Realistically Croom had more reasons to enjoy Wednesday's drill than most so far this fall camp. "We're getting better. I still don't know how good we are but we're getting better. And that's all that matters. They're laying it on the line, working hard, and we're getting a little better."
Rice, his unexpected mount, was a good example. The linebacker-turned-tailback-turned fullback had a rough start but finished well enough. "He's got a long way to go but I really believe he can be a good fullback," Croom said. "He's a little under-sized but he's got something in there, he doesn't know it yet, we've got to get it out of there."
The coach was also sparked by the improved health of some units. After two days in a red-cross shirt with a groin strain Omarr Conner was back in action. Still the missed time had the sophomore running co-#1 quarterback with Kyle York.
The first offensive line was in better shape Wednesday. For the first time since camp began left guard Johnny Wadley (ankle) was able to practice without his yellow jersey, though his total snaps in contact were limited. Right guard Will Rogers, still in yellow, was able to take more snaps as his right ankle improves. And left tackle Richard Burch, who wore a red cross Tuesday, was upgraded to yellow and back with the first unit.
Croom was actually surprised to see Wadley in a normal uniform. "I don't know why, he's still about the same. But he and Will, we'll try to give them a little bit of work. They're fighting and trying to do the best they can, we have to be smart as coaches and keep them healthy and get them to the gate." Brian Anderson, who spent much of the first week at left guard, moved to center after the weekend and is running with the second unit.
For the first time State extensively worked on kickoff coverage, putting together a collection of athlete-types for Keith Andrews to trigger into action. It included David Heard, Quinton Culberson, Slovakia Griffith, Chris Swain, Titus Brown, Anthony Littlejohn, Gabe O'Neal, Rico Bennett, Mario Bobo, and Brian Staley. Much of the instruction focused on the new-for-2004 rules adding penalties for the kicking team being offsides. #2 running back Fred Reid looks like the top choice at kickoff return, ahead of Keon Humphries, Rickey Wright, and Jonathan Lowe.
In an injury update, wide receiver Ray Ray Bivines will go to Memphis on Thursday to be examined again. The senior split end has been sidelined since a severe hamstring injury in the Tennessee game last November. He has rehabilitated non-stop ever since but has not gotten full strength back in the leg. A recent examination found nerve damage, which accounts for the unusually slow recovery. Thursday's checkup will be a progress report and give a better idea of when, or if, Bivines will be able to join the team.
And there's not much time left to get everybody ready with September 4 looming larger. Croom tries to balance the need for improvement with what has been done already. "I'm very pleased with our progress. I say it every day, but from where we started we've come a long way already. But we have so far to go.
"I told the players today in a race with everybody in the conference we're behind. We started way behind. But that's OK. That just means we have to run faster."
Wednesday was also the first day of the fall semester and the Bulldogs began practice at 4:10 instead of 3:45. Nobody was reported late for class or work, something that Croom expects to be routine. Or else.
"That's assumed now. I told them we've got a point where that's an automatic assumption, that we go to school. We're starting to get some things that were extraordinary to be normal, like going to class, like being on time. Working hard and finishing plays. In a championship program those things are assumed. That's the Bulldog way of doing things."
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.