The Bulldogs needed to show improvement on their fifth day of pre-season drills. Wednesday was the first outing in full gear, though the coaches have to wait another day before turning the players loose for full contact. State just completed the mandatory ‘acclimation' period specified by the NCAA. Thursday also marks the start of what is still called two-a-days even though there are only three days of double-drills.
Croom will have two-a-day sessions on Thursday, Saturday, and Monday with single morning sessions Friday, Sunday, and Tuesday. The fall semester begins August 18, as does the routine of afternoon drills six days a week.
By then the new head coach sincerely hopes to see more consistency out of his team. The after-effects of a lackluster Tuesday workout had the State staff pushing their players harder Wednesday morning. And on the whole the results were sharper, on both sides of the ball, as the Bulldogs appeared to grasp that their coach meant what he said about picking up the practice pace.
"We've got to do better," Croom said. "We can't afford not to do better. Because right now we've got a long way to go. And the bottom line is we're not very good right now. Fortunately we don't play today, but we've got to practice like we are playing today. That's what I wanted to get across to them, treat every day like a game. We coach it every day like a game."
Croom spent much of his morning observing passing drills, focusing on the wide receivers in general and the split ends in particular. Tee Milons got some personal instruction from the head coach after a couple of drops on out-patterns, and was able to finish that round with catches that encouraged the coach. Rookie Jonathan Lowe made some impressive moves and grabs after Coach Guy Holliday corrected some freshman flaws in technique. Lowe has also changed jerseys, taking #80. Another new number is 55 worn by Brian Anderson, who had been #73 as a freshman. Anderson is also working now at left guard, after finishing spring as first-team center.
There was one position changes on day-four as rookie tailback Carlton Rice moved up a step to fullback. Rice, signed as a linebacker, had an impressive spring as a ‘power' back. Now Croom thinks the freshman can be even better in a true power position.
Croom is confident Avery Hannibal will thrive now that he has moved back to the defensive line. The redshirt freshman was switched during the last week of spring camp to outside linebacker after showing a nose for the football, to get this promising athlete on the field. Now in the first week of fall drills he has returned to the interior line and is running at backup tackle.
"We're trying to get everybody in the right positions right now. Who's moving up, who's moving down, our depth chart is going to change every day. I told the players spring didn't mean anything, now it does mean something. And it will change every day based on how they perform."
Wide receiver McKinley Scott and punter Jared Cook took it slow for another day with touchy hamstrings, while rookie rookie running back Demarcus Johnson is more limited by his own hamstring injury. Defensive end Stephen Arant is still sidelined by a left shoulder injury. And wide receiver Ray Ray Bivines dresses out but remains unable to participate in drills as he continues to rehabilitate from last November's devastating injury. Tight end Blake Pettit is over his early-week illness and is back practicing.
Croom is cautiously optimistic about the injury report. "So far we've been pretty fortunate."
But the head coach isn't counting on good fortune to make the Bulldogs winners come the real season. Starting September 4 the results of practices will be shown on the scoreboard. That is the message Croom is trying to get across in the first week of camp, and he thinks maybe his team is hearing it.
"Yesterday we lost," Croom said. "Today I thought it was even, it wasn't pretty but I thought we won."
David Murray is the editor of Dawgs' Bite magazine and the featured writer for the Dawgs Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.