Sun Tops Dogs In Friday Practice

The Bulldogs didn't know there was an opponent waiting for them on the practice fields Friday, By the end of their third pre-season practice, though, Coach Sylvester Croom was announcing the first ‘final score' of August. "The big eye in the sky came out and won, big-time," Croom said. "Sun 1, Bulldogs 0. It wasn't even close."

The good news--besides the fact this 'loss' doesn't count on the 2007 record--is the coach's bad Friday review had nothing to do with serious physical issues. No Dogs actually fell out of day-three, nor was there much in the way of dragging around in the triple-digit conditions. Croom's critique was more about the tiredness inside Bulldog helmets when it came to full-team work.

"We had mental errors," he said. "Guys not lining up where they're supposed to be, dropped balls, we had an illegal formation the first time counting spring in 10-15 practices. And one reason, that big eye in the sky."

Yet for all that Croom's words weren't hot. "I'm not upset. I expected it," he explained, adding that Friday was a "perfect" day to find out about this team's mental resilience just a couple of days into camp. If anything Mississippi State players responded physically to Sol's challenges, even on the first day they reported in shoulder pads. They will be in ‘shells' again for Saturday's session, and by next Tuesday can begin true contact practices. While the coach noted State isn't quite in football shape, which only comes by practicing, they are in good summer conditioning shape.

"We've got a great attitude, we still run fast, Mike Henig had a good day throwing the football," said Croom. "But the big deal now is being mentally tough, dealing with adversity."

The injury list changed somewhat Friday. FB/TE Jeremy Jones was back in a varsity jersey though wearing a heavy wrap around his abdomen for the muscle strain that kept him out Thursday. ROT J.D. Hamilton (ankle) was still in limited-yellow but practicing a bit more, including in full-unit drill on the first team. LB-turned-DE Tim Bailey was in a red-cross jersey, hobbled by a groin pull. Both DE Jimmie Holmes and CB Chris Nance remained out another day with hamstring problems and were joined Friday by WR Tyler Threadgill. S Demario Bobo is out with severe tonsillitis/mono and might miss another couple of weeks.

Thursday, Croom discussed the ongoing competition to win the right guard starting job. For two days the top slot on the depth chart was held by Johnny Carpenter, also the top backup at center. On Friday things adjusted, with Mike Gates promoted to the first group and Carpenter practicing as the second center. Former tackle Craig Jenkins, moved to guard before camp, was the second right guard. That competition is likely to continue for at least through the first fall scrimmage.

So for this day the first line looked exactly like the fivesome that came out of spring camp, with (right to left) Hamilton, Gates, Royce Blackledge, Anthony Strauder, and Mike Brown. The second line Friday was Roland Terry, Jenkins, Carpenter, J. C. Brignone, and Mark Melichar; the third was Derek Sherrod, Dakota Merritt, Spencer, John McMillan, and Addison Lawrence.

Competition on the interior defensive line is also developing as hoped. Transfer Cortez McCraney has had the #1 right tackle job to himself two days, but Friday veteran Kyle Love earned a number of snaps with the first unit as well. Jessie Bowman has a good hold on the left/nose tackle position, with rookie LaMarcus Williams challenging veteran Quinton Wesley for the second status.

Charles Burns was moved to tackle in spring, then today was back at end; while spring end Rodney Prince was working Friday at tackle as the defensive staff continues to evaluate the versatility of several players. Including first-year ends like the gimpy guys Holmes and Bailey.

"Jimmie is a guy we were really counting on and he's out right now," Croom said. " We moved Tim Bailey over for the first day and it looks good, but it's a concern if something happens to Titus (Brown) or Avery (Hannibal) having somebody ready to step in. Inside we've got pretty good numbers."

There's a sizable number of running backs battling for the right to back up Anthony Dixon. Justin Williams has successfully beat back other contenders so far, with Christian Ducre next in the rotation during several drills. The two high-profile freshmen aren't waiting around for their turn, though, as Marcus Green and then Robert Elliot were next in-line, both ahead of Arnil Stallworth. Of course this also changes day-to-day and the first full scrimmage will be a better indicator of how the halfbacks stand.

Despite his minor injury Jones was taking snaps at fullback along with Brandon Hart, freshman Ethan Stockett, and Eric Hoskins.

State will be on the fields after 4:00 Saturday, take Sunday off, and wrap up the mandatory five-day period of no contact Monday. By the time the Bulldogs are allowed to hit each other, Croom hopes they've toughened up the mindset sufficiently to execute the sorts of plays that cost them three or four opportunities more to win in 2006.

"Hey, I hope it's hot again tomorrow! We're going to do the same thing and practice at the same time. If we can do it then we'll be a good team, that's the challenge now. We'll hit people, that's not a question. We'll be a physical team. The thing I worry about is execution. We can't be close, almost. We have to get it done. And the bottom line is mental toughness."

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