One-On-One With Coach Croom

In this one-on-one interview with Mississippi State head football coach Sylvester Croom, he talks about the freshmen he plans on playing, his thoughts about Louisiana Tech, how he describes this year's team and why he plans on playing up to ten defensive linemen on a regular basis this season.

What freshmen do you anticipate playing in the upcoming game?
"Sean Ferguson, Josh Jackson, Delmon Robinson and Charles Mitchell. I don't see those guys not playing."

Why those four?
"They have played well, and their progress has been faster than expected. But from day one they have looked like they were ready to play. They've been able to handle the grind of training camp and they've continued to get better every day. And they haven't slipped and hit that freshman wall yet. I don't see any signs of that happening because they are a little different."

Do you still plan on starting Sean Ferguson at defensive end?
"Yes, Sean is going to start."

Is he starting because he's that talented or because you have come up a little short at the defensive end position?
"He's starting in front of some guys who have been here because he's played so well. And that's allowed us to move Charles Burns inside."

What is it about Sean that makes him so good?
"He does what we want a defensive end to do. That's the best way I can put it. He gets the job done. He's a natural pass-rusher, but he plays the running game better than any of us imagined he would. I'm sure he's going to get beat some as any freshman would, but he's been one of our most consistent defensive linemen and he hasn't missed a practice."

Potentially, how good is he?
"We'll wait until after the game before I make any predictions on that. He's done extremely well in practice, but practicing and playing in a game is a whole different deal. But if he plays like he practices, then there is no telling how good he can be."

Do you expect Charles Mitchell to play much or will his role be more to give the starters a breather?
"A lot of that will depend on how the game is going. But we definitely intend to get him in there."

Could you be a little more specific about LA Tech?
"We can't be much more specific about them because we haven't seen them play a game this year, all we know about them is last year. And with the change in quarterbacks and the change in personnel on defense, we are very concerned that we may see a lot of things different than we saw last year.

"On offense, they are a multiple offensive team. They like to line up with the one back, quarterback under center with two tight ends and two wide receivers. That's pretty much their base set, but they do some two-back sets and some things very similar to what we do. But they are a multiple set football team.

"The Jackson kid is a very good running back. I think they got a fine pickup getting Bennett from Georgia Tech. Otherwise, I think they would have had a weakness at quarterback. But they now have a solid guy there who can get the ball to guys who can make plays. Two of their top three wide receivers are coming back from last year. And they have three tight ends who can play. That's one of the reasons I think we will see the two tight end set a little more than what they used last year. That will allow them to get their best guys on the field.

"Defensively, they are a four-down front team. They play multiple coverages in the secondary. And they like to bring pressure.

"Three of their four starting secondary guys are back. Antonio Baker is one of the best safeties in the country. He's a big-time hitter. And linebacker Quin Harris is back."

You seem to always have a unique way of describing your team at the start of each season. How would you describe this team doing into the season?
"I really don't know. But I do know this - we have more talent. We do have more firepower on offense. We are faster on both sides of the ball. But how good we are, I don't know that yet. You don't know that until you go play somebody. But I know we are ahead of where we were last year.

"But how effective we are right now, I won't know until later. That's the same way it was last year. Some things I thought would be weaknesses last year turned out to be strengths. I didn't think our defensive line could hold up going into the first ballgame, but they played extremely well last year from the start of the season."

Why will you be more explosive on offense?
"Because we have more speed. It starts with (Anthony) Dixon being in better shape. Then, we have the two young backs who will help us (Robert Elliott and Wade Bonner). And I think our wide receivers are quicker and faster. Brandon McRae is playing at a greater speed. But we lost some of the (wide receiver) speed with the loss of (O'Neal) Wilder. That was a big loss to us because he has a tremendous amount of speed. He was a guy who could go deep and create something for us on his own or clear a couple of people out."

You mentioned that you are going to play up to ten defensive linemen this year. Is that something you prefer to do?
"It's going to be out of necessity this year. It will keep guys fresh and healthy. But I really think you have to play two-deep on the defensive line because of all the spread offenses. You have to have guys big enough to stop the run and agile enough to rush the passer and tackle people in the open field. No matter how well-conditioned they are, in order for them to be fresh and play at a high level you have to play more people than you have in the past on the defensive line."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

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