Monday Football Practice Report

As if there weren't enough obligations on the daily schedule already, Coach Sylvester Croom has suddenly taken on another. "I'm the offensive coordinator now," he explained. "I'm calling the plays, coaching the quarterbacks. I had a full day today, and now I've got to go do my head coaching duties. But, I'm going to have to do it until Woody gets back."

As in Woody McCorvey, the real coordinator of Mississippi State's offense. Just not for a while now after undergoing a Monday surgery; reasons for and location at both undisclosed by Croom and athletic department officials, at request of the McCorvey family. At the start of 4:15 practice the head coach told the assembled team that surgery was completed. After the session Croom gave the media a short update.

"He's out, the operation was a success. He's awake and feeling as good as you can feel after getting your…" At which Croom paused and resumed the no-details track. "After going through surgery like that. We think things are right on schedule."

What that schedule is wasn't offered. But how Mississippi State's staff will adjust was immediately clear with Croom assuming charge of the offense and quarterbacks. "We'll see how good a coach I am, I've got to go back to work now!"

Croom's direct work waited a few periods into Monday drills as the third week of 2008 preseason began with emphasis on kickoff coverage. It was the next phase in special teams practicing, as most parts of these units have been selected and drilled. A few jobs do remain to settle in protect/cover teams, and what freshmen are chosen for 2008 activation will figure into final choices. Croom said redshirt Eric Richards, back from a hip problem, will definitely be the kickoff man and has practiced punting well also.

"How we use him beyond that will depend on the other guys. But I wouldn't hesitate to use Richards any time." Jamayel Smith and freshman Delmon Robinson rotated in fielding kickoffs though all-out returns were not practiced today.

This being the first practice day since a weekend scrimmage, the coaching staff brought a list of items to brush-up on. Such as both offense and defense inside the 20-yard line. "We did a little more red-zone and goal line, we wanted to get some more work down there," Croom said. He was still bothered by how the offense failed to execute in scoring situations Saturday. "We missed a lot of opportunities in the scrimmage the other day just because of inconsistency with some detail things we do, and penalties." As in a couple of holding calls on first downs that effectively killed red-zone chances.

There was more open-field periods after that, again in set situations. Most of the first- and third-down packages have been installed already but the staff sees need to continue honing these aspects before the season opens August 30 at Louisiana Tech.

"Overall I thought the work was good," Croom said. "Our effort has been good all camp, we've worked extremely hard. But now we've really got to get to the details; steps, landmarks, all the little things in execution. Particularly on offense right now."

Not that there aren't defensive issues to address, mostly on the four-man front where some health questions have led to recent shuffles. As of today Kyle Love and Jessie Bowman were first tackles, left and right respectively; with freshman Sean Ferguson promoted last Friday to first left end opposite Tim Bailey. This while usual first LDE Cortez McCraney moved in to tackle. But that move isn't a lock and veteran Brandon Cooper is finally back to full-health after two weeks of back concerns.

But who starts at end isn't as big a worry for Croom as can the best two tackles stay intact. "Kyle Love is a real big key to our defense. Our linebackers and secondary are playing well but he is the key to stopping the run up in the middle. We're a lot different team when he's in there. Like (HB) Anthony Dixon on offense, when they're in there and playing well things are different on both sides of the ball. When they're not it's a struggle."

Love, hobbled by a toe operated on in summer, again was held out of contact work and his starting spot shared by either McRaney or LaMarcus Williams. RDE Bailey turned an ankle Saturday and stayed in the training room, but should return Tuesday. Second-team DT Charles Burns was excused today with a variety of aches and ills, and DE Jimmie Holmes was in a red-cross shirt also with back spasms. One positive item was the return of freshman DT Devin Jones to purple status after a week nursing a hamstring pull. S Chris Nance (wrist) was also in purple. On offense WR Co-Eric Riley hurt a shoulder in the scrimmage and was in limited-yellow but still catching passes in unit drills.

"We had nothing serious from the scrimmage," Croom said. "Hopefully we'll get everybody feeling good again now that we're done with the tackling and full-speed work, except for the guys we're not going to play."

One veteran starter returned to the roster today, as with school underway CB Anthony Johnson rejoined the team for the first time since his April dismissal. And freshman OL John Paul Alford made his practice debut, in a red cross, with the start of school today as well. Croom said there was still no new word on the status of signee DL Trevor Stigers. If the rookie is to be cleared by the NCAA for enrollment it needs to be soon. "So he can get started and not get too far behind in the classroom. That's my biggest concern right now." With grandparents living in the county Stigers has been in the area for weeks awaiting formal word.

Of course what Mississippi State is really awaiting is the return of McCorvey, as soon as medically possible. "I told Woody he's got to hurry up and get back here, this coaching is killing me," said Croom, before going to the office. "Now I've got to go do my head coaching duties."

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