The second team, including some alternate starters, and thirds will take their turn at 7:00. Not that those Dogs had the morning off; or for that matter that the morning workers have a free evening ahead.
"We'll have a walk-through this afternoon, then they'll watch the film," said Mullen of the morning crew. "They'll get a lift on this evening; our other group has got a lift this morning so we kind of alternate. Half the team lifts, half the team practices." Meaning, everybody works all day.
Which is the objective of this split-squad approach Mullen debuted last August. Even a two-and-a-half hour full team practice, such as Thursday's, is not long enough to get three and four teams enough live snaps that position assistants need to study.
"When you split practice like this you get a little bit more individual attention," Mullen said. "Especially all these young kids out here. With how crazy it is when the whole team is out here they get more individual instruction."
That certainly was this morning's case, as first-squad and new kids alike got almost entirely equal opportunities whether in unit drills or 11-on-11 settings. In fact there were a higher number of practice periods than usual devoted to the latter, as well as 5-on-7 matches, than normal for this early point in preseason. For the top Dogs such competitive periods were a snap so to speak; but when squaring off against each other the rookies put on an entertaining show of their own.
Not, though, that the big Dog would let himself get impressed by it all. Just the opposite. Mullen will watch individual performances more than anything done by a squad.
"I guess if we played, like, seven-on-seven stuff in summer, if that's what we sold out the stadium to see we'd probably evaluate this practice. But we have to put pads on and see who can play the game of football. So to me it's a lot of teaching, a lot of learning, a lot of techniques, a lot of getting used to being out here on the field."
Perhaps so…but there sure was a lot of activity that looked team-like. Right from the beginning, too, as practices began with a quick shot of two-minute offense and defense to get everybody in a working frame of mind. It, well, worked. Mullen spent most of his time with the offense, starting with the running backs in protection drills since a few balls had hit the ground on Thursday. Mullen was the one holding the dummy today and sticking the ball-haulers as they came through.
A period invested in one-on-one pass/defense work gave the throwers and catchers an edge, especially in short patterns where both #1 Chris Relf and #4 Dak Presscott had little trouble delivering. Longer patterns didn't work as well in this drill but there were no turnovers. For that matter neither quarterback had a pass picked in the 5-on-7 ‘ladder' drills where four receivers tried finding holes against linebackers and secondary.
Not until it went to team-on-team was there a turnover, and that when Relf missed behind intended target Arceto Clark. CB Corey Broomfield made the running pick and jogged into the end zone. But this came only after Relf had struck deep on a previous series to WR Chad Bumphis streaking open down the middle. Prescott had his own moments, such as twice finding rookie Devin Fosselman just under group coverage for receptions at the hashes.
Since the day had begun with two-minute work, why not end it the same way? Mullen let each offense have 1:45 and a timeout to get the ball into the end zone. Both did, too. Relf's drive took longer but was successful as first he was able to see freshman TE Rufus Warren coming left-to-right at the back line for a touchdown. Relf also ran it in on the do-or-don't extra play.
Presscott also took advantage of the new tight end, delivering to Warren over the middle as well for a touchdown on just the third play of his drive. This was also against the #1 offense, interestingly. The freshman quarterback's best play though was on second down when he went long to rookie Joe Morrow on the right sideline. Morrow maneuvered behind veteran CB Johnthan Banks, jumped high and came down with a great catch. On the designated last play Presscott got a high snap but got it and dashed across the goal untouched.
Compared to Thursday, interceptions were way, way down and big completions obviously up. "You see some good improvement as practice goes on and guys getting used to the tempo of practice," Mullen said. "The receivers' speeds are changing from the beginning of practice to the end of practice. I like it.,p> Otherwise, "We've got a little bit more mental focus today. We got a little soft, dropping some balls at times today, a little lazy with footwork at times. That's too much thinking going on and not enough doing." It's something the coaches will address in the afternoon walk-through.
But as for any overall evaluation so soon? Not yet, Mullen insisted. "Put some pads on and find out! What are the tournaments called in the summer, if we were playing them I guess we'd be OK. Those guys have to put pads on to see if they can play."
MORNING SHIFT: The first offense had Chad Bumphis in the slot with outside receivers Arceto Clark and Ricco Sanders, as well as tight end Marcus Green. Youngsters Malcolm Johnson and Rufus Warren took turns with both first and fourth teams at tight end today, too. The backup threes for this session were redshirt Robert Johnson joined by true frosh James Morrow and Devin Fosselman. Vick Ballard was tabbed for #1 tailback, meaning that this evening LaDarius Perkins and Rob Elliott will work with the backups.
This allowed rookie runners Derrick Milton, Josh Robinson, and walk-on James Baldwin turns as the other tailbacks, while Adrian Marcus was the lone regular fullback participating. The first offensive line was as expected, with RT Addison Lawrence, RG Tobias Smith, C Quentin Saulsberry, LG Gabe Jackson, and LT James Carmon. Their reserve-squad counterparts had three Dogs with spring experience, Ben Beckwith at center, Nick Redmond at right guard, and Joey Trapp at left guard. The rest were new with Justin Malone at right tackle, Daniel Knox at left tackle.
On defense, frosh P.J. Jones and James Maiden were backup tackles with spring enrollee John Harris and newcomer Preston Smith the ends. It was an all-new trio of backup linebackers though middle-man and Clemson transfer Brandon Maye is hardly a rookie. He was flanked by freshmen Zachary Jackson and Benardrick McKinney.
Kendrick Market and Dee Arrington were the new safeties with Taveze Calhoun and juco Darius Slay on the corners. Behind, of course, starters Johnthan Banks and Corey Broomfield with Charles Mitchell and Wade Bonner the first safeties. Brandon Wilson, Camerson Lawrence, and Matthew Wells are the #1 linebackers, with Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd at tackles; Sean Ferguson and Shane McCardell at ends.