Wednesday Football Practice Notebook

The weather moved through faster than expected so Mississippi State was able to spend half of Wednesday practicing outdoors. The first half; after three periods the Bulldogs moved back inside the Palmeiro Center to continue drilling out-of-sight as they prepare for this weekend's home game with Arkansas (1:30).

*IT HAS been open for barely a year now, and already Coach Sylvester Croom has found the Palmeiro Center worth every penny invested. The facility's use goes beyond making practices more comfortable and efficient for the Bulldogs; it saves the wear-and-tear on wet outdoor grass fields…and at this point in a long season lessens the real risk of a slip that turns a minor knee or ankle problem into a real injury.

Some days the move indoors isn't scheduled, it just happens, which can set up a fall-conflict with the Diamond Dogs still conducting small-group workouts. "And Ron Polk and the baseball team have been very cooperative with us," Croom said. "There have been days they have worked on one end and we've worked on the other, so it works out very well. That says a great deal about the class and character Ron has."

*SOME INJURED Dogs are racing the game-week clock to be ready for Saturday action, and it looks as if two starters should make it. WR Jamayel Smith was back in first-team maroon Wednesday and running with the #1 offense, though still with a pad protecting the right hand. It has been seven days since the surgery to repair a torn ligament between the thumb and forefinger.

CB Derek Pegues was still in limited-purple today, but also running full-speed in both coverage and kick return drills. Pegues banged up a shoulder in the Alabama game; he is expected to play this week.

OG Michael Gates (ankle) and FB Casey Rogers (knee) both shed the yellow shirts for maroon, though Gates is much more likely to play at this point. HB Brandon Thornton (knee) has been promoted to limited status also, but it remains unlikely he gets into this week's game. Still his recovery has been faster than expected. So has that of QB Omarr Conner. He was promoted from red cross to yellow today and is making every effort to be on the dress-out list for his last home game.

*AS OF Wednesday, with Gates recovering, the starting offensive line is (left to right) Mike Brown, Anthony Strauder, Royce Blackledge, Brian Anderson, and Craig Jenkins. The second line is Chris Spencer, Gates, Johnny Carpenter, Anthony Dunning, and J.D. Hamilton.

The halfback rotation remains the same even with Thornton trying to get back, because Arnil Stallworth won't play again this season. Anthony Dixon will start and take care of most snaps with straight-ahead runner Justin Williams the primary backup and Christian Ducre an quicker alternate. Getting Rogers back is more insurance as fullback where Brandon Hart will get practically all the work, with Taurus Young at backup. At one point this season the staff was considering using SS Anthony Summers as an emergency fullback, but the freshman has been able to stay as a backup safety.

Pegues' limited work has allowed Anthony Johnson to work as the first corner for a week now, with Tay Bowser his backup most days. David Heard and Marcus Washington have been the right corners. *MOST ATTENTION given Arkansas is on an offense ranked second in SEC scoring and total yardage, and first (4th nationally) in rushing. Yet the Bulldog staff is equally concerned with a Razorback defense currently fourth in SEC scoring and yardage alike. Croom points out the unusual nature of this particular group, featuring a fast front and a physical secondary.

And, how UA likes to shuffle, stunt, change both angles and lanes prior to snaps, and generally jump around and confuse the blockers. OT Mike Brown has watched the tape and understands what the Hogs are about. "They're really trying to beat you off the ball and cause more pressure, intimidate the running back and make it seem they know which hole he's going to. It's just something that plays with the offensive line to get them rattled."

The tactic must be working as Arkansas has 27 sacks this season, second-most in the league after 11 weeks. For that matter Razorback personnel could probably succeed in pressuring passers or getting to gaps in time anyway with their mobility. "Their line is real good but their strong point is their DBs, the safeties and corners," said Brown. Yet playing head games with blockers can be the extra advantage Arkansas seeks. So, how to handle this brand of chaos theory?

"Really it comes down to knowing what you've got to do out there. We've got a good gameplan we've put in and we've focused on learning their steps and keys. It's going to be hard, that's the reason they do it, to be challenging. But as long as we stay disciplined and play our ball, play where we have to be at that time, we'll come out successful."

Brown adds that another critical factor is simply staying within that plan and not being so anxious as to help a teammate out of expected trouble. Croom and line Coach J.B. Grimes actually applaud aggressiveness from blockers. "He tells us if you make a mistake as long as you're going 100% and playing 100% you'll be alright," Brown said. The trick this week is finding the right balance of all-out effort and disciplined approach.

"It's always like that, you want to make sure this play goes right and block that person. So we have to keep our heads in the game. And it's good we're in the house and will have the fans on our side."

*THERE ARE 20 seniors still on the 2006 roster who will have their last college home game this weekend. One, injured FB Bryson Davis, will not be able to play. The rest should be dressed out for the home finale as SEC rules allow 80 to be in uniform for the home team in league games. They are: HB Derek Ambrose, OG Brian Anderson, KO Keith Andrews, QB Omarr Conner, DS Russell Cook, HO Brooks Crabtree, LB Quinton Culberson, ST Marcus Evans, CB David Heard, DE Michael Heard, LB Brad Horton, DT Antonio Johnson, FS Jeramie Johnson, DT Anwar Phillips, DT Andrew Powell, WR Will Prosser, DT Deljuan Robinson, FB Casey Rogers, and ST Leron Yarbrough.

These seniors, regardless of tenure, will leave without experiencing a winning season at State. All had hopes to go out on a good year and if not for September setbacks—the injury to QB Mike Henig towering above all—the upperclassmen of '06 would have had their shot.

"It didn't go the way we wanted to with a winning season and chance to go to a bowl game," Anderson said. "I wish it could have gone better, but I've enjoyed my senior year. It's a lot maybe like life, we saw some ups-and-downs and maybe we can finish up with a couple of wins here to make it all seem better."

It would certainly be a better way to walk off Scott Field than they have any other time this year. The only home win so far has been over Jacksonville State; this is the senior Dogs' last chance to get a D-I and SEC victory and affirm to witnesses the progress these veterans proclaim. It would be all the better to prove it to fans, Anderson said.

"You want to go out with a win. We hope it's a sunny day and everybody enjoys it. And I hope I don't cry! I don't want to dwell on it but yes, I hope I go out and win the game first and foremost and leave with a good memory."


Gene's Page Top Stories