“But hey, that’s what spring training is. We’ve got some little nicks and a few are limping, some of them are frowning. But that’s what it is supposed to be like. That’s what makes you take pride in wearing the jersey.”
And by that standard the Mississippi State staff has been encouraged by how the team has been responding this work-week. At the conclusion of the two-hour session the head coach even had some positive things to say…which has not often been the case during this 2005 camp.
“It was a good, hard day,” Croom said. “We got something out of it. We did some good things today.”
The Bulldogs, team and staff alike, might have had a little extra motivation Thursday as the practice was observed by an estimated 60 high school coaches who were on campus for a clinic. After the practice the guests attended a fish fry, with former Auburn head coach Pat Dye as a featured speaker.
Back on the practice fields, the Bulldogs were in full gear Thursday and often were hitting full-speed, even though they will be scrimmaging this Saturday. Much of this day’s work might as well have been a scrimmage, such as when the first and second units went against each other in red-zone drills. Croom came away satisfied with those results. “We got a lot out of the work on both sides of the ball,” he said.
And the goal in goal-line sets was to test both sides. Croom said one plan Thursday was gauging how the defense would execute in run-stopping, and they did well enough to not get criticized. The pass-rush and -coverage work was not as conclusive, but that was no fault of the defense.
“We still haven’t gotten a true test of our passing game yet because either we have some great rushing defensive ends or our offensive tackles are still not as good as they should be,” Croom noted. “We’ll find out exactly later on.” The coach also liked how the defense dealt with the ‘hard’ cadence plays called to test both sides of the line on whether they could stay under control and not jump offsides.
Speaking of the blocking tackles, the offense is again adjusting to a missing player. Guard-turned-tackle Johnny Wadley separated a shoulder in Tuesday’s practice and was limited to the exercycle Thursday. It’s a good question whether he will be able to practice again this spring, with only a week left after Saturday. In Wadley’s absence right tackle James Redmond switched back to the left-most position he practiced last spring. As if his spring hasn’t gone badly enough, Redmond came up limping by the last ten minutes. Avery House found himself promoted to #1 right tackle.
Other players wearing either red crossed or yellow jersies Thursday were LB Anthony Littlejohn, TE Blake Pettit, TE Eric Butler, CB David Heard, WR Jonathan Lowe, DE Rob Walker, and DL Jeremy Jones. With the two veteran tight ends sidelined Jason Husband and Dezmond Sherrod got the bulk of the work, and Husband continued his surprisingly strong camp showing as a blocker/receiver.
At linebacker Clarence McDougal continued to work with the #1 unit, and looks to finish spring as a first teammer alongside Quinton Culberson and Gabe O’Neal. Culberson had to leave early for an evening class, which allowed Brad Horton to show off some more in the middle. On the line Willie Evans and Titus Brown continue to alternate as co-#1s at end. The safety spots, which Croom is still not pleased with, were filled on the first-team by Jeramie Johnson and Mario Bobo, with De’Mon Glanton getting a few turns on the top unit. With Heard watching, Keith Fitzhugh was opposite Kevin Dockery as #1 cornerbacks.
In general Croom was content with the day’s results, though some dropped quarterback/center exchanges brought his ire. “We’re getting better. All in all we’re still making progress, but I’m not going to talk much about giving good effort because that’s what they’re supposed to do. If they’re going to wear the maroon jersey they’re supposed to play hard. That’s expected.”
Speaking of jersies, another Dog earned his numbers Thursday. #1 quarterback Omarr Conner was wearing 14 on his bright-red shirt at last. “He’s been working good all week,” Croom said. “Plus I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.” That was as close as the coach would come to a joke Thursday.
But Conner was all smiles anyway. “It feels good to put 14 back on my jersey. I knew I would get it, I thought I would the first day after the scrimmage, but Coach made me work a little harder! So I did and he gave it to me today.” Conner was also relieved to be out of the coach’s doghouse after the non-football ankle injury suffered the day before camp began, which slowed everything down for the entire offense that first week. Now he is in healthy and in good graces alike.
“I’m back 100% now and ready to move forward, to take the Bulldogs to another step,” said Conner.
That next step is Saturday’s scrimmage, which will be held at Scott Field at noon. While there are specific objectives for the game-style session, in offense, defense, and kicking alike, Croom has a general attitude too. “We’ll just put the ball on the field and scrimmage until I get tired of watching them.”