"All I know is, we're going to do it right," said Croom, who was not so much angry as concerned about overall attitudes. "The thing I wanted to get them to understand, is if you start practice slow you're going to start the games slow. The first five minutes of the first and second half are critical points in the game. If we are in the habit of starting practices slow we're going to do the same thing in ball games and out of halftime. Practice is developing habits."
The head coach has also noticed a habit in need of changing, particularly among the youngest Bulldogs who are being challenged physically as never before in their football lives. Most of the freshmen have responded well most of the time, but a handful of rookies—and for that matter, some veterans—have fallen prey to what Croom calls a "misguided notion that you're supposed to be feeling good when you come out to practice every day."
"What amazes me is they all talk that they want to play pro football, there ain't a single guy playing pro football that isn't hurt. With the scholarship numbers it has to be that way in college football, you have to deal with some pain or you can't play at this level. And you don't get well until the season is over."
Of course what matters at this moment is getting ready to start the 2005 season, and Croom admits there are enough legitimate pains, not to mention strains, to affect how the whole team is working, especially on the offense. "We've got a lot of injuries," he said.
The Bulldogs began their second double-practice day of fall camp with eight players wearing red-cross jerseys and not able to participated in drills. Offensive tackle Calvin Wilson, who has been working in limited-work yellow, was in the no-work shirt this morning. Others in red-crosses were H-back Dezmond Sherrod (hip flexor), wideout Keon Humphries (knee surgery), linebacker Jimmy Miller (concussion), wideout Tay Bowser (left ankle, wearing a boot Friday), tight end Jeremy Jones (back), offensive tackle James Redmond (back), and flanker Will Prosser (stress fracture). Prosser has been able to come out to the fields late without the protective boot he wore for the first week.
Running back Jerious Norwood (knee strain) was not at the start of morning work, staying in the training room to have his right knee worked on. Freshman offensive guard Anthony Dunning, who had worn a sling on his right shoulder all week, was in second-team green Friday. Safety Marcus Evans, who had been running co-first team, was in a yellow jersey will illness. Also in yellow was linebacker Gabe O'Neal.
Then, during the session, a couple of primary backups had to be carted to the training room. Offensive tackle Michael Gates went down in an individual contact drill and after a few minutes got up favoring his right leg. Initial examination turned up nothing to worry about. Cornerback Keith Fitzhugh also got a ride to the Shira Complex at the same time as Gates, but in his case it was a hurting back.
Croom hates for any player to miss preseason work, but one area—or, two positions—are of special concern still. "I'd do anything if I could find a couple of offensive tackles. This is when I sorta wish I was in the pros and could go out and trade for an offensive tackle right now. Thing about it, I don't know if I've got anything to trade of value right now."
Nor does State have a lot of depth left at the ends of the interior line. It's to the point Croom says, half-jesting, he might give up on having a third team and keep the reserves at tackles for rotating. Two more young bodies joined that lineup this morning as true frosh guards Chris Spencer and Craig Jenkins moved to tackles. There is still the strong chance both will redshirt, but for now they are needed. "It says a lot for Craig and Chris that they were able to function out there," Croom said.
"One thing about it, it's forcing us as coaches to exhaust every available resource right now. It goes to show our guys did a good job recruiting because we don't sign linemen that can't play tackle and guard, and we try to find one or two that can play tackle, guard, and center. It's definitely helping us."
Avery House and Roland Terry alternated at #1 left tackle. The second line featured Spencer, Dunning, Dio Herrera back at center, Johnny Carpenter at right guard and Jenkins at right tackle.
Whatever the blocking limitations practice went on as scheduled, featuring extended team work that towards the end focused mostly on third-down situations. There was some running of the ball, with converted wideout Jonathan Lowe on the first unit. But mostly it was passing against coverage, and here Croom found something to smile about. "I thought Omarr had his best day by far, not only from a throwing standpoint. His confidence seems to be growing every day and he showed a lot more leadership today."
Croom also had some encouraging words about the receivers for a change. Though still in shorts serving his 5-day acclimation dues, Corey Gardhigh was the first wideout the coach mentioned as making plays. Chambers worked hard despite his still-sore knee. "And Joey Sanders has really picked it up and is starting to make some plays." The best of the group remains senior Tee Milons, who caught one crossing-pattern throw from Conner in traffic and burst downfield for a ‘touchdown'. Otherwise, though Croom said that cornerback Kevin Dockery kept Milons "in lockup" to the point the senior cover-man is being nicknamed ‘Marshall Dillon' by the head coach.
When Dockery moved in as a safety true freshman Derek Pegues took his place at left corner. The second passing-down secondary has starting right corner David Heard as the extra safety, with Fitzhugh his replacement. When Fitzhugh had to leave Adrian Griffin stepped into the #2 right cornerback role. Jarvis Kyles and Aubrey Bell were the second-unit safeties, with Marcus Evans not full-strength.
Croom likes how #1 safety Jeramie Johnson is performing this camp. "He's tackling better, his coverage is better, he's playing with a lot more confidence." Mario Bobo is equally improved in the other safety slot.
"Our defense is still impressive, as far as their speed to the football and nasty attitude right now," Croom said. "That's good."
What is not as good is the head coach's opinion of having his recruits get injured before reporting to camp. Wilson damaged a meniscus in his knee playing in the June Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game with results likely to show all this first fall. Chambers had a more serious knee injury in a Florida classic last December requiring surgery and is still not 100% of speed.
"We've got two guys we were counting on who got hurt in all-star games," Croom mentioned. "I've got to look at this again, I love all-star games but I can understand now why coaches are doing what they're doing and pulling them out of all-star games. I don't want to do that but my starting right tackle is still limited and a wide receiver we were counting on. It's something we've got to look at."
The Bulldogs are back on the practice field this afternoon at 3:45 for a shorter session in shells only. There was not a lot of morning contact, either, because the first to two preseason scrimmages takes place Saturday afternoon.