The defensive team uniformly earned the head coach's favor. Though there has yet to be any contact, and the full pads don't go on for a couple more days, Croom sees signs that the Dog defense is already eager to start hitting.
"Defensively we're running well to the ball. In the secondary, we wanted the defense to get some turnovers and they have forced some. It's not necessarily anything the offense did bad, the defense made it happen. I'm pleased with that, this year we want to get points out of our defense and they're playing with a lot of confidence right now."
The defense did make things hard for the offense in matchup drills, whether full-squad or 7-on-7s. Still some offensive personnel are holding their own and at times winning competitions. Most particularly, the wideout group that struggled so much last spring…and fall, too. "The receivers are getting better, that's the most impressive thing is our receiving corps is definitely getting better," Croom said.
"Some of the kids that were here last year—Tyler Threadgill, Keon Humphries—are better. Aubrey Bell has made some strides, I don't want to get real high on him right now but he's definitely better than he was last year. And no question we made a good acquisition when we got Tony Burks in here."
These first two days have seen the offense very much focused on passing and catching the ball. It's not that the ground game is being ignored; just that the passing schemes are getting first attention. At the same time rushing plays will be stressed for a couple of afternoons due to the health status of the veteran halfbacks. Brandon Thornton will be protecting his repaired shoulder, and Derek Ambrose cannot take contact on the knee he tore up last September. It's impressive enough that Ambrose is back on the practice field at all this early.
"He's getting some good work while we're in shorts," Croom said. "That's going to change once we get the pads on, those guys (the two halfbacks) can't take hitting so we'll get as much work out of them as we can while we're in shorts. Once we put the pads on they'll be limited."
The first offensive line was unchanged, other than center Royce Blackledge joining right guard Brian Anderson and left guard Anthony Strauder wearing jersey numbers. They are the only linemen to have been awarded the privilege of numbers so far, either by earning them with off-season workout achievements or at practices. Blackledge got his based on the first day of drills.
Calvin Wilson (left) and Michael Gates (right) are the first-team tackles. The second line did have one difference from Monday, with redshirt Johnny Carpenter now getting the first snaps at center with Dio Herrera lining up at left guard. Roland Terry was at left tackle, Antony Dunning right guard, and Craig Jenkins right tackle. In fact, at one point during 11-on-11 drills Jenkins took snaps with the first team in place of Gates.
The line roster lost a member, though, as senior tackle James Redmond is giving up his active status. "After consulting with our training staff we're going to put him on medical scholarship," Croom said. Redmond has had a rough three years, having had to leave for the fall of 2004 due to grades, then when ready to compete again last summer needing back surgery, and finally hurting a leg after just a couple of snaps at Auburn.
Besides Blackledge, several Dogs on both sides of the line were given numbers for Tuesday after one day of practice performance, such as Thornton, Burks, cornerback Leron Yarbrough, and linebacker Anthony Littlejohn. Others who already had digits on their shirts were quarterback Mike Henig, backs Brandon Hart, Bryson Davis, and Casey Rogers, tight ends Eric Butler, Dezmond Sherrod, and Jason Husband, wideouts Joey Sanders, Humphries, Threadgill, and Lance Long on offense. On defense, linemen Deljuan Robinson, Andrew Powell, Antonio Johnson, Titus Brown, and Avery Hannibal had numbers Monday, as did linebackers Quinton Culberson, Jamar Chaney, Gabe O'Neal, and Carlton Rice. And so did defensive backs David Heard, Derek Pegues, Jeramie Johnson, and Marcus Hunter.
Midway of the day, first-team defensive ends Titus Brown (illness) and Michael Heard (class) had to leave early. Their places were taken on the first unit by Quinton Wesley, who worked at tackle Monday, and Charles Burns. With the departure of Corey Clark, the backup tackles rotation is now Antonio Johnson spelled by Solomon Ono and Anwar Phillips.
There was only one down-note to the second day, as placekickers Adam Carlson and Keith Andrews struggled in the end-of-practice competition. "I was a little disappointed in our field goal challenge today," Croom said. "The kickers missed three so the (whole) team had to run three gassers. I hope pretty soon we can do it and not run. That wasn't good."
Croom also said the practice schedule for this first week has been changed, and the Bulldogs will work out on Wednesday because of the threat of rain Thursday. Friday's practice remains set.