Thursday Bowl Practice Notebook

It was another day spent mostly doing Pit work for QB Tyler Russell after his Tuesday knee injury towards the end of practice. Russell again wore the heavy wrap-brace—or the ‘immobiliser' as Coach Dan Mullen called it—when he was on the field throwing passes in specific drills. Even one-legged he still threw them very well, at that.

His work was confined to red-zone passing drills for the wide receivers and tight ends, and to the first round of pass/skeleton drills or 7-on-7 situations. This was both to keep Russell's arm loose around a lot of rehab work, and to keep from over-working healthy quarterbacks Chris Relf and Dak Prescott. Mullen addressed Russell's bowl outlook in the report posted earlier.

Otherwise Russell did sit-ups and other conditioning routines, and peddled the exercise bike. This time he had a partner as strength coach Matt Balis was on the other bike. Not for moral support really, because Balis has a bum ankle of his own after a wrestling incident last week. Players had nagged their coach that it was only right he go through the same sorts of stuff they endure at his re-hab hands.

*CB Corey Broomfield (left shoulder) was free from Pit duties today, staying with the secondary and doing some limited drills. He did not take part in any team-on-team work though. TB Nick Griffin (knee) went through some ball-protection and handoff-timing drills without any evident discomfort.

He was definitely not comfortable though when in a rare pass/skel handoff play he was tackled by LB Christian Holmes as if it were a scrimmage. No getting saved by a whistle on that one.

*Meanwhile OG Tobias Smith (September knee surgery) has attended all bowl practices as an observer with minor re-hab work. Asked why he was seen jogging around carrying a football, and one properly tucked-high as a good running back would too, "That's when I'm most dynamic, with a ball in my hand," the guard claimed. He wasn't as amused at the suggestion OT Blaine Clausell had better moves on his pass reception at Auburn. "He got zero yards," pointed out Smith.

*CB Johnthan Banks was excused from Wednesday's practice for a dental procedure as well as other family business, he said. The short break didn't hurt his game-sharpness though. Banks whipped a would-be receiver in 7-man work to muscle in front and intercept Russell's pass. And later in full-field drills he snagged a Relf throw and took it all the way back for a touchdown.

*The red-zone drills were moved closer to the goal today, with an extended period of plays snapped at the seven-yard line. With less ground to cover the defense had a much better showing than Wednesday, at least until WR Chris Smith pulled in a Relf shot at the back line. WR Chad Bumphis got in front of MLB Brandon Wilson for another touchdown grab, from Prescott. And even a bad throw by Prescott came out well. S Louis Watson had it on his hands but not cleanly, allowing TE Brandon Hill to reach from behind and take it away for the touchdown.

Watson did come up with an interception later as a Prescott throw was tipped at the line. The safety still had to come to a full-stop and lunge backwards for the carom-catch.

*Not all the 11-on-11 action was passing plays. The ground game took some turns and TB Vick Ballard reminded why he is a 1,000-yard rusher. Against the #1 defense he strung the sweep-right out until picking his lane, cutting inside pursuit, and going 60 yards for a touchdown. TB Josh Robinson showed off his own speed in a #2 team matchup, squirting through the right side and outrunning everybody to the goal line 60 yards away.

In twos-vs.-twos Prescott had time to find Lewis down the right sideline just ahead of S Dee Arrington, with the receiver running for the rest of a 50-yard scoring play. The defense wasn't amused and on the next series, when Lewis took a direct snap, four guys swarmed him. Hard.

*State has used another gimmick in pass/skel work this camp. Where the first three seasons two standing ladders were placed on the field, forcing quarterbacks to ‘measure' the field into three parts while locating route-runners, something different debuted last week. Very different.

Three managers wear the sort of shoulder bracing drummers do in marching bands, with large white sheets of plastic attached in a fan-shape and extending to about the height an onrushing defensive lineman would cover with raised hands. And unlike ladders these are mobile obstructions, making the passer look around the mobile obstacles now.

Looks odd, but works well. Or it has until today when Prescott became the first passer observed to throw a ball right into the obstructing sheet. At least the deflection went to ground safely, unlike when during the same drill Relf had too much time to look before firing a strike…right into surprised LB Matt Wells' hands.

*Though it was a partial-pads day, the Bulldogs still had to do their ‘Oklahoma' hitting drills early with the one-on-one matchups of offensive and defensive players. The only folk excused were either injured, or quarterbacks, or the specialists. It would be worth asking PK Derek DePasquale why he and P Baker Swedeburg don't get to hit anyone in such drills, just to get the blood flowing. Maybe, literally.

This would have been a good day for such fun anyway. There was much more joking, teasing, and the like during team stretching than usual, with coaches getting involved with the fun themselves. At one point the boss had to step in and offer some not completely veiled threats about what might happen if the work wasn't conducted seriously.

Then Mullen sort of spoiled the effect anyway, as for most of the position drills periods he conversed on the sideline with a guest. Former Bulldog quarterback Norman Joseph, the noted offensive coach and now head coach at Mississippi College, attended most of Thursday's practice here during a holiday break. Mullen was very much involved with the full-team periods.

*While punting, with protection and catch, has been a heavy emphasis in recent practices, kickoffs got the special teams attention Thursday. It wasn't a full squad kicking off, just the kicker and interior six cover-men chasing down the return man with just a couple of blockers.

Jameon Lewis, LaDarius Perkins, Josh Robinson, and Chad Bumphis fielded the kicks. In prior days it was Lewis, Robinson, and John Banks fielding punts, with Darius Slay getting into that mix later.

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