Dogs Open Week With "Good Practice"

Upon further review Saturday's scrimmage was more productive than initially thought. Even better, the Bulldogs came off both their first game-type session--and a free Sunday--ready and able to get some work done in the first of two Monday practices. "We had good work this morning," said Coach Sylvester Croom.

"It was a good practice, particularly after a day-off and a lengthy scrimmage Saturday. I liked the way they worked today." Mississippi State spent just under two hours on the practice fields this morning, a somewhat shorter stint than the previous 7:00 am sessions. Coming off the weekend full-contact scrimmage the Bulldogs were in shells only, which will be normal procedure most of this week including the 4:15 session this afternoon.

One other difference for the week's opening workout was that only a half-hour after taking to the fields State went from unit drills to full-team practicing. It's the sign that preparations for the August 30 opener have moved to the next stage.

"We put the guys on the first two units, that we're trying to get ready for LSU," Croom explained. "Then took the younger guys or guys who haven't shown we can count on them at this point over on another field to try to get them some reps. But we're giving the (team) reps to guys we know are going to play."

This included a number of players who are not 100% healthy but are booked for duty. As it was a no-hit session several of these, most notably the projected starters, ran through every drill with their currently-designated first or second units. Limited personnel in either yellow (offense) or purple (defense) were OT Mike Brown, OT J.D. Hamilton, DE Avery Hannibal, DE Tim Bailey, WR Co-Eric Riley, FB Jeremy Jones, CB Damein Anderson, DT LaMarcus Williams, HB Arnil Stallworth, and WR Ben Shelton.

The only players in red crosses and held entirely out were DE Charles Burns and OG/ST Chris Herrera.

Immediately following Saturday's two-hour scrimmage Croom said that any depth-chart changes would show up Monday morning. At 7:00 there were not many obvious moves, other than on the offensive line where Craig Jenkins was first-team at right guard. "He played better than Mike Gates in the scrimmage," Croom said. "Those two guys will play, we switched around the depth chart." Fullback, the single position Croom was most unhappy about Saturday, showed Jones—still hampered by the abdomen strain—and Eric Hoskins as the alternate starters.

And while the group of wide receivers booked to dress out is not changed, their order of action has adjusted somewhat. "Lance Long is number-one at wide receiver with Tony Burks and Jamayel Smith behind him," Croom said. "Brandon McRae and Co-Eric Riley are at ‘X' and Smith is going to play both sides. Ryan Mason is up on the first unit, too, the next guy at ‘Z'."

These adjustments came not because the wideouts aren't getting it done in drills. "They've been catching the ball well," Croom said. The problem is they were responsible for too many of the offensive penalties called in the scrimmage, usually for simply lining up wrong. Croom counted four alignment flags from Saturday. "And we had the same thing this morning. We'll get that straightened out or they'll be the best-conditioned receivers in America."

Offensively, "I thought we moved the ball decently, especially considering out two tackles were out and Anthony Dixon wasn't playing." The starting halfback was held out as there's nothing Dixon needs to prove. His absence allowed two other backs to show up and Croom said Christian Ducre "stood out" with his 92-yard day. Freshman Robert Elliot had the same total yards and showed both speed and moves in the process, too. But the rookie is understandably way behind his elders in pass protection technique, and his two fumbles were not excused. "He got hit pretty good but he's got to carry the ball better," Croom said.

The first offensive line now goes, left to right, with Brown, Anthony Strauder, Royce Blackledge, Jenkins, and Hamilton. The second group is Mark Melichar, J. C. Brignone, Johnny Carpenter, Gates, and Roland Terry; with a third line now of Addison Lawrence, Dakota Merritt or Spencer Yates at left tackle, John McMillan, Chris Spencer, Sherrod, and D.J. Looney.

The first defense was unchanged from Saturday, other than the return of Titus Brown to active status and left end opposite Hannibal with Kyle Love and Jessie Bowman the left and nose tackles. This doesn't absolutely mean those two tackles are assured of starting as Croom isn't entirely sure of how the interior will line up on game day. "Nobody has just locked the job down." Cortes McCraney and Quinton Wesley are still second tackles with Quentin Saulsberry, Reggie Odom, and Rodney Prince battling them closely. The staff wishes rookie tackle Williams was healthy as he was progressing quickly in the early days of camp.

Burns needs to get healthy fast if he is to hold off some oncoming ends. Croom is pleased with how moving linebacker Tim Bailey to end has worked out as he is a strong #2 now behind Brown. "If he and (freshman) Jimmie Holmes stay healthy our depth situation at end is solved. They've got the ability to do what we need them to do." Holmes backs up Hannibal, ahead of Brandon Cooper.

At linebacker, Croom raved again about Jamon Hughes' performance since he has moved into the middle behind starter Jamar Chaney. "Jamon really showed up, he was around the football everywhere." So the challenge is to find how to get Hughes on the field more often without moving Chaney and losing either Gabe O'Neal and Dominic Douglas, both of whom are having strong camps as well. Depth at all linebacker slots is shaping up nicely. "We'll continue to work Devon Edwards and (freshman) K.J. Wright," Croom said. "Anthony Littlejohn did well." And he has liked everything rookies like Karlin Brown, Jamie Jones, and Terrell Johnson have done given their chances.

"We'll continue to bring the freshmen along. A lot of those guys will help us in the kicking game." The same is true for a collection of hard-hitting new safeties, Zach Smith and Wade Bonner, who are already good but have some improved veteran defensive backs in front of them. "That interception Derek Pegues had was outstanding," Croom said of the free safety's pick in the scrimmage. De'Mon Glanton and Keith Fitzhugh remain as tightly-matched as ever at strong safety, with Glanton still starting and Fitzhugh coming in for five-back coverage packages. Juco Jasper O'Quinn has worked up to #2 ‘cat' back while continuing to battle for status at cornerback. It isn't easy.

"I was thrilled with our cornerbacks, in one-on-one situations they made plays," Croom said. "Anthony Johnson and Marcus Washington are playing well, Keon Humphries had some good one-on-ones, Tay Bowser is playing well." Which was the overall evaluation of the whole defense after Saturday. "We tackled better, we ran to the football, and our defense is getting turnovers."

Where Croom had called it a ‘C' grade scrimmage immediately afterwards, today he was more upbeat about what showed up on tape. "It was better than I thought," he said. "It never really is what you think on the field. It was better." Except for the penalties and the wide receivers, that is. Still State followed up the weekend with a good morning workout to open this week, which will again be devoted largely to full-team drills. Croom said that though they aren't being told so the players are in fact already getting reps in on the LSU gameplan. "Everything we plan to run against them we're already working on," he said.

"I'm pleased with where we are again. I think we're becoming more what I want as far as toughness, we're moving in the right direction."

Monday is also the last of three two-a-day dates. Practices Tuesday and Wednesday remain at 7:00 am, then move to afternoons late in the week as the players go into academic preparations for the fall semester which starts on August 20. Saturday will have the second and last scrimmage in the morning, which will be closed to media.

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