Monday Football Practice Notebook

Mississippi State returned to preseason work Monday as the Bulldogs worked in shells and outdoors for two hours. But for the better portion of the afternoon session the Dogs did so without their head coach observing. "I went to the Drill Field today," Coach Sylvester Croom explained. "I didn't see very much of practice but they said they had a good attitude and worked good today."

Not to fear, Croom did not excuse himself from this day's work out of any aggravation with Mississippi State's efforts. He was occupied with another obligation as the University held ‘The Drill', a wecome back party for students in the heart of campus. Part of that was having various State head coaches introduce their 2007-08 teams to fellow students. And since University president Dr. Robert Foglesong was also part of the show, it behooved the football coach to join the party.

"Stansbury and Sharon gave a talk, Doc played his music," Croom related, though he declined to give a ‘review' of the president's performance. "Then the band played. Then I said a word or two, just trying to get everybody to come to the game and give us as much support as possible." Indeed a goodly portion of the student body seemed to be streaming to and from the Bryan Building Ticket Office all day.

Croom did stay at practice for almost an hour. "The one thing I really wanted to see was our kickoff coverage and return, I got to see that before I left. Adam Carlson kicked the ball off very well, he had one that was short but kicked off very well. And for the first time (practiced) our coverage looked pretty good." Carlson's work today was a needed boost as it came two days after his rival for kickoffs, freshman Eric Richards, had a foot broken during a punting drill on a blocked kick. Croom was somewhat more encouraged about Richards' status today than at the time.

"He did have surgery, he's out and wasn't at school today. There's a chance he may be ready to go this season but we're definitely not going to rush him because he has outstanding potential." In the meantime Carlson, who was ahead of Richards already to keep his placekicking job, will likely now pull double-duty. "It's going to put more pressure on Adam that he's got to do both. Which I'm sure he wanted to do both. We intended for him not to do both. The thing about it he's kicking well right now." In those drills Carlson hit three kickoffs; two made the goal line and the third the five-yard line.

Croom would still love to have the rookie available. "The biggest thing is we don't have the depth we thought." Still Carlson's work in three weeks of camp do indicate that this area of the game will be improved from last fall. "And that's a plus, especially with the injury to Eric Richards."

*Monday's pre-practice headlines were claimed by a player who—probably—won't be participating in the opening game. Junior quarterback Josh Riddell is under suspension after being booked Sunday for driving under the influence, one of a score of such violations recorded in the Starkville area for the weekend prior to the start of the fall semester. "He's suspended indefinitely for violation of team rules," Croom confirmed prior to practice. "That's all I'm going to say."

Well, not quite. Because unlike previous player suspensions, Riddell continues to come to practice with the other quarterbacks. "I'd be doing him a favor!" Croom quipped when asked if the junior was to be kept out of drills. Still Riddell, who signed with State in December and emerged from spring as the number-two. Now he's not being listed on the depth chart, official or otherwise.

"Wesley Carroll will be number-two, Zack Harrington number three, and we hope we don't have to go any deeper than that," Croom said. "But Chris Relf would be the next guy."

Rookie Carroll has had a competitive first camp already and was giving Riddell some pressure for the backup job. Now he finds himself with an unexpected promotion just as Mississippi State begins serious game-planning for the season opener. Croom says if Carroll must play against LSU the whole playbook won't be open. "But I like the way he operates and manages. I told Wes he's next on the depth chart and I know he'll accept the challenge and work and do the extra study it takes. I really believe in the guy."

After a pause, Croom added "But the Bulldog Nation can keep praying nothing happens to #7! But if it does we'll put #13 out there and keep right on."

*One Dog not concerned about any team tensions at this point of camp is starting left DE Titus Brown. The all-SEC center added a touch of levity to the day's drills as, above the '54' on the back of his white jersey, he had scrawlded '$ACKMAN'.

*With 36 hours to review results of Saturday's scrimmage, Croom's opinion at-the-time did not change much. But he did have some explanations for his displeasure with the offense. "We moved the ball at times but stopped ourselves with dropped balls, penalties, and for the first time we had two (failed) quarterback-center exchanges, which there's no excuse for that. So we stopped ourselves."

The only compliment, other than routine praise of starting halfback Anthony Dixon, was that the offense's work ethic remained strong, so nobody is giving up or giving in to pressures after two tough scrimmage performances. "Just do the things we're taught to do and that we've been doing and we'll be OK," Croom said.

Tape review showed that Arnil Stallworth actually had the best scrimmage of the contenders for backup to Dixon, out-performing Christian Ducre, Robert Elliot, and Marcus Green. But Croom agreed that today's posted depth chart showing Stallworth second is not to be taken to seriously.

"It's going to change from week to week, depending on who plays best. They're all going to have roles because we'll have different packages for certain guys, we'll take advantage of each one of their strengths. But who gets the bulk of the playing time will be based on how you perform every week, every day."

As for defensive review, the secondary again got high marks as did backup middle LB Jamon Hughes. Croom even singled out DT Jessie Bowman for a goal-line play in red-zone work against the number-one offense. All in all it was another dominating scrimmage for the defense.

"And I'm really pleased with how they went about things. They're tackling well, running to the ball, there's an attitude now that we lost some key guys but those guys don't intend to be a weak link."

*Saturday's scrimmage took an obvious toll on the lineup as several Bulldogs joined the red-cross corps Monday. They included two top-line receivers in Tony Burks (knee) and Ryan Mason (right arm in a sling), and starting TE Dezmond Sherrod (right foot). Also sitting out the day's work were TE Brandon Henderson (left ankle) and backup DE Charles Burns who has been limited for over a week now.

Players limited by lesser injuries are starting right OT J.D. Hamilton and TE Jeremy Jones, both in yellow; starting DE Avery Hannibal and backup DE Tim Bailey in purple. All of these still participated in the non-contact drills. On upgrade was the return of starting left OT Mike Brown to full-speed after a lengthy limited period. Backup DE Quinton Wesley was back after missing two work days for personal reasons. And for the first time S Demario Bobo reported for practice. He has missed the entire camp with mononucleosis and tonsillitis, and now is trying to get back in practice conditioning.

*There were no Monday changes to the practicing depth chart for either the first and second offensive lines, or the first defensive line. The second d-line did have Brandon Cooper moving up to second right-end behind starter Hannibal, and ahead of Jimmie Holmes. And on the left corner juco Jasper O'Quinn has caught Keon Humphries for second-team; while on the right side Tay Bowser has held off juco Chris Nance.

*As State narrows the practice roster to focus on working those who will play in the opener, some freshmen are slipping to third-team such at OT Derek Sherrod. But while not shown on the published depth chart, rookie linebackers Terrell Johnson and K.J. Wright are right in the thick of it as candidates for second man at strong-side LB. And fellow frosh Jamie Jones is keeping the heat on Anthony Littlejohn for second at weak-side.

The Bulldogs will practice every afternoon this week, and with a Thursday night opener they do not have a day-off until August 31. Croom said this Friday will effectively start the ‘game week' schedule, with a heavy emphasis on kicking; then Saturday will be just like a Monday during the regular season.

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