"He had a little knee strain but it's not anything serious," Coach Sylvester Croom said. "He was probably trying to get out of practice so we'll give him a couple of days off and let him rest. He's earned it, he's worked hard enough, and I'm sure he'll be back out here as quick as he can. It was just going full-speed, just football. That's going to happen sometimes."
The rest of the healthy Bulldogs will be back on the practice fields pretty quickly themselves, with a 3:45 afternoon session coming up. Unlike the morning stint, in full gear and for the first day of camp in full-contact, the second session will be in partial pads and shorter than the usual practice.
Croom is hoping to see similar results in the P.M. hours to what the team showed in the morning. A day after being lambasted by the coach for a "very bad" Tuesday practice, there was a bit more optimism Wednesday. "We were better today. Not that we're any good, but we're better. I thought we came out with an intention to get better today."
The encouraging signs came primarily from veterans stung by Tuesday criticism. Croom pointed to several specific matchups in contact drills that set a better tone this morning.
"We had some guys, like Tee Milons and Kevin Dockery, who really worked hard against each other. They challenged each other. I saw Willie Evans and Jason Husband challenging each other, Willie helping Jason try to be a better blocker." And the good work even involved some Bulldogs who could not actually practice, such as when red-crossed flanker Will Prosser tried to give freshman wideout Adron Chambers some tips.
"That's where we're better this year," said Croom, "we've got better leadership from the guys who have been around and are trying to help each other." Apparently those ‘guys' read Tuesday's quotes from Croom where all such leadership was questioned. If so, they rose to the challenge Wednesday, and the coach was happier.
"Right now we're not good enough to get a lot done, but if we keep doing it we will at some point in the future because they have the right attitude."
Once observers quit watching Norwood limp around the sideline, they were treated to some stout efforts by a younger runner. Rookie Brandon Hart is making a bid for a larger role than expected when he inked last February. "Brandon showed up well," Croom said. "We wanted to use him at fullback some in short yardage and to be our short-yardage halfback because other than J-Rock I'm not pleased with the rest of them. We can never miss a short-yardage, goal-line play.
"Right now Hart has made a statement that he can do that. We may have to move him to fullback full-time, I don't know. It's a lot to ask and learn but right now he's our #1 short-yard, goal-line back full-time. He may be a halback full-time!"
The first team offense saw one change Wednesday. Senior RT Avery House is ill and wearing a no-contact yellow jersey, the same as freshman RT Calvin Wilson. Wilson, his recovering knee still sore from surgery's expected after-effects, remains officially the #2 at the position.
But for full-squad contact a healthy body is needed, so junior James Redmond was promoted to first team and is wearing a Maroon shirt for the first time in camp. Also, tight end Eric Butler has finally gotten his Maroon jersey, joining Joey Sanders as a co-#1 at the position. "He's up to about 65%," Croom said, giving a daily update on Butler's progress. "Hopefully we can get him up there where he can really be a great player."
Other players dressed in yellow this morning are wideout Keon Humphries, H-back Dezmond Sherrod (just promoted from no-work status), and linebacker Gabe O'Neal.
The second offensive line is now, right to left, Wilson, Johnny Carpenter, Royce Blackledge, Dio Herrera, and Michael Gates. The third front is House, Craig Jenkins, walk-on Daniel Kennedy at center, Chris Spencer, and Roland Terry.
State practiced punting and punt-receiving early in the day, with Brooks Crabtree by far the most consistent kicker. Among those catching the punts were Norwood, Tee Milons, Jonathan Lowe, and Derek Pegues, who is very much a candidate for lots of jobs. "We ask these freshmen to do a lot," Croom said, "but hey, they want to be big-time players and they've got the opportunity."
Midway of practices the focus again turned to passing practices, using four-receiver sets and a tight end. The first group of wideouts were Milons, Joey Sanders, Tay Bowser, and Lance Long. The second grouping featured Corey Gardhigh (still in partial pads only) and running back Brandon Thornton split wide, with Adron Chambers and Humphries set in the slots. At one point Croom told Omarr Conner there should be more deep balls thrown after the quarterback settled early on for shorter targets.
There weren't a lot of long-distance connections, especially with the freshmen receivers who are showing signs of ‘dead legs' after five working days. Bowser in particular struggled this morning as the youngster, like his classmates, struggles to fight through first-week exhaustion.
Croom was not too hard on the kid, who he expects big things from this rookie year. "He's doing alright. If we had to play today it would be pretty ugly, but these kids are trying. When you make up your mind you're going to play freshmen you have to be patient. But at the same time we've got to challenge them because nobody is going to feel sorry for them on gameday." Nor will there be much sympathy expressed by coaches this afternoon.
The morning session ended with some partial-team work on kickoffs with a variety of return prospects taking turns, such as Derek Ambrose, Tyler Threadgill, Jonathan Hill, and Chambers.