Tuesday Spring Practice Report

During the first week of their spring football practices Mississippi State's offensive squad drew most of the compliments from Coach Sylvester Croom. Now in week-two the pads have been put on, some of the contact limits taken off…and the Bulldog defense is stepping to the forefront.

"The defense was better today," Croom said following Tuesday's session. "It looks like we're getting a little life on defense."

From members of both the first and second units, too. For the second day in full pads Mississippi State devoted a couple more periods in the two-and-a-half hour session to either 7-on-7 or complete team-on-team drilling. This gave the defensive teams more liberty to really after everyone but the quarterback and they took full advantage. Croom saw individual efforts worthy of note from trenches to secondary and from first-teammers and top backups alike.

"Jamon Hughes has had two good days in a row, hitting well. Titus Brown continues to have good practices, Cortez McCraney stepped up and made one or two plays in there. We've got a couple of guys learning new positions, the tackles are new. And we've got safeties moved and Derek Pegues and Keith Fitzhugh are doing good things. Anthony Johnson is starting to make some improvement."

The good defensive showing came despite some injury-forced changes at linebackers. Starting MLB Jamar Chaney has missed four days with a hamstring, and today first WLB Anthony Littlejohn was sidelined after hurting the right ankle on Monday. So for Tuesday Timmy Bailey was in the middle with deep snapper Aaron Feld spending more time at backup MLB; and Jamar Chaney first on the weak-side. SLB Gabe O'Neal is the lone un-hurting starter from day-one of camp.

The defensive secondary has been healthy and stable since the start with a consistent first unit of safeties Pegues and Fitzhugh, RCB Marcus Washington and LCB Johnson. Tay Bowser and Keon Humphries are battling for second-status on the left corner, and Jarvis Williams out right. De'Mon Glanton and Jarvis Kyles are behind Pegues, with Anthony Summers, Demario Bobo, and Brandon Thornton backing up Fitzhugh.

In the natural trade-off of practices, progress from one side comes at the expense of the other. "I didn't think our offense came ready to work today," Croom said. "I didn't think we competed well." This was a change of pace, particularly in the passing game, because for the last three rounds of drill-days the wide receivers have shown up well. Not Tuesday. "We had some things open but had far too many drops."

The coach did add though that this partly results from testing various wideouts in different slots and spots than they've been used to, running ‘X' men at ‘Z' and vice-versa. "We're moving some receivers around, trying to experiment and get guys in the right positions and get some depth," Croom said. "It's obvious some of them in meetings haven't been paying attention to anything but their own position. That tells me we don't have as many guys that love to study the game as I thought."

The offensive line also had to do some shuffling, for both the injuries as well as a promotion. Hamilton, a tackle all 2006, moved to guard during the first week of this camp and today was in the first group. The number-one line now is, right to left, T Craig Jenkins, Hamilton, C Royce Blackledge, G Anthony Strauder, and T Mike Brown.

"We put J.D. at guard because it gives us our five best guys," explained Croom. "We still have to decide who is going to be our starting right guard and starting right tackle and the ‘swing.' It's really between Gates, J.D, and Jenkins. If Gates wins it at guard and J.D. ends up our best tackle it will be them; if it's vice-versa it could be Gates-Jenkins or Hamilton-Jenkins. So we've got a couple of combinations there. I think we're pretty solid on the left side, we need to get the right side squared away. Then we'll have a solid backup unit behind them."

But not today, with #2 center Johnny Carpenter injuring his right elbow Monday and RG Anthony Dunning still sidelined by a kidney condition. That made the second line T Roland Terry, G Gates, C John McMillan, G J. C. Brignone, and T Mark Melichar. The only third-teamer practicing today was reserve tackle Chris Spencer on the left end.

Other injury holdouts were TE Eric Butler (toe), WR Joey Sanders (knee), and WR Alex Carpenter (hamstring).

No less than nine Bulldogs were rewarded for their practice performances with promotion to ‘jersey' status. S Pegues, WR Tony Burks, HB Justin Williams, LB Hughes, OG Hamilton, OT Jenkins, and WR Jamayel Smith all came to the field in numbered uniforms. So did walk-on fullback Eric Hoskins in #32, and scout-team QB Zack Harrington in #13. This brings the total number of players awarded numbers so far to 25.

Mississippi State will practice next on Thursday in partial pads, then hold a closed Friday scrimmage before the players are turned loose for the semester spring break next week.

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