"We had too many penalties today," Croom said. Specifically the same sorts of violations shown by some wide receivers who continue to line up incorrectly or draw motion penalties. Three days of this have certainly contributed to the wideouts' collective conditioning as they serve the ‘penalty' of extra running for every flag. This morning though saw the defensive team drawing official notice for being off-sides, too.
"We had a couple on defense for the first time, just lining up too close to the ball," Croom reported. He wasn't as displeased with this, though, because of the nature of these violations. "Those guys are pretty eager to get there and they're doing a good job." By coach's account starting safety De'Mon Glanton did the best job of all the defense Tuesday, the only player singled out on either side of the ball.
There's another contributing cause to some mistakes, as two weeks into camp the Bulldogs are running—and defending—a wider variety of plays as they move into increased preparations for actual games. In previous practice days it would be such aspects as second or third downs, then third-and-longs or passing downs. Today State invested several team-periods in working on the strike-zone and red-zone packages.
"We've got the whole playbook open on both sides of the ball right now, so that's part of it," Croom said, "we haven't narrowed it down yet. But, it's nothing we didn't do this spring, so some of the guys who are making mistakes should not at this point. We have to get that squared away."
There are still critical aspects of the defense, most notably the middle of both the line and line-backing, that are yet to be squared away. This is actually a good development as far as the linebackers because Jamon Hughes's performances are forcing the staff to re-evaluate plans for him and the entire starting threesome, maybe. Hughes has had excellent practices working as the second middle linebacker, at times even running first-team ahead of starter Jamar Chaney, and Croom would like to have both on the field if practical.
"A lot of it depends on the next few weeks is he dependable making the calls and getting people lined up. Can he handle that and still play aggressively, if he can that's a combination we might look at with him in the middle." Which would mean moving Chaney back to weak-side starter…but then juco Dominic Douglas had a strong spring and hasn't lost any ground this August either, and senior Gabe O'Neal has had the most consistent camp of his career. It's a good problem to have.
"We pretty much know who five (linebackers) are now, we've got to find six and seven at this point." Those likely will come from among veteran OLB Anthony Littlejohn, walk-on Devon Edwards, and quartet of talented freshmen—Karlin Brown, Jamie Jones, K.J. Wright, and Terrell Johnson—who are too good not to use somehow this first college season.
The defensive line is another matter as Croom still isn't completely satisfied with the depth chart. Juco Jessie Bowman and soph vet Kyle Love have held their first-team status for four days now, ahead of Quinton Wesley and Cortez McCraney with Rodney Prince, Reggie Odom, and freshman Quentin Saulsberry in the mix. Rookie LaMarcus Williams would be as well if not still hampered by a leg problem. Croom is seeing some encouraging signs lately.
"But again one guy looks good for certain parts of practice and then another. It's still up-and-down, the yo-yo effect. Nobody has just stepped up and said they're going to claim the job. We'll find out a lot more Saturday after we scrimmage."
There were no noticeable changes to the two-deep in the secondary, or anywhere on the offensive side of the ball Tuesday.
Injured players not practicing were HB Arnil Stallworth, OG Chris Herrera, and DE Charles Burns. Players limited but able to go through some or even most drills were OT J.D. Hamilton, OT Mike Brown, DE Tim Bailey, Williams, and DE Avery Hannibal. WR Co-Eric Riley was also in yellow but did not participate much with a groin strain. S Demario Bobo has yet to practice this month with mono/tonsillitis. The only injured player who returned to full-active status today was FB Jeremy Jones.
Tuesday saw the first appearance of the kickoff squad, with Adam Carlson taking the first two turns and freshman Eric Richards the next two. Carlson hit both his solidly, Richards chipped the first but came back with a better effort the second time. Though S Derek Pegues returns as the top return choice, this morning freshman HB Robert Elliott fielded all kickoffs though none were truly returned. It was only kickoff, cover, and catch practiced. Runbacks will come later this week.
"We're installing our kicking game and covering every situation we possibly imagine we can run into before it's over with," Croom said. "One day later on the entire practice will be devoted to the kicking game. But we try to cover every situation before we get started." Placekicking was also practiced briefly at the start of the morning with Carlson and Richards hitting a few mid-range shots meant more to test the snap and hold. P Blake McAdams is the first holder but today WR Ben Shelton and QB Zack Harrington got to take their turns placing the ball off Aaron Feld's snap.
Despite those aforementioned mistakes Croom put the morning on the positive side of the ledger. "I still think we made progress today." And the day isn't over, even if the players won't have to pull on pads again until Wednesday morning. "We'll have meetings this afternoon, and while one group is in there lifting the other will be in the Shira Center doing a walk-through; then we'll swap."
Mississippi State will have one more morning session this week, then with pre-semester academic commitments on Thursday-Friday will practice at 4:00 those days. Saturday's scrimmage, closed to media and public, will be at 7:00 am.