"It was a little bit better today. We did some good things."
Evidently the offense did, because Croom—also serving as coordinator on that side of the ball while Coach Woody McCorvey recovers from surgery—was upbeat. Among Wednesday's objectives were exposing the Bulldog defense to a variety of third-down plays and packages, as well as a healthy helping of hurry-up situations that State might have to cope with in the opening game at Louisiana Tech.
"We really worked our defense a lot with our no-huddle offense, so we can get a tempo," Croom said. "I'm sure we'll see some of that in the first ball game, so we spent enough time on it so our defense can feel the tempo and do all those kind of things."
Of course the defense, and their coaches, probably thought the boss was taking a bit too much advantage of his temporary extra duty running the offense. Where Croom might be more neutral under normal practice circumstances, this week he's trying to ‘win' on offense. "We got them on a couple of things today," Croom smiled. "They'll go back tonight and try to counter that."
Seriously, though, "We're trying to show our defense as much stuff as we possibly can. And they're showing us enough stuff to where we're having to make some adjustments and handle some different things. You know you're not going to see them all in one ball game but at least we'll have an idea of how to make adjustments as the season goes on."
The 2008 roster finally was able to add one last freshman name as Trevor Stigers received NCAA clearance Tuesday afternoon. The rookie defensive lineman was unable to enroll in the July semester pending certification, then had to wait almost three more full weeks—including two missed class days—before his qualifications were accepted. The only advantage of late certification is that with classes underway Stigers does not have to go through the five-practice ‘acclimation' period required of fellow frosh cleared for pre-semester camp weeks. So today Stigers was thrown into work immediately as a reserve tackle.
As for those new d-line faces more likely to play in the opener, DT Devin Jones has rejoined the rotation now that his hamstring hurt in the first scrimmage isn't slowing him. And classmate Sean Ferguson continues to practice as first left end with the grouping of LDT Love, RDT Jessie Bowman, and RDE Tim Bailey. But now that his back isn't an issue Brandon Cooper is bidding for top status at left end.
In passing-play work, Marcus Green and Nelson Hurst were the top two tight ends taking turns. But for running-game plays Brandon Henderson is also operating with the first-team. For the moment he is wearing a cast on the right hand to protect a hurt thumb ligament.
WR Co-Eric Riley was promoted to full-work after three days in limited yellow with a shoulder problem. He immediately regained his place with Jamayel Smith as the first two wideouts taking snaps in passing drills. Aubrey Bell and Brandon McRae were the second pair, followed by Delmon Robinson and Corey Bailey.
These drills pleased the head coach/temporary offensive coordinator. "The quarterbacks did some good things. We gave them some different looks today and we're working on some things with them. I'm really pleased with our wide receivers, they're running and catching well."
A tithe of the team was left behind in the Shira training room today, including a pair of first-team offensive linemen. RT Mark Melichar missed a second day with a stomach virus, while RG Mike Gates was again out for tonsillitis. The same malady had backup OC D.J. Looney out Monday but he returned Tuesday, albeit in limited yellow to work with the second team.
"But we still got good work," Croom said. "It's forced us to work some more people, put them in some situations, and try some things that you ordinarily would not have. WLB Dominic Douglas turned an ankle at the end of Monday work and was getting further treatment today; while starting SS Keith Fitzhugh has the same bug as Melichar and was held away from the club. RB Wade Bonner has missed a couple of days' work with a hip flexor problem.
Those limited to unit work at practice were starting DT Love, just to protect his toes; backup DE Jimmie Holmes after about of back spasms; and S Chris Nance (wrist).
Tuesday's adjusted offensive line(s) had Quentin Saulsberry and Craig Jenkins stepping in at right tackle and guard respectively with regular first-teammers OC J. C. Brignone, LG Anthony Strauder, and LT Derek Sherrod. The current backup line was RT Phillip Freeman, RG Templeton Hardy, OC Looney, LG Dakota Merritt, and LT Chris Spencer. Addison Lawrence today took snaps at both guard slots as needed, when not busy with placekick-protect drills. But the redshirt is a very busy Dogs these days.
"We've got him playing tackle, also tight end in our short-yardage package, then we put him today at guard. He's smart enough to do that and having a swing guy like that gives us some depth. And because Henderson had a cast on today we had to give Kendrick Cook more work. If that's going to be a long-term issue, Kendrick may have to play. We always have to have three tight ends that can play."
The practice ‘play' resumes Thursday with Croom still running the offense and trying to come out ahead of his defensive staffers. "I've already got those guys mad at me!" he quipped.
"But all that's about to end, probably after tomorrow, because we have to really start honing in on working the scout team stuff and giving the looks Louisiana Tech is going to give us on both sides of the ball." The Thursday schedule includes periods devoted to third down and red zone work, on both sides, that the team has gone through a good bit already. "And we've got to review and rehearse overtime situations, backed-up and offense coming out," Croom said, adding that two-minute and four-minute offense is also on the itinerary.
Starting Friday, though, the emphasis shifts to game-prep and Croom wants to have everything run through sufficiently to settle on the gameplan the players will be handed Sunday afternoon.
After practice, Croom said McCorvey has left Oktibbeha County Hospital and is resting at home after his Monday operation, which remains unspecified by State officials per family request. "He still says he'll be back at work Friday," Croom said. "We'll see how realistic that is. Or, what Mrs. Ann (McCorvey) has to say about that."