Tuesday Bulldog Football Notebook

WHO'S TWO…AND THREE, AND FOUR: It didn't take Coach Sylvester Croom long to address the top topic of the week. "I know the big question is our situation at quarterback," he said. As expected, freshman Wesley Carroll is back in the starting role he held a week ago for Gardner-Webb. Classmate Chris Relf remains number-two for this game, backed by Mike Henig and Zack Harrington…for now.

"The depth chart will not be determined until later in the week," Croom said. And while there wouldn't seem much chance of significant changes between now and game-day, veteran Henig is the wild-card in the deck as he recovers from the broken hand suffered at Auburn on September 15. "Mike did practice yesterday, he'll practice more extensively today," said Croom. Henig is also practicing wearing gloves, though only the one on his throwing hand matters. He would wear the glove in Saturday's game, in fact.

"We'll just go day-by-day and see what he can do. He will be available Saturday, exactly in what capacity right now has not been determined. We'll do that as the week goes on. He can throw the football, what else he can do at this point we haven't worked him enough to know."

The missing man on the depth chart of course is Josh Riddell after his knee injury at South Carolina, in his first college start. "He won't be operated on until next week, he's done for the season," Croom confirmed. "And at the appropriate time we'll look at our options as far as possibly trying to get him another year."

Riddell's injury was the seventh time since the 2006 season-opener a Bulldog quarterback has been seriously injured, though in one of those cases—Omarr Conner's groin tear in the 2006 Arkansas game—the player soldiered on the following week. Henig has been put out three times in two seasons, by a pair of '06 collarbone breaks and this September's fractured hand.

But while he's tired of writing new names at starting quarterback each month, even week, Croom says he can't tell his triggermen—in particular, Carroll--to play cautious and avoid all risks. "I don't think a quarterback can play worried about that," he explained.

"Wes is more mobile and instinctively he'll pull the ball down a little more readily than Josh, definitely more than Mike, and advance the football. That's his makeup, just part of who he is. He runs extremely well. I'm not concerned about that, we even have more called runs to him than we'd dare even think about with Mike or Josh."

Besides, Croom added, "You worry about guys getting down, I don't see very many quarterbacks getting hurt running the football. It's when they get hit in the pocket." Which is how Henig had his hand broken. And Riddell, while he did run, snapped the ligament with a bad landing as he slid out of bounds.

REQUIRED READING: Asked Monday how much of a step-up going from a very basic high school offense to Mississippi State's system, Relf said "we've got like 600 plays and different formations." Croom got a laugh when told the kid's comment. "No, we have nowhere close to 600 plays," he chuckled. But the coach understood why it might look that way to a raw youngster like Relf, who is being asked to take on more responsibility than planned for this freshman year.

"The reason we wanted to redshirt Chris was because he hasn't been exposed to as much information or even the amount of fundamental work that we'd expect from our quarterbacks," Croom said. "But he is a talented young man, very studious, and we expect him to be a good quarterback in the future."

A future that all-too-easily could arrive today, or tomorrow, or Saturday if there were more bad breaks at the position. If Henig were a week farther along Relf probably wouldn't be #2; but that's how he will go into the weekend. And even when Henig returns to full-strength Relf will continue working with the varsity.

"He may have to play earlier than we expected," Croom said. "There's a chance he may not, but we have to get him ready not only for this week but in the event something occurs later in the season." And in any event, Relf isn't being asked to read any Tolstoy-length playbooks.

"The 600 is quite an exaggeration," Croom laughed again. "I don't think Mike can handle 600!"

INJURY UPDATE: A few Bulldogs were sidelined Tuesday. DT LaMarcus Williams continues to deal with painful plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and today he came out with a protective boot. CB Chris Nance's hamstring is acting up again so he took it easy. And TE Marcus Green strained a groin, putting him out of action for the day. DE Timmy Bailey is working on a season-long groin strain; and LB Gabe O'Neal (left knee) was in limited-purple but practicing.

SAME JOBS, DIFFERENT ORDER: One depth chart that's seen a change for this week is halfback, where after five games in a supporting role Christian Ducre has been tabbed to start against Alabama-Birmingham. Not that Ducre (46 yards per game) is putting too much stock in lining up for the opening offensive snap Saturday.

"Obviously I'm happy about it. But it's probably going to be the same, sharing reps. We're still taking the same reps in practice. I'm just going to start the game off this week."

Croom, however, says there is more to this story in Ducre getting a step on Dixon, who ranks sixth in the SEC at almost 87 yards per game with six of State's eight rushing touchdowns. "It's a combination of his playing well and Anthony not playing up to my expectations," the coach said. Which means, first, that the demands on Dixon are pretty high now that he's proven himself a productive runner in a season-and-a-half. He just surpassed 1,100 career yards in only his 17th college game.

But the soph has made some mistakes, too, such as choosing to ‘bounce' his crucial 4th-and-1 carry at South Carolina instead of hitting the assigned spot at tackle with continued ball possession in the balance. That and other, more subtle examples are things Croom would accept from a freshman; not from a veteran with SEC success on the resume.

"He is an excellent back, an excellent talent, but the idea of being a great player has not quite consumed him at this point yet," Croom said. "When it does he has a chance to be a great one, right now he's average. I hope he'll get that picture and decide to be a great player because he is surely the guy on our offense that can. He's the guy on offense that can lead us and be a dominant player in this conference. But not until he decides to do the little things."

Dixon said he gets the message. "He wanted me to step my game up, he felt I could produce some more. So that's what I've got to do," Dixon told reporters. "I think he's trying to light a little fire under me. He felt I haven't been the same runner I was at the end of my freshman year. I have to get back to that. I mean, I'm going to work hard and try to do the things right that I did wrong. But I felt I was running alright, but I guess he sees it different."

Croom has seen a difference in Ducre the last couple of weeks, items that don't go on the stat sheet but surely contribute to those numbers. "I noticed some little things, watching film from practice. Ducre took a little more ‘flex' in his knees in his stance; you could just see he was a little more cocked and little more focused by that slight change in his stance.

"You could tell the way he practiced the details, the steps, the body leverages, the body lean in the hole, he was finishing forward on every play, his pass protection. I noticed yesterday, in shorts you're not practicing contact so that's the time you really want to visualize the game happening. I saw him going through the steps and the blocking technique exactly like it would have been live." Which is another reason—along with a bit more speed and burst at the line—that Ducre is getting his second starting call of the season.

"He'd been getting on me about that since spring. My tendency is to straight knees, he's always telling me bend my knees and get a quicker burst. And read my man, pay attention to who I've got to block, who I've got to read off, all that."

Still, Ducre isn't expecting to shoulder all the Saturday load and predicts Dixon will get plenty of turns against the Blazers, too. "We're both going to get tired, we're about the same type back. I don't think we can run 20 carries in a row and not get tired. So we're still going to see about the same amount of playing time, probably."

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