"The young guys really jump out to me, especially the cornerbacks," Lawrence said after a practice session shared by starters and freshmen. "A bunch of young, raw, athletic kids. It's just all over the field, athletes. Now, it's just a matter of teaching them technique, and it's gonna be exciting."
So was getting to play mentor for a morning, as old Dog Lawrence and his veteran cohorts did to those exciting rookies at camp. Which was Coach Dan Mullen's plan naturally. Not all the first-fall guys reported to the morning practice, simply so there could be some balance in the sessions. And, in the case of wide receivers particularly, to get them more routes and throws in the evening without taking turns from the guys who top the depth charts.
Lawrence was content to hear about those offensive kids second-hand. His first-person attention was caught by the youngsters running around on defense. And indeed corners Cedric Jiles and Will Redmond were worth watching as they covered with a little more flair than usual for frosh. Now when the contact work begins this week, young safeties such as Quadry Antoine and Deontay Evans will have their own chances to stand out making hits. Which they will.
Closer to his own position, and heart, were how that touted twosome of linebackers looked. The team's leading tackler in 2011 came away very impressed with Beniquez Brown and Richie Brown. Not surprised at all, simply impressed.
"Just young, raw talent," said Lawrence. "They're actually smart, they know football. Football makes sense to them. Being a linebacker, they've gotta have a good head on their shoulders." And a knack for knocking heads off shoulders as both will surely show in days to come. Mullen has made no declarations on redshirting anyone at this stage, and despite a deep and mostly established defensive lineup already few doubt that the Brown boys are going to find their way onto the field somehow, somewhere soon.
But then Saturday was a unique day to this camp. The rest of August will be about getting an entire team, not just the new folk, ready to play the season. So starting today it was back to more usual work. As said, the Bulldog defense looks to be in outstanding shape already in terms of experience and depth and just plain awareness of what it takes to win. Meaning that they ought to have an edge this month on their offensive counterparts.
Which they did to some extent Saturday in the ones-vs.-ones…though when the whole day was over the first offense also given the best showing among the four units. That would be expected of the group led by QB Tyler Russell and featuring the most experienced back and receiver and more to the point the (for now) starting linemen.
Naturally Lawrence gave his side the edge.
"I'm sure the offense hadn't installed all their plays, but we haven't installed all of our stuff. The first day, we're executing well, threw a little rust off. I felt like we picked up right where we left off at the end of spring ball."
Coming off his 123-tackle junior season Lawrence has his outside linebacker spot well in-hand. And on the other side coordinator Chris Wilson really likes the tag-team options big Deonte Skinner and fast Matthew Wells present for matchups. So the obvious preseason interest focuses on middle linebacker. After beginning March as the second man, by April it was Benardrick McKinney emerging as the first-teamer. He may look like a defensive end but Lawrence has no doubts the big young redshirt has what it takes to fill the middle.
McKinney gave early proof by making a bunch of good plays Saturday for public viewing. "He did, he stepped up at the mike position, which is a big position for us," Lawrence said. "Making all the checks, all the right calls, he had a pick today, just making plays."
So, what does an established senior and team headliner like Lawrence work on now? Same old, same old says Lawrence.
"I'm coming out, I'm doing the same thing that got me where I am now. Staying on the field, trying to get better. As far as changes, I'm trying to step into my role as being a leader. That's the main thing I'm trying to change."
The Bulldogs were watching the weather while getting their Sunday practice in, with Mullen scheduled to meet media afterwards.