"We went from one extreme yesterday to a totally different one. It was one of our better practices we've had at this point since we've been here, from top to bottom. I was really pleased with how our defense flew around. And even though we made mistakes offensively I thought (RB Anthony) Dixon had his best practice ever. From top to bottom they were concentrating on trying to do things right, and I was very pleased with the way we went about things today."
Croom had reason for Monday concern, starting with lingering effects from day-one heat stresses. Three players—first DE Cortez McCraney, starting SLB K.J. Wright, and freshman DL Devin Jones—were held out of today's drills entirely after falling out Sunday afternoon. Only one player joined that list Monday as WR Aubrey Bell was felled late in the day by cramps. Though, one who had first-day issues showed no ill effects as RB Robert Elliot was back to full-speed for the second day.
It didn't hurt that the ground-level temperatures were ‘only' 113 degrees Monday, almost a dozen lower than the day before, and air temperatures dropped three degrees to an even 100. And, that due to final summer semester exams practice began an hour later.
Still whatever the reasons, Croom's concerns were eased early as healthy Mississippi State players started the second practice as if starting camp all over. Not surprisingly the defense led the reviews. "Our first defense was impressive, I mean it was really impressive the way they ran to the football. There were a couple of times it looked like (the offense) had big plays and all of a sudden there were eleven guys there, I'm glad to see that happen. And we should be that way because everybody on that defense has played in SEC games and played well. We should expect that."
More encouraging was how the offensive unit bounced back from a bad Sunday start, where only guard Anthony Strauder drew any favorable reviews off tape. Dixon was the standout, and Croom meant it when saying it was the junior's best Bulldog practice to-date.
"He didn't take a play off. Even when he made mistakes he worked like (Jerious) Norwood used to work. Top to bottom, he finished every play and we didn't have to say anything to him about effort the whole practice. If he keeps doing that he'll be a great back before the season is over."
Quarterback Wesley Carroll also got in the positive column Monday. "Wes was definitely better, and he had nowhere to go but up," said Croom. "He threw the ball better. The thing with Wes, he wasn't playing football. I told him just go practice like it's a game because he always throws the ball well in games. Yesterday it looked like he was trying to make everything too perfect, it was too robotic yesterday. Today he just went out and played and it looked a lot better."
Even if they tied the week's score the game is barely begun, especially for the August offense, and Croom noted a series of mental gaffes and motion penalties. But at least this came for the right reasons. "They're trying to go fast, and learn a lot of stuff at the same time," he acknowledged.
The heat-felled personnel joined injuries DE Brandon Cooper (back) and CB Damein Anderson (hamstring) as red-cross guys for Monday. Starting DT Kyle Love (toe) was in limited-purple today. On offense starting OG Michael Gates (back) and freshman RBI T.J. Patterson (ankle) joined DS Aaron Feld (back) and backup OC D.J. Looney (meniscus) in limited-yellow.
For drills there were some injury-shuffles on the offensive line. Gates still lined up as first right-guard in the starting unit of RT Mark Melichar, OC J. C. Brignone, LG Anthony Strauder, and LT Derek Sherrod. With Looney out, Johnny Carpenter moved from #2 left guard to second center in the middle of the backup line of RT Quentin Saulsberry, RG Craig Jenkins, LG Dakota Merritt, and LT Chris Spencer. Phillip Freeman is third left tackle, Sam Latham the third center, with freshmen Tobias Smith and Templeton Hardy at guard and tackle.
The defensive front had to adapt to conditions, too, though Love still ran through the drills as first left tackle beside RDT Jessie Bowman. The absences of Cooper and McCraney meant Charles Burns was first LDE, opposite RDE Tim Bailey. The second d-line was freshman LT Sean Ferguson, LT Joshua Jackson, RT Reggie Odom, RE Jimmie Holmes.
Wright's top spot at strong LB was taken by veteran Anthony Littlejohn for the day.
Punt fielding—not returns yet—were practiced a period with Derek Pegues, Chris Nance, and Jamayel Smith taking turns.
Just after starting time a member of the campus police staff showed up for practice…but only to watch, and with a veteran's eye. It was 2007 starting defensive end Avery Hannibal, a spring graduate who completed his training and joined the MSU police staff in July.
Signees DL Trevor Stigers and QB Terrance Davis still have not been cleared by the NCAA for participation. And the camp roster lost a member as walk-on LB Tyler Chancellor dropped off.
Croom hopes there is no drop-off in effort or performance Tuesday, when the Bulldogs pull on shoulder pads for the first of two ‘shells' sessions. "Today was a big step forward. And tomorrow is a key day because we want to see if we can continue to get better." The team will be in full pads Thursday.