"It was good mental work for us, I thought our guys handled it extremely well," Croom said. "I thought they still had a lot of enthusiasm. We went the entire practice in the rain and it was good work for us." Even just getting to work with a wet ball in unit and team drills was an unplanned plus. "For the most part we handled it extremely well," said Croom.
The last day of February was also the first day for the Dogs to don more armor, specifically shoulder pads per NCAA spring guidelines. Just that much more padding allowed Mississippi State to make genuine contact at last. "I thought we had some pretty good hitting today. We'll find out a lot more tomorrow about where we are." Saturday being the first day of full-pads work, and thus the first true full-contact practicing this session. In fact Croom intends to devote about half of the Saturday practice to scrimmage-type settings, closed to media and public. He hopes to get through without any damage, but knows it's just part of practicing.
"That's the thing that concerns you, particularly tomorrow when we start hitting how many guys we lose and how many guys miss work. Because everybody needs the work."
Friday saw the first attempts to work with both placekicking and punting this week. Initially, attempting was all that could be in the short placekick situations; with the first snap bobbled and the next two kicks blocked. Veteran Adam Carlson is the starter while redshirt Eric Richards gets back into real rhythm following his August broken foot. Now healthy, Richards is expected to give Carlson a good push in camp at PK and contend for kickoff duties…which has not been practiced yet.
"We won't get into all our kicking game," Croom said. "We always start spring with punt protection and coverage; and our field goal/block. That's what we concentrate on spring, the last couple of days we'll have a full kicking practice to introduce other things. We'll find out who our three-deep is on the punt team and make sure they understand the field goal-extra point and the block."
A few quick punts were booted by Blake McAdams before the day turned to regular unit-work, with Derek Pegues fielding the balls.
A couple of Dogs who were excused from Thursday work were back on the field Friday, S Keith Fitzhugh and OG Anthony Strauder. Fitzhugh returned to first-team at strong safety, alongside FS Derek Pegues; and Strauder was back at first left guard. This allowed Craig Jenkins, who had run #1 at LG in Strauder's place, to go back to #2 right guard behind Mike Gates.
There have been no injuries through four days, not surprisingly given lack of true contact. The only players lost has been OC Johnny Carpenter who was to have Friday surgery on his shoulder. DE Charles Burns continues to work in a yellow jersey as he comes back from last August's shoulder operation, while practicing as third right d-end. And FB Eric Hoskins is limited in how much work he can do while the injured nerve is evaluated.
Three more players were awarded spring jersey numbers for camp performances. Joining the 15 who had been allowed to wear numbered jerseys after the first two days were WR Co-Eric Riley, WR Jamayel Smith, and DE Tim Bailey. Those who already had digits on shirts were S Derek Pegues, CB Marcus Washington, HB Anthony Dixon, OT Mike Brown, OG Mike Gates, and DT Kyle Love. They joined: S Keith Fitzhugh, S De'Mon Glanton, LB Dominic Douglas, LB Jamar Chaney, CB Jasper O'Quinn, QB Wesley Carroll, HB Christian Ducre, FB Brandon Hart, and FB Eric Hoskins showing digits on their shirts.
Four days into his fifth spring and Croom has been consistently complimentary of how the Bulldogs, varsity and redshirts alike, have performed. He said the carry-over from those extra weeks of work preparing for the Liberty Bowl have definitely paid off, and that while the staff is sticking to standard spring plans of fundamentals the level of teaching and pace is well-ahead of any previous camp.
And now that the pads are going on, and the contact coming up, practices can move to another level of intensity. Such as on offense, where coordinator Woody McCorvey's squad has been able to show it's athleticism but hasn't been fully-pressured by a defense free to hit them. Croom does like what the offense has been able to show, though.
"So far we've done well," he said. "We'll still be introducing things throughout the spring. I feel good about our physical abilities to handle what we've introduced because it's a continuation of some of the things we did in preparation for the bowl game and some complements off of it. We really want to take advantage of some of our guys' athletic ability. And, some things we had in the offense that we simply got away from because we weren't executing them very well. We'll go back to them, and with some different personnel groups. We'll hopefully add more movement in the offense, a little bit more shifting and motion and those type things."
And of course the defense, which has shown speed and awareness alike in the first four days, can now translate that into taking their best shots at the offense. Croom is confident that unit, under promoted coordinator Charlie Harbison, will do it well, too. Just as the entire spring squad has done in the opening week.
"Right now the main thing is we're working well, the enthusiasm is good, I'm pleased with the position changes we've made. And I like the attitude. We've still got a lot of getting-better to do, but I think we will. If we keep working like we are at some point we've got a chance to be pretty good."