Monday Morning Football Practice Report

It's a fine line the Mississippi State is walking. On one hand—or more accurately on many shoulders, hamstrings, backs, etc.—the Bulldogs are showing the strains of initial contact practices. "But at the same time this is a critical week for us because they are tired, a little beat-up," said Coach Sylvester Croom. "And this is when you really develop your team."

The development continued Monday morning as Mississippi State resumed pre-season practicing. The two-and-a-half hour session was run outdoors and in full gear, to start the second week of August camp. This was the second of the three two-a-day dates, and the Bulldogs will be in shorts this afternoon.

With this also the first workout since Saturday's afternoon scrimmage, the morning practice showed some physical wear-and-tear. "We're a little nicked-up right now," Croom said. The most notable scrimmage casualty was OG Tobias Smith with a badly-sprained left ankle that is still swollen but shows no other damage so far. The true freshman had worked up to #2 at left guard. Second-team CB Chris Nance hurt his right wrist making a scrimmage tackle and was sidelined Monday.

Health downgrades included DT Tim Bailey (hamstring), DT Kyle Love (toe), and DT Devin Jones (hamstring) who went from limited-purple to red cross status. KO Eric Richards (hip) was also in a red cross this morning. But two defenders who missed the first week of work were upgraded as DE Brandon Cooper (back) and CB Damein Anderson (hamstring) went from red cross to purple. The only offensive regular in yellow today was OG Michael Gates (ankle) and he was still practicing with the first unit in drills. DS Aaron Feld's back is healthy enough that he was in varsity-white. And WR Delmon Robinson, limited to practice-punt fielding Saturday, was able to do some drills this morning before going to the training room early to take care of a gimpy ankle.

It's a natural progression for contact-camp, Croom said. "Guys are sore, hamstrings are tight, and we're trying to make sure we don't get into pulls and stuff." Yet at the same time the coach said things can't be eased-up too much in week-two, thus some risks must be taken. "It's when everybody is physically and mentally drained, and see if we can push through it. So that's going to be the goal this week. We're probably going to have a little more contact in our nine-on-sevens than we normally have, because I want to see if we can push through it and we can develop some mental or physical toughness this week that will carry us through the course of the season."

Morning results were encouraging, at least on the side of the ball that came in for Saturday critiques. It was a good start to the week by the offensive squad, Croom reported. "We had pretty good work this morning. I thought the quarterbacks had their best day throwing. We didn't do as well defensively as I thought, the offense ran the ball pretty well in nine-on-seven. Either we're getting a lot better on offense or our defense took a step back, I don't know which. But the offense did real well in our nine-on-seven drills."

Given that the first scrimmage game produced only one offensive touchdown this can be taken as progress. But the fact is review of scrimmage tape confirmed that the first and second offenses actually had some productive stretches and moved the ball well in mid-field. Croom pointed to the quality performances of wideouts Aubrey Bell and Brandon McRae, among others. "Most of our receiving corps did pretty well, some a lot better than others. But those guys really stood out." What really pleased the head coach though was work by the big guys up front.

"Overall our offensive line did well. We had about a 29-play stretch (in consecutive series) with our first unit in there and I thought our offensive line held up extremely well. We moved the ball pretty well, we just didn't punch it in. The defense made a terrific goal-line stand down there." The biggest plays were keyed by SS Keith Fitzhugh and backup MLB Jamie Jones, Croom said. And "the defense made a terrific goal-line stand down there."

"The thing that is most pleasing to me about our defense is our pursuit and our tackling. Particularly the tackling by our secondary, they were executing just the way the coaches had taught them to."

But State still has one serious worry on that side of the ball, and a check of the injury report shows exactly where. "I still think we're pretty solid everywhere but I'm concerned about the injuries in the defensive line, it's making us pretty thin right now. We've got to get Kyle Love back out here. We're going to have to do some things with our young guys, Sean Ferguson and some of those guys are really going to have to step it up."

With Love out, LaMarcus Williams is first for now at left defensive tackle and end Charles Burns has moved back to tackle as the #2 man. RDT Jessie Bowman is being backed by Reggie Odom. Jimmie Holmes is holding down Bailey's RDE spot with freshman Shane McCardell and freshman Nick Bell sharing second-status. On the left end Cortez McCraney, who was being worked some as an alternate tackle again, is still full-time first ahead of freshman Ferguson. Spring walk-on Anthony Smith was activated early for another practice body, though he has to go through the five-practice ‘acclimation' period. Fortunately twice-a-day drills Friday meant that veteran Rodney Prince has been able to work in full-pads since Saturday at tackle, even though he is sitting out the 2008 season.

For non-contact periods today the first line was unchanged, with RT Mark Melichar, RG Gates, OC J. C. Brignone, LG Anthony Strauder, and LT Derek Sherrod. They were backed up by LT Chris Spencer, LG Dakota Merritt, OC D.J. Looney, TG Craig Jenkins, RT Quentin Saulsberry. The third line, with nobody at left tackle, is LG Sam Latham, OC John McMillan, RG Templeton Hardy, and RT Phillip Freeman.

After Friday's announcement that starting S Derek Pegues, along with backup LB Karlin Brown, are suspended from Mississippi State's opener at Louisiana Tech, the senior has been demoted to backup status in practices. So soph Zach Smith has moved up to first team joining senior Keith Fitzhugh as the starting safeties, with De'Mon Glanton and freshman Charles Mitchell the seconds.

Monday saw freshman Terrance Davis finally able to join the roster after his weekend NCAA clearance. He was with the quarterbacks and fifth in the pecking order. State certainly hopes that remaining un-certified freshman Trevor Stigers is cleared because the rookie might well be needed on the defensive front.

Croom also addressed an intriguing comment made following the scrimmage, when he spoke of too many players "that want to coach and decide what they want to do." The coach offered a clarification this morning. "Some of our guys who have played a lot, there was a little too much questioning what was being done and they wanted to do some things their way. And we've had a good discussion about it. We've got to think about ‘we', the whole scheme for everybody, instead of ‘me.'

"When you've got a lot of seniors like we have there's a tendency for that to happen. Guys who have played a lot want to coach and do different things. But the guys that play here are going to be the ones that do what the coaches ask them to do, and if at any point they feel like they know more than coaches then they can go find a job somewhere. But we're going to do it the way our coaches ask them to, otherwise they won't play."

With weather threatening this afternoon, the second Monday session will likely move indoors.

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