Tuesday Football Practice Report

One would expect a coach to enjoy watching an offense executing, advancing, and scoring, right? Well, as much as Coach Sylvester Croom liked how the football moved Tuesday morning, the satisfaction still was a bit diluted. "It's funny, being a head coach it's never a good practice. Because if the defense is good you worry about the offense; if the offense is good you worry about the defense."

Of course concerns about stopping Mississippi State's offense has to be taken as a generally encouraging trend this particular preseason. And based on Croom's comments following the morning session, held in the Palmeiro Center, the go-side of the squad came out ahead in full-pads practicing this time.

"The defense gave up too many big plays. We had too many big runs this morning on defense, which normally doesn't happen. So the offense must have been doing better. But we've got to stop the run first, and we've got to be able to run the ball on offense before anything else. So we've got to get that squared away."

The Bulldogs did do a good job Tuesday pounding the ground, or at least the Palmeiro artificial surface, with halfbacks Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducre combining for several ‘big play' runs against the varsity defense. The two freshmen backs, Robert Elliot and Wade Bonner, also got their turns. Croom says of the two Elliot, who came to college as a back, has the lead on converted safety Bonner for the third spot. But Elliot is also still struggling with other aspects of the position. "He's still not as good a blocker as he needs to be but we've got to continue to develop that."

The backs that do more blocking have also come in for compliments lately. Croom's frequent praise for Brandon Hart has affirmed his place atop the fullback depth chart, and the whole offense is glad that Eric Hoskins has shown no ill-effects from his spring shoulder nerve issues. That gives two proven players at a position of concern during spring came. "And we've got a walk-on fullback, Sylvester Hemphill, who looks like he wants to play for us this year, and working like that he will," Croom said.

Speaking of blocking, Croom is increasingly confident in the offensive front with the starting group nearly settled. One position remains "up in the air" as the coach put it. "We've still got good competition at the right tackle spot, whether that's going to be Mark Melichar or Quentin Saulsberry. That's going to be a big question. Those two guys are the leaders right now and it's going to be an interesting battle." For now sophomore letterman Melichar has held his edge on redshirt Saulsberry for the first team job.

"But we're set at guard, we're set at center, Derek Sherrod is the left tackle." True soph Sherrod has handled the move from right to left tackle well, though this morning he found out that older Dog DE Tim Bailey still has some tricks. "Bailey beat him a couple of times with things on the back-side and that can't happen, he has to learn to finish better. But (LG) Anthony Strauder and (RG) Mike Gates are doing very well. Between the two of those guys we'll be OK at right tackle, too. But they've still got a lot to learn in a short period of time. The good thing is they show up for work every day and give us everything they've got."

Gates returned to full-speed status this morning after missing some days with a sore ankle. The offensive line still is going to be short a backup guard for a while as freshman Tobias Smith's badly sprained ankle will sideline him at least a month and likely more.

The roll-call of injured or gimpy bodies is a lot longer for the defensive line, though. The good Tuesday news was RDE Bailey's return to full-speed after a hamstring issue. With Brandon Cooper nearing his own upgrade the left end chart will be back to three-deep as well. Inside, it's another matter as starting LDT Kyle Love is still hobbled by a toe and freshman Devin Jones by a hamstring. Others have their own aches and ills but are still practicing. Line coach David Turner had a dozen bodies at practice today but Cooper was still in limited-purple and DT Rodney Prince is sitting out the season.

Still, Croom said today, "I'm not as concerned about the depth now because we're starting to get some people healthy. We're going to have to play eight to ten defensive linemen, keep those guys fresh and play a lot of them." In previous seasons State could usually count on playing three or four interior tackles almost all snaps, but that isn't going to be the case in 2008. For two reasons, Croom cited.

First, lack of sheer size. "We're not a big defensive front but we are fast. We've got to be real good technique players on defense and we've got to play with a lot of leverage and get off blocks, because we're not going to overpower anybody on our defensive front."

And secondly? "In reality we don't have one guy that is a dominating player, but we'll try to et the job done with numbers." That is, if the group of new big bodies are able to do the job. Croom is hoping to get Jones and rookie classmate Joshua Jackson up to college speed in time for the opener as help at tackles; and on the ends Sean Ferguson, Nick Bell, and Shane McCardell are practicing for rotation duty.

"They have to step up. If they can give us 15-20 plays a game that'll be a huge plus for us and we can stay fresh." And among freshmen stepping up at other positions, rookie S Charles Mitchell has worked into the #2 status at one safety position. With starter Derek Pegues suspended for the opening game at Louisiana Tech, Mitchell is likely to get first-chance duty now. Keith Fitzhugh and Zach Smith are running first-team at the safety spots though, with De'Mon Glanton also taking turns with the first unit.

Only a few injured players reported for indoors practice. CB Damein Anderson (hamstring) and CB/S Chris Nance (wrist) participated in some drills as did Cooper in limited-purple. KO Eric Richards is in limited-yellow with a hip problem. Love and Jones stayed in the training room, as did freshman wide receivers Delmon Robinson (ankle) and Arceto Clark (groin).

"Nothing new on injuries or personnel," Croom said. Nor on the status of freshman DL Trevor Stigers who has yet to be cleared for participation by the NCAA.

The Bulldogs will have their last two-a-day date Wednesday, practicing in pads in the morning and shorts in the afternoon. That will also be the last scheduled morning-work date of this camp.

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