Well, on Wednesday the Bulldog blockers began to fight back. And that had Coach Sylvester Croom cheering, in his own low-key way that is. “They had a little more oneriness about them today than what they’ve been doing,” the coach said at the end of a two-hour workout on the practice fields.
In fact the Mississippi State linemen were noticeably feistier in their Wednesday session. For that matter so were a lot of Dogs despite the fact that all were in partial pads and this, technically, was a non-contact day. This did not prevent quite a few vigorous collisions and even some flat tackling-to-ground. Cold, damp ground, too, as temperatures never made the predicted high and a brisk breeze chilled observers.
Fortunately, the action between the sidelines was warm…surprisingly so considering that Croom has the first scrimmage of spring scheduled for tomorrow. The coach attempted to dismiss most of the semi-hitting, while acknowledging that there was progress on both offense and defense. “I thought we got a little bit better today. And we should, because we had on the silk shorts today, we weren’t in full pads. But the kids ran to the ball, I thought they put more into it. And they had a lot more enthusiasm about them.”
Just for the record, everyone was in normal poly-cotton blends and not that fancy fabric. Every other opinion was right-on, especially Croom’s comments about better blocking overall and particularly in pass protection. That latter was a problem Tuesday and quarterbacks were more often sprinting out of the pocket than standing in to deliver the ball. Wednesday was a far better afternoon up-front.
“I thought our offensive line picked up the blitzes a whole lot better,” Croom said. “We’re trying to piece together and offensive line but they’re working hard and hey, I can live with that.” The coach also had praise for #1 quarterback Omarr Conner. “I thought he had his best day throwing the ball.”
As far as catching it, the veterans stood out. Flanker Will Prosser and split end Tee Milons were complimented; but nobody else. “Will and Tee are the only two receivers we’ve got right now. The rest of them are taking up space as far as I’m concerned. Hopefully they’ll get better but we’ll give them a chance tomorrow to see what they can do.”
Since camp opened the State staff has seen good things done on the defensive side of the ball. Wednesday was the same song, another verse. “Our defense was really running to the ball well. And I think our tackling is getting better. It’s not where we want it to be but it’s getting better. Kevin Dockery and Keith Fitzhugh are doing well at cornerback. I thought (DT) Corey Clark had a little better work in individual, and (DT) Deljuan Robinson continues to improve.”
Because so much offensive work was done in passing schemes, the 11-on-11 sets typically used the ‘nickel’ defense with Dockery or David Heard taking turns as a third safety. At linebacker both Quinton Culberson and Clarence McDougal took turns with the #1 unit, and soph Mario Bobo ran at first-team free safety.
But one unit did not please the staff Wednesday. Croom called the results of placekicking practices a “poor, poor effort. I’m glad we didn’t have to have a field goal to win a game today, because we’d have lost. We didn’t get the ball off quick, too many steps, and when we did get it off on time it was too low and hit an offensive lineman right in the rear. That was not good. So our kickers have to do a heck of a lot better.”
Protection, though, was sound. And both punting and placekicking will get full-speed repetitions in Thursday’s scrimmage, including the protection and rushing. Those units will take up a lot of scrimmage time. Croom said the game-type practice will feature situation work for both offense and defense, normal first down plays, and red zone drills. The team will assemble at Scott Field for the first time this spring, and the few admitted media observers can count on seeing first teams going against first teams much of the day.
Of course, as Croom added, “We ain’t got nothing but ones.”
After the scrimmage the Bulldogs will be off for Easter Weekend.