Day-Two Earns Coach's Compliments

As a former player then and even as a coach now, Sylvester Croom admits training camp is a "necessary evil" and that once the thrill of starting practice passes things become a mental and physical grind. "And the great thing is it separates the winners from pretenders," Croom said Thursday after Mississippi State's second day of preseason work.

"Guys will look good the first day, the first week, the first scrimmage. But the longer it goes that's when the real players separate themselves from the pack. Another ten days and we'll know who the real players are."

At the same time Croom is optimistic that more of the 2007 roster falls into the ‘real' category after the first August scrimmage, based on initial evaluations. After calling day-one decent the coach was more pleased with the second time around. "I thought we had better work today than yesterday, but that was understandable," he said. "The competition was better, the intensity was better."

And the general attitude shown by those players still up-beat, with no lack of chatter and joking among the Dogs both going to work and coming off the field. Even the head coach got into the spirit as, when a group of running backs were headed to the fields Croom called out "Hey Fat Boy!" At which sophomore halfback Anthony Dixon turned, the only player to do so, to see who was calling. Both parties grinned, though Croom does say Dixon has to trim down from the 245 pounds he weighed today.

"No, that wasn't his goal!" Croom said. "But by game-time he'll be at 240. And if he hadn't had a little hamstring he'd be running extra right now. But with him you have to be smart, and he can play well at 240."

"He calls me that all the time," Dixon laughed about the moniker. "But as everybody can see I've still got speed and I'm still making moves! I mean, I told Coach I'm picking up a little weight but that's a problem for everybody else because I ain't losing any agility!"

Dixon has to keep moving because he not only has several varsity backs pushing from behind, there are two talented youngsters in frosh Robert Elliot and Marcus Green on the depth chart. Down on that chart, admittedly, but with every chance to move up much like a host of this freshman class Croom says.

"We're still looking at the young guys, seeing how they fit in there. We've got to get them integrated because some of them have showed some flashes."

A single day of drills was enough to put four Dogs on the ‘disabled list' for minor ailments. A couple of newcomers, juco cornerback Chris Nance and freshman defensive end Jimmie Holmes, were both sidelined by hamstrings. Two veterans were in limited-yellow, backup tight end Jeremy Jones for an abdominal strain and first-team tackle J.D. Hamilton with an ankle. Meanwhile strong safety Demario Bobo missed practice with tonsillitis.

"We've got a few nicks and stuff, we're trying to make sure we don't lose anybody for any amount of time," Croom said. Hamilton did participate in a few unit drills but not anything strenuous, allowing Roland Terry to move up to first right-tackle ahead of 73 and Derek Sherrod. Back in spring it would have been Craig Jenkins alternating with Hamilton at first-team tackle. But over the summer the offensive staff evaluated things and made some switches on the right side of the blocking, moving both Jenkins and #2 center Johnny Carpenter to right guard.

"That spot is the one we've got to solve," Croom said. "Everything else is set. It's going to come down to Carpenter, Mike Gates, and Jenkins. Those three guys are battling for who is going to start at right guard." With a healthy Hamilton at tackle, though he too can play guard. Carpenter isn't listed there—Chris Spencer is—but he is still practically the second-center as Croom sees it. "Ideally you don't want your backup center starting at guard! Especially this year because Johnny is a good center and we feel confident playing him at critical points of the game to give him more rest. Because last year if Royce (Blackledge) got hurt we were in a world of trouble."

Fortunately, "The other spots are set. The great thing is who ever wins right guard, we're going to be in pretty good shape. And I think we've got some choices, in the past we didn't have any!" Croom said there is some chance Jenkins could get back in a rotation at the tackle position he's worked two years at, but the plan now is to leave him at guard. "It allows him to play to his strengths. But when we get down to a 70-man roster we'll see how it shakes out. We'll definitely carry ten and maybe twelve on that roster, but I've already got slots for ten."

Off the line Croom has been impressed with how the ‘skill' personnel on this roster can cover ground. He says the entire defense is going to be a "lot faster" this season. "And our receivers last year at this time was one of our weaknesses, it's definitely going to be one of our strengths. Mike Henig is throwing the ball well, Josh Riddell is still not where he needs to be yet but does some things well."

The Bulldogs are back on the field Friday at 5:00 again, then Saturday start putting on more padding though contact remains restricted per NCAA preseason rules. Two-a-days don't begin until next Tuesday, around the time State players conclude their second summer semester with exams. This is why the Bulldogs are being stretched in the first days of camp between football and class, and why even in the three twice-daily sessions things will actually slow down a little off the field. Not that Croom is relaxing the intensity on it after a good start to preseason.

"We haven't had pads on but I know we're ahead of where we were last year. I think we've got people in the right place so there's not a lot of experimenting, but we're asking a couple of people to play more than one position because they may be play-makers or give us some depth."

In other news, Mississippi State's season-opener with Louisiana State on Thursday, August 30, is already of prime-time import nationally as the first televised college game of the 2007 season. ESPN, which will carry the contest, plans to show at least a half-hour of their three-hour Wednesday evening ‘Countdown to Kickoff' special from the MSU campus. Now the game and host State will receive even more extra air time as XM satellite radio, which this fall begins airing most SEC games, will be live from the MSU campus for three days around the game.

The network will air their 5:00-7:00 ‘Sports Nation' morning show from State on both Wednesday and Friday; while they will feature a college football show from noon to 2:00 on game day itself.

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