Tuesday Football Practice Report

It's the third week of preseason work and the Bulldogs should have had sufficient time to put most of the pieces in their pre-season places. Still, what Coach Sylvester Croom saw after Tuesday's practice session was encouraging, even optimistic. "We're starting to resemble a football team a little bit more than we have," the coach said. "So it's a big step forward."

This team-like appearance came after Mississippi State completed the 18th practice of the month. It was a non-contact session, too, so the Bulldogs worked Tuesday in shells for about two-and-a-quarter hours. Still even though they were carrying lighter padding and not going full-tilt each other, State players practiced their unit and team drills with the sort of consistency Croom has been looking for since camp opened August 3.

"We had good work today," Croom said. "Our tempo was good on both sides of the ball, speed was good. The guys' concentration level was a lot more business-like. Hopefully we'll come back out and be better tomorrow. And we have to get better each day, we can't go backwards. We've still got a ways to go but today was a good day."

This despite a number of folk missing from day's duties with illness or injuries. The offensive line was working shorthanded in particular with three of their number held in the training room. The whole right side of the first line was out as veteran starter and RG Mike Gates and #2 center D.J. Looney both turned up with tonsillitis. Current top RT Mark Melichar also was kept away from the squad with a stomach virus.

"We had a couple of guys out," Croom said. "Nothing seems to be major but they're missing some good work. We do have a lot of little stuff like that."

To make up these Tuesday absences, veteran Craig Jenkins moved up into Gates' guard spot while redshirt Quentin Saulsberry got to run first-team at tackle, a job he has been pushing Melichar hard for already. The temporary second line had walk-on Sam Latham at guard while Phillip Freeman was #2 tackle. Walk-on John McMillan ran second center for the day.

Back spasms kept second DE Jimmie Holmes out for a second-straight day. First LDT Kyle Love (toe) was able to run a few more drills as this was a non-contact day; he is still held out of all hitting work. S Chris Nance (wrist) is on-track for opening week work and practicing as the second ‘nickel' safety. The same take-it-safe approach is applied to WR Co-Eric Riley with his shoulder injury, as he runs routes and catches balls with the rest of the wideouts but doesn't hit.

DT Devin Jones (hamstring) is getting closer to re-activation, and after a sideline day DT Charles Burns was at full-strength for the shorts session.

Riley remains in the top-four receiver rotation even with his hurting shoulder, along with Jamayel Smith, Aubrey Bell, and Brandon McRae. While it doesn't really matter which one ‘starts' next weekend the four do keep pushing each other in practices for who gets listed as the top two. Freshman Delmon Robinson is over his hamstring tweak of last week and bidding for a spot in the rotation, too. Freshmen O'Neal Wilder is back to speed after a couple days resting a sore knee.

Converted back Marcus Green has emerged as the top tight end the last two weeks, while true freshman Nelson Hurst seems to have taken an edge on lone veteran TE Brandon Henderson for second status, at least in passing play sets. Brandon Hart and Eric Hoskins remain essentially even as first-squad fullback, though the trend is still Hart getting the opening snap of position drills. Reserve HB Arnil Stallworth doubles-up as the third fullback, particularly for passing plays; otherwise veteran walk-on Taurus Young is the #3 fullback.

The other man missing Tuesday's work was offensive coordinator, who underwent Monday surgery for undisclosed reasons at Oktibbeha County Hospital. Croom updated his aide's status, saying everything had gone well.

"I went by to see him today, he's smiling and happy and walking around. I've been told he will go home tomorrow and could possibly be back at work on Friday, that's yet to be seen, but I'm very pleased and we're all happy that things have gone as well as it has."

The Bulldogs return to the practice field Wednesday at 4:00.

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