Croom Likes First-Day Look Of Spring Camp

There was something different about the start of this 2007 spring camp at Mississippi State. And Coach Sylvester Croom needed a few minutes to figure out exactly what was different in the unusually pleasant late February air. Turns out the changes weren't to be seen, but heard.

"I walked around in a lot of drills and missed hearing some old voices out there," Croom said after Monday's opening practice. "The sounds are just different now." Specifically from among Croom's staff, which features no less than five new faces in places changed over the winter. Having these new aides around the office was one thing; getting back on the field with them barking to their position-Dogs was another matter.

"You have to adjust to it," Croom smiled. "But I'm very pleased with our new coaches, the way they work, the way they're teaching, the way they jumped right in with the kids. Our players have responded to them, I'm the one who has to adjust."

Adapting to 2007 conditions should be easier thanks to the number of familiar figures lined up on first- and second-squads Monday. Not numbers yet; as per last year's policy, players will be allowed to wear jerseys with numerals after proving themselves sufficiently to the boss. Some might even have digits as early as Tuesday, the way Croom talked.

"I thought our effort was good. We seemed like we know what we're doing. Our alignments are pretty good. Of course we're in shorts so we don't know who will hit people, but I like the way we're moving around and the enthusiasm. We act like we're trying to do things right. We're not always doing them, but we're moving in the right direction."

Only three Dogs were restricted for the first day. Tight end Eric Butler is recovering from toe surgery and will be limited most of spring. Offensive guard Anthony Dunning (kidney) was in yellow and did some drills. And quarterback Tray Rutland, still coming back from fall knee surgery, did not practice.

Naturally the top of the quarterback depth chart belongs to junior Mike Henig, who opened his third college spring with a strong showing. "I thought Mike threw the ball well, that was the most impressive thing," Croom said. JC transfer Josh Riddell was #2, with walk-on Kyle Auffray and soph Ty Evans on the third group.

With soph halfback Anthony Dixon working more as a fullback this day, the guys doing most of the running were Justin Williams and Christian Ducre. A slimmed-down Brandon Hart alternated with Dixon.

While Henig was throwing good balls, many were still not getting caught once defenders were on the same field. Croom says this spring there will be an increased effort to drill the wideouts in beating man-coverage since that is how most opponents want to play State. This first day, Croom said, the defensive backs were better. "And the receivers have got to get better as far as getting off one-on-one coverage."

The #1 offensive line, right-to-left, was tackle Craig Jenkins, guard Michael Gates, center Royce Blackledge, either Dunning or Anthony Strauder at left guard, and tackle Mike Brown. The second group was J.D. Hamilton, J. C. Brignone, Johnny Carpenter, Mark Melichar, and Roland Terry with Chris Spencer the reserve right guard.

As for the other half of the squad, "Our defense had a lot of enthusiasm," said Croom. This included a number of 2006 backups now moving into starting jobs, as well as winter transfers DT Jessie Bowman and OLB Dominic Douglas.

The first defensive line was as expected with Titus Brown and Avery Hannibal at ends, Kyle Love at nose tackle and Bowman at tackle. Behind left end Brown were Charles Burns and Rodney Prince, with Cortez McCraney and Brandon Cooper backing up Hannibal. The second-team tackles were Quinton Wesley and Reggie Odom with walk-on Dave Ross on the third interior group.

Former OLB Jamar Chaney is now the first-team middle linebacker, backed up by Tim Bailey. Gabe O'Neal and Anthony Littlejohn, who shared the strong-side job the last two years, were both on the #1 unit today with Littlejohn on the weak-side. He was backed by Douglas, with Jamon Hughes the #2 SLB.

In the secondary Derek Pegues is now the first free safety, followed by Anthony Summers, Demario Bobo, and converted running back Brandon Thornton. Keith Fitzhugh is #1 strong safety ahead of De'Mon Glanton and Jarvis Kyles. With Pegues moved from cornerback, Anthony Johnson moves up to #1 on the left side ahead of Keon Humphries. Marcus Washington is now the #1 on the right side followed by Tay Bowser.

An often-sore subject of spring interest is special teams, which were too often State's downfall in 2006. After only one day of '07 drills Croom had some encouraging words here, at least about a couple of aspects. "Blake McAdams punted the ball better today. We put in new punt-protection schemes and we're working on a lot of different change in the kicking game. But I thought we got off to a good start from a technique standpoint today." In coming days placekicking will move to the fore of practice focus.

"I thought it was a pretty good start for the most part," said Croom. The Bulldogs will be back at work Tuesday for another long workout, then take off Wednesday to let the staff evaluate early results.

COMING TUESDAY MORNING: Riddell already answering some questions after first day of college camp.


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