Dogs Open Camp With ‘Decent' Day

An afternoon thunderstorm meant unseasonably mild conditions for the first day of August and the first day of preseason football practices at Mississippi State. A "decent first day," according to Coach Sylvester Croom as the Bulldogs completed an initial session lasting nearly three hours, including the post-drills running. "The main thing today, they have worked extremely hard," Croom reported.

"Some of that was evident in the way they tested today, even the way they held up because we were high-tempo and got some extra conditioning." As the coach spoke a handful of players, primarily linemen from both sides, were still on one practice field running. While they had passed the pre-camp tests for running times Croom thought they could have reported in even better practice-trim. "So we're going to help them out a little bit." Fortunately the combination of nice weather and lots of summer work meant no Dog fell out on day-one or even looked to be in trouble at any point.

Of more technical matters Croom didn't want to single out individuals for praise until, he said, "we start hitting." But he couldn't resist complimenting safety Keith Fitzhugh for showing new aggression and picking some passes in team-on-team drills. And as for throwing the ball quarterback Mike Henig got generally good reviews.

"Mike threw the ball well at times, but I thought his ball placement was not what it needed to be. He made the right decisions but the quarterback has to be better at knowing when to put something on and take something off so guys can run with the ball after the catch." So for now the focus with Henig is on things like footwork and ball placement. "The arm is excellent, he's working on his feet and his hands."

After spring work Croom was not entirely satisfied with the right side of the offensive line, and over the summer the staff came up with some adjustments and potential experiments there. It certainly showed up in the first-day depth chart, as redshirt and #2 center Johnny Carpenter lined up not only as right guard but the first-teammer there. He was ahead of veteran Michael Gates.

J.D. Hamilton as the first right tackle was not a big surprise as the versatile senior is assured to play either there or at guard. But the man whose place he took, veteran but still-young Craig Jenkins, not only slipped from first to third group but moved from tackle to guard to start camp. Roland Terry was second right tackle and freshman Derek Sherrod third man.

Behind starting center Royce Blackledge today was spring #3 Chris Spencer with frosh D.J. Looney third. Left guard ran Anthony Strauder, J. C. Brignone; and left tackle Mike Brown, Mark Melichar, and Addison Lawrence. The coaching staff expects to put a much more capable and competitive offensive line on the field this fall, but clearly also wants to keep several blockers motivated to re-earn old jobs or re-learn new ones. It will be instructive to watch who goes up, down, and across over the course of this preseason.

"That's part of the attitude thing," Croom said. "Guys being willing to move so they can play and help the team even if maybe it's not the position they were recruited to play."

For their part the defensive front was little-changed from the group coming out of spring, with Cortez McCraney and Jessie Bowman the top tackles and flanked by ends Titus Brown (left) and Avery Hannibal (right). Moving some ends inside in spring, and the arrival of new bodies, has fleshed out the interior depth chart. Borwman was backed by rookie LaMarcus Williams, Quinton Wesley, and freshman Quentin Saulsberry; lined up behind McCraney were Kyle Love and Reggie Odom. Backup ends on the left side were Rodney Prince, Charles Burns, and converted linebacker Tim Bailey. On the right it was juco Jimmie Holmes, Brandon Cooper, and a walk-on.

Bailey's trial at end opens the door for outside LB Jamon Hughes moving to the middle, behind starter Jamar Chaney. In fact the two were almost co-number ones in some squad drills today, though at times when the linebackers were on their own Hughes did line up outside. Freshman Terrell Johnson was the third middle-man. Dominic Douglas is first at one OLB when Hughes is at middle, ahead of Anthony Littlejohn; while Gabe O'Neal is first on the other side and freshman K.J. Wright his backup.

"We'd intended to put Douglas behind O'Neal," Croom said of the winter recruit. "But he had such a good spring we needed to get him on the field."

As expected the first secondary has Marcus Washington at right corner, Anthony Johnson left, with safeties Derek Pegues and De'Mon Glanton. The latter is still in a good competition with Fitzhugh who frequently shared the first-team spot. Tay Bowser and Keon Humphries, former wideouts moved to defense in spring, are still second-team at right and left. Frosh Damein Anderson is third man at left corner, where on the right juco Jasper O'Quinn is in the rotation.

Anthony Summers and Jarvis Kyles are battling for third safety behind Fitzhugh and Glanton; while freshman Zach Smith and juco Chris Nance are behind Pegues.

"I thought our defense made a lot of plays and our team defensive pursuit is much improved over what it was in spring. Of course we haven't hit anybody yet but we can run on defense and that has to be a strong point."

It doesn't show on any roster or depth chart, but Croom told reporters today that there is a special unit of sorts now on the team. An ‘advisory group' he called it, and while not identifying them it was clearly a collection of veterans who have performed on the field and taken care of business off it and set something of a tone for the entire team. This is part of Croom's ultimate goal of having the Bulldogs effectively police themselves.

"They've taken accountability for this football team. We have twelve guys I talk to, I told them I want to coach more this year rather than be a traffic cop. It's your football team. If something is wrong they've got to get it solved."

Something has been working right for the Bulldogs all summer, with no off-field incidents making headlines. And their off-season efforts look to pay off in how they handle the practice days to come when conditions return to more typical August heat and humidity.

"I like the intangibles about our team right now," said Croom. "You're not going to be able to tell much more than that until we get full pads on. But the intangibles you need to have in place as far as attitude and work ethic, paying attention to things, we're a lot farther ahead on that. We can concentrate on assignment and techniques."

The Bulldogs are back for 5:00 practices both Thursday and Friday, all non-contact. The pads go on Saturday for another single practice. Two-a-days don't start until Tuesday.

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