Freshmen Taking Larger Roles In Drills

It was day-four of preseason football camp for Mississippi State, and much like the activities on the fields the comments afterwards showed signs of settling into the typical August routine. Which suited Coach Sylvester Croom just fine. "They worked awful hard today," he said. "I liked the contact, we had some nice hits on both sides of the football."

Of course the contact was within the constraints of NCAA preseason policy, which don't allow all-out hitting and tackling for Mississippi State until Tuesday and the fifth day of drills. Besides, the Bulldogs were still working in shells (helmet and shoulder pads only) this fourth day. Still there was sufficient margin for muscle to show when it came to seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 segments Saturday. Perhaps because a pre-practice shower and some timely clouds made for more bearable conditions than Friday's heat wave.

"It was pretty cool today," said Croom. "Hopefully it'll be cool on the 30th." Not that he is counting on things keeping cool between the Bulldogs and Tigers in the season-opener, so the State staff kept the heat on the players to improve their overall execution in full-team work. There were mistakes—"We had three off-sides penalties and two fumbles, that's not good," Croom reported—but balanced by enough solid effort and a few individual performances.

"(DEs) Titus Brown and Avery Hannibal are having excellent practices, (quarterback) Mike Henig had another good day, our receivers are catching the ball," Croom said. "Nothing really glaring. It was competitive and good work throughout the day."

None of Friday's injury- or limited-list players changed their status for Saturday, though they had two new members. WR Ryan Mason came out in a red-cross, while OG J. C. Brignone was in yellow as the shoulder he had repaired after spring injury needed a day's rest. He joined OT J.D. Hamilton as limited, both participating in several unit drills. In fact in running-game practices Hamilton was still the first right tackle, though when it came to passing-game work his backup Roland Terry got most of the #1 squad snaps.

The rest of the red-cross list was the same with DE Jimmie Holmes (hamstring), DE Tim Bailey (groin), WR Tyler Threadgill (hamstring), and CB Chris Nance (hamstring). S Demario Bobo is out with mono/tonsillitis, his return date uncertain.

The real story of Saturday was how many of State's 2007 freshmen have been working their way up the depth chart, or at least getting chances to take turns with the first and second units. That both tests the kids in varsity settings, and gives the veterans a few extra breaks as camp settles into routine.

"There's some guys we're trying to get a little bit more work," Croom said. "We've got some competition. Have a bad day somebody is in your spot the next day." The coach affirmed that there are few pre-conceived notions about redshirting these freshmen, "except maybe for the offensive linemen and our quarterbacks. And even there I told them I'm going to let them decide that until game-six, then if they don't look like they'll make a significant contribution the rest of the season we'll hold them out the rest of the way."

Among the freshman very much in contention, LaMarcus Williams was working number-two defensive tackle today and even took several snaps with the first line, where junior transfer Jessie Bowman normally lines up. While the leading linebacker rotations have not changed, some new kids were getting to try out positions (often two at a time) in front-seven sessions. First-year linebackers Karlin Brown, Jamie Jones, and Terrell Johnson were run through paces in places of regulars Gabe O'Neal and Anthony Littlejohn and so on.

This held true in the secondary as well, where touted frosh Wade Bonner was working directly alongside starting S Derek Pegues in some sets. Similarly Zach Smith was taking turns behind De'Mon Glanton and Keith Fitzhugh, the alternates at the other safety, in a rotation with Anthony Summers. Even with his hamstring bothering him juco transfer Nance was third at right cornerback behind starter Marcus Washington and Tay Bowser; while freshman Damein Anderson was #3 on the left corner behind Anthony Johnson and Keon Humphries.

As for the offense, Croom said, "We're trying to get (OT) Derek Sherrod some more work, and (halfbacks) Robert Elliot and Marcus Green." As both rookie runners are already showing they have the right stuff to play ball Croom said that #3 halfback Christian Ducre is now splitting time between that position and fullback to try to improve depth at the blocking position.

"Of course (safeties) Zach Smith and Wade Bonner are running with the second team," Croom continued about the frosh class. "Those are guys right now we know we're going to try to get ready for LSU. Beyond that, some others are coming along at a different pace. We moved LaMarcus Williams up today to see how he responded."

The Bulldogs have Sunday off and return to work at 5:00 Monday. Two-a-days begin Tuesday, along with full-pads and full-contact.

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