Thursday Football Practice Notebook

It wasn't as if they'd had a full day-off, but just being able to sleep a bit later without showing up for a morning practice appeared to do wonders for Bulldog spirits. Because when they assembled for Thursday's afternoon session there was more spring in all steps as well as more energy for going back on the job. "I liked the way we worked," Coach Sylvester Croom said.

Mississippi State worked the whole two-hour-plus Thursday practice indoors, too, and in shells again. In fact they have not worked full-pads all this week and won't until this Saturday's morning scrimmage game at Scott Field. That too has had a beneficial effect on team attitude, not to mention health.

Croom agrees though that the atmosphere around today's drills was upbeat for two weeks into camp. Or maybe due to that. "It's getting close to school starting, the routine is starting to change. Things will start happening on campus this weekend. It's starting to feel like fall and football season. And we're letting up on practice, and the enthusiasm will normally come with that."

There won't be any letup Saturday at 7:00 when the Bulldogs get back to real hitting for, probably, the last time this preseason. "It will be the first time we really test our first units," Croom said. "Where last week was more a test of our second units, to find out who we needed to be working. This week we'll test a lot of different situations in the course of the scrimmage."

*State has stressed red- and attack-zone work this week for both sides of the ball. Today the focus was on plays, offense and defense, from the 11-yard-line and in. Croom thought the work was good even if—or maybe because—the results were mixed. "Our defense played good pass coverage down there, they didn't do a very good job stopping the run and that's the first thing you have to do. The (pass) offense didn't do as well with the reads. We have some different calls down there and some special reads. It's tougher to throw the ball down there and we have some specific things we're just now getting to understand. But if you're a play-maker you've got to step up."

While the coverage was steady, they benefited from one particular Dog going quarterback-hunting up front. "Titus is still Titus," Croom said of senior DE Brown. "None of our tackles blocked him."

*The injury list got shorter today, with only nine Bulldogs reporting in limited-color jerseys and for the first time this camp none wearing a red cross. Only one player, DE Charles Burns, had been sidelined in red-cross Wednesday morning and he was upgraded to purple this day. Other defenders in purple were DE Avery Hannibal, DE Tim Bailey, and DT LaMarcus Williams. They practiced in several situations, as did offensive-yellow limitees OT Mike Brown, OT J.D. Hamilton, and OG Chris Herrera.

Three offensive players were upgraded from yellow to full-speed; HB Anthony Dixon, who was only limited yesterday to protect his legs, WR Co-Eric Riley, and HB Arnil Stallworth.

"We've still got some guys with some tight hamstrings and stuff like that. But the thing is, the guys that do have the nagging injuries are still coming out and working. That's a positive. We have to be smart and not make matters worse, but it's why I keep saying I like our attitude and the way we work. Some guys in the past would take off, but there's a pressure within the team now to not be the guy that lets the other guys down."

When told he had no players in a red cross today for the first time of this camp—maybe of any camp in a long time at State—Croom smiled. "You didn't see where Demario Bobo is," he said of the safety sidelined by mononucleosis. "But that's one guy and that's pretty good."

*Dixon hasn't had any trouble holding on to his top halfback status, to the point he was held out of the first scrimmage. The battle is for top backup and while it has tightened Christian Ducre has stayed a short step ahead of freshman Robert Elliot. Today again Ducre got more snaps with the first offense in rotation, and Elliot with the second quarterback and line during running-play drills. Justin Williams and Marcus Green are next in line.

During one of the unit-drill periods the running backs worked entirely on blocking, with Elliot a definite focus of attention as he tries to learn a skill rarely asked of him in high school.

Meanwhile Jeremy Jones has been able to stay first fullback, particularly now that he is full-speed. Jones, a converted tight end, has been hampered twice by a strained abdomen muscle. Walk-on Eric Hoskins is second while after a rough scrimmage veteran Brandon Hart appears to be getting back in contention.

In at least a couple of drills, Stallworth lined up as the blocking back for Dixon. Last week Croom said Ducre would be getting some work as a fullback.

*Kickoff return was back on the practice agenda today, with Elliot and S Derek Pegues taking turns as first return man. Freshman Wade Bonner is third there, and with those two and WR Lance Long also practicing punt return.

PK Adam Carlson did all the kicking off during observed periods, though as it was indoors distance was not an issue. The goal was developing return-blocking with FB Jones, HB Ducre, and TE Dezmond Sherrod the interior of the return group; and HB Williams and CB Anthony Johnson the second row. The other five spots on return team will be filled in by next week, perhaps as early as Saturday's second scrimmage.

*Carlson and freshman Eric Richards continue to compete for starting placekicker, with the veteran getting first turn every time but not showing any other advantage over the rookie. While P Blake McAdams is the first holder two more are getting work there, WR Ben Shelton and reserve QB Zack Harrington.

*Though in yellow shirts, tackles Hamilton and Brown are unquestioned first-teammers in everything but a full-contact drills. And that is only to protect them as for now the stress is on settling their rotation. Second left tackle Mark Melichar did get a couple of snaps with the first group. And after dropping to third team briefly, and to guard for a couple of days, freshman Derek Sherrod is back up to #2 at right tackle behind Hamilton.

The interior three spots are seemingly set. Behind starters Craig Jenkins, Royce Blackledge, and Anthony Strauder are Mike Gates, Johnny Carpenter, and J. C. Brignone. The two deep at center, left guard and tackle have not changed since the third day of camp.

*There was a guest at practice today as University president Dr. Robert Foglesong, fresh back from a stay in Montana, dropped by the Palmeiro Center…carrying a maroon motorcycle helmet. Doc had followed up on a spring comment that he meant to buy a bike, purchasing a Yamaha dirt model. Painted maroon of course, and emblazoned with both his ‘Dawg One' nickname as well as ‘Bark,' his band's title. The license plate was a compromise, reading ‘Bark 1.'

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