Thursday Football Practice Report

Mississippi State was back on the practice field for a Thursday workout. Yet while the Bulldogs went through their typical drills this afternoon they were also setting the stage for Saturday and the most important game-type scrimmage of this spring's camp.

Coach Sylvester Croom put State players through a two-and-a-half hour session Thursday, this time in shells only as contact was limited in advance of the weekend. Today's drills were also observed by several-score high school coaches attending a clinic on campus. Of course the only observer the players had to worry about was the head coach, who was satisfied with the results. "We had good work today," Croom said.

"(Quarterback) Mike Henig had a good day throwing the ball. We had our defense practicing in some different situations, down-and-distance in different areas of the field. I think they made significant improvement today." This included progress in team-on-team drills for both running and passing plays. For that matter Croom has usually been able to point out solid performances in almost every practice day this spring.

But a few Dogs have stood helmet-and-shoulder pads above others. "Offensively two guys who have really played well, (halfback/fullback) Anthony Dixon has stepped his game up and (wide receiver) Brandon McRae has done a good job for us. Mike has been consistent all spring.

"On defense I really like what Derek Pegues is doing back at free safety, then (DE) Titus Brown's intensity and development as a pass rusher. Those are the two most obvious things on defense."

The Bulldogs have Friday off from on-field work but will continue mental preparations for Saturday's full-speed, all-out session. Croom is planning on an intense scrimmage in all aspects, even from those who have performed to-date. In the first scrimmage the offense put on a show piling up 600-plus yards, but the coach wants more. "I want to see a higher tempo from our offense, crisper execution in all areas. I want to see more mental toughness and playing as a team. I'm looking for intensity from all our team, but there are certain individuals I'm looking at to pick their game up.

"We're going to put some guys in stressful situations just to see how they handle it. There are guys I know how they're going to react when things get tough, there are some others that I'm trying to find out about. I've got a good idea of who we can work with at a more intense level when we come back for training camp and getting ready to play LSU. And, who we're going to have to continue to develop."

Dixon's efforts in both running back positions has been a spring strong point, as has Henig's steady results directing the passing game. In those cases the real competition is for who stands second on the depth chart(s). Justin Williams has been able to stay a step ahead of both Christian Ducre and Arnil Stallworth at halfback; while juco transfer Josh Riddell is still #2 quarterback with Zack Harrington making a surprisingly strong challenge. The stat-line to watch Saturday will be how many passes those two backups get to toss.

The offensive line is still working short-handed due to injury and illness. First LG Anthony Strauder was dressed for practice but did not participate with a pulled abdomen muscle. Backup guards J. C. Brignone (shoulder) and Anthony Dunning (kidney) were still in red-cross shirts.

So with so many guards hurting the first and second fronts had to adjust again. The first line Thursday was LT Mike Brown, LG Michael Gates, C Royce Blackledge, RG J.D. Hamilton, and RT Craig Jenkins. The second group was LT Mark Melichar, LG John McMillan, C Johnny Carpenter, RG Chris Spencer, and RT Roland Terry.

Other injured offensive personnel are TE Eric Butler (toe), WR Joey Sanders (knee), and WR Ryan Mason (hamstring). On defense, LB Anthony Littlejohn will have surgery Friday to repair a tendon problem in his right ankle and should be back by summer work. Reserve S Brandon Thornton has an injured right shoulder and missed the day.

For the third week the defensive staff made some changes up front, moving a pair of backup ends to the interior positions. The moves are showing up in the two-deep already as Charles Burns is now first-team at one tackle and Cortez McCraney is running second-unit at the other. Jessie Bowman has returned to the top group after being demoted a couple of days. Quinton Wesley is behind Burns, with the third-team tackles now Reggie Odom and Kyle Love.

With two more scrimmages ahead the snaps devoted to special teams increases daily. Neither of the veteran specialists have been pushed this camp and PK Adam Carlson has been consistent in full-speed attempts at booting the ball through from 42- and 47-yard ranges. While Derek Pegues fields punts the top candidates for downfield coverage as ‘gunners' are starting cornerbacks Anthony Johnson and Marcus Washington, with walk-on Jarvis Williams getting his turns also.

Since Monday ten players have either earned or in two cases re-earned their jersey numbers for practice performance. WR Tony Burks and DT Bowman had digits going into the first scrimmage and lost them after it. Now each is back in a number shirt. Those promoted so far this week are: CB Keon Humphries, LB Dominic Douglas, OC Carpenter, OT Jenkins, and DT Burns, as well as specialists P Blake McAdams, PK Adam Carlson, and SN Aaron Feld.

A total of 36 players now get to wear their numbers in practice. And while more offensive players have numbers so far, the whole first-team defense is now in digits.

After Saturday the Bulldogs have just three more working days, two normal practices and the concluding Maroon-White scrimmage on March 31.

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