Mississippi State completed the 11th practice out of the 15 scheduled for this spring session. The Bulldogs spent the full two-and-a-half hours outdoors Tuesday, as the oncoming weather front won't arrive until later in the evening. Still it was a blustery afternoon with a constant wind that nobody enjoyed. Well, nobody but the punters as their kicks carried exceptional distances in those periods. The gusts did make things interesting for kick-catchers, not to mention the quarterbacks and wideouts in throwing drills.
And there were plenty of those periods Tuesday as State's staff worked on not just execution in the passing game, but in the pass-blocking which was one of Croom's particular problems yesterday. This round went far more smoothly, from the center/quarterback exchanges to getting the throws off in the correct sequences and rhythms.
A big reason, Croom said, was "Our protection was better, we worked on first-down blitz protection a little bit better. I thought the defense brought the heat pretty good but we picked things up better with the offensive line. That' one of the things we're really got to do better job of this year, picking up blitzes so its' a big emphasis right now." It helped that after a day back on the job, having missed five previous practices, center J. C. Brignone was better in-synch with first quarterback Wesley Carroll. At the same time the running backs picked up on extra rushers more consistently in passing plays.
There were a lot of those playing being run, and thrown, because in this third week of camp the repertoire is expanding. In unit drills there were many more plays with a lone half back, or two halfbacks and no blocking back, or even an entirely empty backfield. These are things State worked on last spring of course, but not until later in the session. It's partly because top halfbacks Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducre know their roles now; but also because even the inexperienced backs Robert Elliot and Wade Bonner are getting up to speed quickly. All four of the halfbacks are being mixed-and-matched with more things being run for all of them.
Carroll of course is the solid #1 triggerman, so the competition is on who is the first backup. With Josh Riddell limited only to unit work, it's redshirt Chris Relf and juco transfer Tyson Lee battling for the scrimmage #2 job. To that end Croom is letting—making?—them work in normal offensive maroon and not the hands-off red worn by Carroll.
"We did a little full-speed work in our 9-on-7 period and some team periods," Croom said. "We wanted to get get Chris and Tyson some full-speed work. They're creative at times." The wideout rotation has settled down with Co-Eric Riley and Jamayel Smith the first-team, and Brandon McRae, Aubrey Bell, and Ryan Mason the second group in rotation as of now. Freshman O'Neal Wilder was in that mix last week but has been ill for a few days and wore a red-cross Tuesday.
So did PK Eric Richards, who also has been sick, not hurt. OG Mike Gates was also ill and in the training room. Those missing Tuesday with injuries were DE Tim Bailey (calf), CB Jasper O'Quinn (groin), and LB Karlin Brown (knee). DT Quinton Wesley was held out after working Monday to check his hurting back disc.
State did get one player back full-speed today. DE Brandon Cooper missed the first ten working days, then was limited upon return Monday. But not today, as he was suddenly promoted not just to number-status but was lined up with the first team in Bailey's place. Cooper has also been slowed by a lower-back issue.
With Brown out, the linebacking lineup Tuesday had at weak-side starter Dominic Douglas and Mike Hunt; strong-siders K.J. Wright and Terrell Johnson; and MLBs Jamar Chaney, Jamie Jones, and Jamon Hughes.
For one of the few times this or any recent camp, the defense came in for some criticism from the head coach. "We're not tackling very well, I'm disappointed with that," Croom said. "But we haven't done a lot of full-speed work yet." That's because before spring break the staff chose to repeat a regular practice instead of scrimmage; State has had only one game-type session this spring so far. Then there was the off-week that seemed to cost the players some sharpness, and brought Croom's ire Monday.
"The thing that was disappointing yesterday was we were a good post-vacation team last year, we practiced extremely well after periods of down-time. And it disappointed me yesterday this team hasn't learned to do that yet. So in that sense alone I feel like we're behind because we don't know how to take some time off and come back and focus on business. With 23 seniors that should not be the case."
But Croom plans to pick up the intensity in the remaining four working days, three of which will either be full- or partial-contact. "We won't have a full scrimmage on Thursday but part of the practice will be full-speed so we can start guys to tackling some." Then next Tuesday, upon return from Easter break, the Bulldogs will scrimmage for-real. "Because we've got to get it done now and the rest of the spring; we're not going to be able to do much of it in the fall."
Cooper was the only player promoted to spring-number status Tuesday. He joined the roster with S Keith Fitzhugh, HB Robert Elliot, S Derek Pegues, S De'Mon Glanton, LB Dominic Douglas, QB Wesley Carroll, QB Chris Relf, WR Co-Eric Riley, QB Tyson Lee, C Marcus Washington, HB Wade Bonner, LB Jamar Chaney, C Jasper O'Quinn, HB Anthony Dixon, HB Christian Ducre, LB K.J. Wright, FB Brandon Hart, PK Adam Carlson, FB Eric Hoskins, DE Tim Bailey, S Chris Nance, P Blake McAdams, LB Mike Hunt, OG Anthony Strauder, OG Craig Jenkins, OT Mike Brown, OG Mike Gates, OT Derek Sherrod, TE Brandon Henderson, WR Jamayel Smith, DE Rodney Prince, DT Jessie Bowman, and DT Kyle Love.