Bulldogs Open Spring Football Training

It wasn't so much just getting back to football drills that put some spring in Mississippi State steps Monday. "It looked like they liked practicing better than they did the off-season program!" said Coach Sylvester Croom after the opening day of 2008 spring training. "That was obvious, there was some relief to be back on the field."

Yet whatever their motivation, be escaping the winter-weight room or just running around with/or after a football again, the Bulldog coach wasn't complaining at the end of a nearly three-hour session to kick off this 15-date spring camp. Certainly Mississippi State's varsity wasn't acting like a bunch that less than two months ago was still playing ball and was coming off a shortened down-time.

"I was very pleased with the enthusiasm," said Croom. "It was good to be back out today."

Well, not 100% good. Croom was able to recite a series of player names that pleased him on this first day in shorts. But only after calling for an unavailable name to begin his post-practice opining. "If anybody can find Royce Blackledge, see if they can get him back out tomorrow."

Of course the two-year starting center won't be back in a MSU uniform after making his last snap in the 2007 Liberty Bowl. Mississippi State did not lose a host of starters off the 8-5 team but Croom knew well how much Blackledge would be missed. Monday, everybody found out when none of the candidates to replace Blackledge could consistently execute the most basic aspect of the position. Bad and/or bobbled snaps were the order of the offensive day, which in turn limited how much team work the defense could really do.

"So we didn't get a lot accomplished on offense, and I can't tell what we did on defense because we couldn't run plays good enough." 2007 backup Johnny Carpenter began camp as the top center; he won't be there Tuesday as former backup left guard J. C. Brignone came out a bit better, at least in the instant analysis made before tape review.

"I thought J.C., for the first day playing center I thought he did a pretty good job. So tomorrow he'll be number-one center and we'll keep searching the group ‘til we can find one that can first snap the football." Carpenter and ‘07redshirt D.J. Looney will battle for the second spot with Chris Spencer fourth as of now.

When snaps were successfully executed there were some good results by the other ten men on-field at the time. Croom complimented the running of redshirted HB Robert Elliot. "He did some things today to catch your eye, he showed some quickness and you can see improvement there over last year." But the rookie still has to catch veteran Christian Ducre who "picked up right where he left off in the bowl game," Croom said, "he seemed lighter and his quickness seemed back."

Starting HB Anthony Dixon did some work in unit drills but not full-team as much as he recovers from an off-season procedure to clear up a knee issue. Croom said the junior moved well and is right on schedule. And even had Dixon been full-speed, the offensive staff—which won a winter battle for the kid's spring services—would have been running redshirted safety Wade Bonner a lot today. The rookie showed potential today at halfback which adds to the interest this camp.

Converted linebacker Devon Edwards got some turns at fullback and looked like a good fit in a position State needs to settle in spring. Especially with Eric Hoskins held out of serious work until the nerve damaged in a late-year injury shows improvement.

At quarterback, not surprisingly soph starter Wesley Carroll was in-charge just as in the second half of '07. Croom said the young veteran was sharp on first-day. "We had a couple of new things we're working on, a few more of our basic concepts that we didn't run last year. He's trying to get the hang of that but no question his footwork and understanding is pretty good right now." Redshirt Chris Relf threw the ball well Monday, while Josh Riddell was limited to unit-work only as he comes off October knee surgery.

"You can see the layoff as far as throwing but I was looking for improvement in the footwork," Croom said. The coach also commented on how returning receivers Co-Eric Riley, Brandon McRae, and Jamayel Smith performed in the passing game. That was when the play went off, of course.

That success did not imply criticism of the defense, either, as Croom complimented their reactions and movement. "And they had a lot of enthusiasm," he added, singling out S Keith Fitzhugh and linebackers Jamar Chaney and Dominic Douglas.

"I like the way we're running around but of course the emphasis is on trying to do the little things right," Croom said. Then, the coach verged back into critical mode. "And we've still got some older guys that haven't figured out we're not going to tolerate shortcuts. You'd think by now a guy whose been in the program two years would figure that out by now. But some guys are just hard-headed and stubborn. Either they're going to come around to our way of thinking or have to play football somewhere else." No names were offered, of course, and as full-team practices are closed none could be guessed. Tuesday might offer some indications if there are other moves on the depth chart for day-two.

Two veterans are being held out, including starting CB Anthony Johnson as he recovers from late-season knee injury and surgery. Backup HB Arnil Stallworth is coming back from shoulder problems. DE Charles Burns, who missed all last season with an August shoulder procedure, reported today in limited-yellow.

Per NCAA spring rules the Bulldogs will work again in shorts Tuesday and Thursday.

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