Tuesday Spring Practice Report

It's the final week of spring practices for Mississippi State, and Coach Sylvester Croom is trying to get as much done in the waning days of camp as possible. So Tuesday the Bulldogs put in their longest afternoon of the season, nearly three full hours in full pads, in full-contact, and mostly with full squads. "We worked the entire day on team work," said Croom.

The team time began even before unit and squad meetings as the Bulldogs heard some words from one of the game's big names. Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre stopped by campus for the afternoon. "I've been trying to get him here ever since we got here to talk to them" said former Packer offensive aide Croom. The Kiln, Miss., native came out to the practice field to observe the early periods.

It was a demanding sort of session considering that the last time the Bulldogs were assembled it was for Saturday's scrimmage. Even after having Monday off to recuperate Croom thought he saw some signs of tired legs Tuesday. The offense in particular was a step slower than usual this spring as the staff ran this unit all over the place. "I didn't think we executed as well on offense," said Croom

"We worked a lot of first and third down all over the field. Backed-up, in the red zone, out in the middle of the field. And a lot of it down close, just to give them a feel for different situations and areas of the field. We didn't make as many plays today." Still the coach has seen enough plays made to adjust some pass-catching roles. Previous #1 wideout Tony Burks slipped from the first group after a series of Saturday drops. That left a four-man rotation at X and Z receivers, with Brandon McRae, Lance Long, Aubrey Bell and Jamayel Smith taking turns.

"Jamayel and Brandon had been working at the weak-side position, at ‘X'. Jamayel has probably been our most consistent receiver all spring, so we moved him over to ‘Z.' Right now him and McRae are our starters because they're our two best receivers." Not surprisingly, as camp comes to a conclusion Mike Henig and Josh Riddell are getting almost all the quarterback snaps during 7-on-7 or full-team segments.

The offensive backfield lined up just the same as last week with Anthony Dixon and Brandon Hart the first halfback and fullback; ahead of Justin Williams and Eric Hoskins. Williams has been able to keep an edge on Christian Ducre, and while the latter carried the ball 19 times in the scrimmage for 100 yards he was unable to earn a promotion or number. Arnil Stallworth is the fourth halfback.

The lack of a full complement of guards has hampered some full-squad drills by the offensive line, particularly the second group. Even the first has had to shuffle with starting LG Anthony Strauder working with a pulled abdomen as well as late-afternoon classes that takes him from drills. While he was there the first unit remained LT Mike Brown, Strauder, C Royce Blackledge, RG J.D. Hamilton, and RT Craig Jenkins. Today's second group had Roland Terry back at left tackle with Mark Melichar again at right, where he spent two days last week. Inside it was LG John McMillan, who has also practiced at center, OC Johnny Carpenter, and RG Michael Gates.

While not content with offensive efficiency, Croom had to give credit to an improving defensive team doing more to disrupt their counterparts in full-squad drills. "I think we're getting better on defense. We've got some guys like (S Derek) Pegues starting to compete, (SLB Gabe) O'Neal is having a good spring, our linebacker crew is definitely getting better no question about that.

The defensive front has seen even more changes and moves and as of today a couple of converted ends are now the number-one tackles with Cortez McCraney left and Charles Burns right. They were backed up Tuesday by Kyle Love and Quinton Welsey; with Jessie Bowman dropping to the third unit (but keeping his varsity number) along with Reggie Odom. Titus Brown and Rodney Prince are the first and second left ends with Avery Hannibal the starting right end and, due to Cooper's injury, a couple of walk-ons behind him.

"We've still got to get those tackles to come around," Croom said. "Burns, Wesley, Love, Bowman. If those guys play up to the ability they have I think we'll be OK. All the other positions I see a lot of improvement over there." Croom also said that post-scrimmage review confirmed the progress he thought he'd seen on-field Saturday by the defense. "I thought we hit pretty well and some guys really stepped up. The thing that really impressed me was our defensive pursuit and tackling was a lot better, our missed tackles went down drastically from the first scrimmage."

The roster came out of the scrimmage unscathed by new injuries, so the only Bulldogs missing Tuesday work were those already hurting. Two players had surgery last week. OG J. C. Brignone (shoulder) was back in a red-cross jersey watching. LB Anthony Littlejohn (ankle tendon) was on crutches in street clothes. Both should be ready for summer workouts.

Other red cross injureds are: DE Brandon Cooper (knee ligament), WRs Ryan Mason and Alex Carpenter (both hamstring), S Brandon Thornton (shoulder), TE Eric Butler (toe surgery), OG Anthony Dunning (kidney).

Another post-scrimmage result was five players earning their jersey numbers, and one losing his. QB Josh Riddell, LB Dominc Douglas, OG Michael Gates, DE Cortez McCraney, and DT Kyle Love all reported in varsity jersies for the first time this camp. But WR Tony Burks had his number removed after a tough scrimmage showing for the second time this spring.

A total of 40 players have practiced well enough in the three weeks and two scrimmage to merit numbered jersies, including the #1s on both sides of the line and all three specialists. One of those, DS Aaron Feld, has changed numbers from 52 to 46.

There is no Wednesday practice but for Bulldog seniors it won't be an off-day. The upperclassmen who want to participate will have ‘Pro Day' in the Shira Complex, with strength coach Ben Pollard overseeing a series of physical tests for the benefit of professional football scouts. "And we'll have our junior Pro Day next week. We're eager to see how our guys perform. And I hope they do real well so they can go make some money and send it back to us!"

The Bulldogs will practice in shells Thursday, then conclude camp Saturday with the noon Maroon-White Scrimmage.

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