gets tight ends attention: catching balls. Blocking-specialist Sherrod is more easily overlooked yet in fact he has more starts than Butler this year, five to four, reflecting his value in both protecting the passer and leading the way for runners. That latter role is even more important this month with the fullback depth chart depleted by injuries; all tight ends thus have even more blocking duties as a result.

This doesn't mean the position has been removed from passing plans, Sherrod said, just that defenses know when State tight ends take off they are prime targets. Even Butler isn't getting the balls he did in 2005.

"It's tough because they key in on us a lot of times," Sherrod said. "But we're successful in the passing game and whether we tight ends get it or not I just hope the chains keep moving. In our system tight end has always been real important in both blocking and in the passing game. Basically we have to get the job done in both areas."

Still…like any competitive eligible target Sherrod wouldn't mind having the ball come his way just a few more times, right? "Oh, yeah!" he grins. "They're actually doing it but sometimes we just don't connect and when I'm open they don't see me. But I'd like to get a few more!

"But I just want to win these last two games. I don't really care for catches, I mean yeah if I get some it's nice. But I just want to win ‘em."

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