"We did much better today than yesterday, that was pleasing," Croom said. "The thing that pleased me most was our intensity level didn't drop the last four of practice today. Guys were pushing each other, trying to hold each other accountable for getting their jobs done."
There are lots of jobs still to be done, or won, as Mississippi State gets into the second full week of 2007 camp. Thursday's practice ran the usual gamut of section drills but also added more wrinkles to special teams plans in such areas as placekick protection and punt coverage. Those will be going full-steam Saturday in the scrimmage along with most aspects of the return games, too, so more attention gets paid to specialists every day. Though the punt return group, as well as the defensive secondary, had to get by Thursday without starting S Derek Pegues who came away from Wednesday's two-a-day sessions with back spasms. He is expected to return by Saturday, perhaps as early as Friday.
Lance Long, Wade Bonner, Chris Nance, and Jamayel Smith fielded punts today from Blake McAdams, Adam Carlson, and Eric Richards.
Pegues and fellow safety Keith Fitzhugh, who went down with cramps Wednesday morning and watched practice today in a red-cross shirt, were the only new members of the injury-list. Two Dogs were upgraded from red-cross to limited; starting LOT Mike Brown (groin) and reserve WR Ryan Mason. Among the other red-crossed Dogs today were still DE Titus Brown, DT LaMarcus Williams, TE Jeremy Jones, DE Tim Bailey, and OG Chris Herrera. Nance and DE Jimmie Holmes are in limited-purple but working some drills.
"We've still got a lot of little nicks and that kind of stuff, so we're going to have to be smart the next few days and still look at certain guys," Croom said. None of the injuries so far threaten anyone's season; the first scrimmage of camp is another matter for a few because depth-chart status is still on the line for several second- and third-teammers, or on the defensive line even some starters.
When Croom talks of ‘certain guys' he is mostly referring to freshmen. Since camp opened the coach has praised what many of the newcomers are bringing to the roster, particularly at running back, linebacker, and safety. And in the case of Richards the weekend will show if he is indeed going to take over kickoffs as expected. Croom would rather wait at least a month into the season to make final redshirting decisions; but at the pace many of these rookies are moving up depth charts a lot of those choices are being made for players and coach alike.
"We want to look at lot of our young guys, to see how they can fit in," Croom said this morning. "It's going to be a lot harder figuring that 70-man roster for when we go to Auburn than in the past, I can tell you right now." State can dress more than that for the first two games, home SEC and road-non-conference, so the third weekend will probably serve as the point of decision for just about all redshirt cases.
What is clear is that Friday's two drills and the Saturday scrimmage are decisive for many frosh, and not just on offense or defense. "Some of those freshmen linebackers can help in the kicking game if nothing else," Croom said. "We've got to make decisions on whether use them in the first ball game, but the way they run we're probably going to use them."
Some jobs are much clearer and no rookie need apply for more than backup status at best. Such as quarterback where Croom had good words for starting junior Mike Henig's efforts in camp so far. "It's getting to the point it's a lot easier to communicate with Mike about the scheme. He just has better knowledge of what we're doing offensively. He made some real nice decisions this morning when his first, second, even third options were covered, he went back to another outlet. Which was a step in the right direction."
That holds true for the entire team after eight practice days and nine sets of drills. Croom said the Bulldogs have done well picking up the general gameplan laid out after spring training and there has been progress this month. "I think we're getting better, even yesterday, from an assignment standpoint and understanding what we're doing." Add that to a much, much better showing of effort and resilience this morning and the State staff was able to go back to the offices in a far better mood Thursday.
Croom and selected players were to be at the Bryan Building at noon for the annual campus media day. Practices resume Friday with another 7:00 morning session and then again at 3:15 in the afternoon. Saturday's scrimmage is closed.