Croom Pleased With Monday Morning Practice

Maybe it was because this was their first morning session of the preseason, because it took a while for the Bulldogs to get it going in their Monday practice. At one point Coach Sylvester Croom even whistled all to a stop for a pointed reminder of what they'd all reported for.

It worked, because the coach was in much better humor afterwards. "We started off poorly in warm-ups with the (full) pads and the heat," he said. "But I was real proud of them today, they came back and I thought they finished up well particularly in the team period. And I thought they handled the heat well."

It was warm for a session that began at 7:30 and only got hotter by the time (10:10) of the last wind-sprint. Still the team handled the conditions well, perhaps benefiting from having had Sunday off. Only one player needed attention for the conditions, with 320-pound freshman defensive tackle Kyle Love helped off. He should have no problems returning to work.

Four other Bulldogs were either limited or were being held out of the morning session. Offensive tackle J.D. Hamilton (ankle) and running back Anthony Dixon (ankle) were both in red-cross jerseys and not practicing . Cornerback Demario Bobo (hamstring) was in a limited-purple shirt; and wideout Will Prosser was wearing quarterback-red, so he could participate in some drills without risking a tender shoulder. Nobody was added to the injury list Monday.

There have been ‘additions' to the list of players who, if not actually working with the #1 teams, at least get to wear the same color jerseys as starters. Freshman running back Arnil Stallworth had been promoted to maroon Saturday, and he now runs behind co-#1s Brandon Thornton and Derek Ambrose. Monday, he was joined in maroon by rookie wideout Keith Mills, while linebacker Jamon Hughes and safety Anthony Summers got to wear defensive first-team white after just four days to show their freshman stuff. And based on his hitting in one-on-one segments, it won't be long before freshman Christian Ducre earns a maroon shirt also. However the transfer is still awaiting word on his appeal for immediate eligibility.

Camp isn't even a full week old yet already these and other true frosh are being measured for immediate roles, particularly at skill and speed positions. Croom indicated that at this point the only red shirts being issued are those worn by quarterbacks or injured players.

"Right now we're approaching it as if none of them were being redshirted, we're getting them all ready to play," Croom said. "We'll even take some on trips that may be redshirted. Every week we'll make a decision not to play this guy unless we absolutely have to, but we're getting them all ready to play. We're going to let them make the decision if they're going to be redshirted, I'm not going to make that pre-determination."

There was only one real change in the first unit on either side of the ball. Hamilton had been working at right tackle for three days, though he opened camp at left tackle. He should be back in drills this week. In the meantime redshirt freshman Craig Jenkins returned to the first team at RT, joining RG Brian Anderson, C Royce Blackledge, LG Anthony Strauder, and LT Calvin Wilson.

The second line, left-to-right, saw redshirting transfer Michael Brown, Anthony Dunning, Johnny Carpenter, Michael Gates, and Roland Terry. The third group was down to three with Chris Spencer at center and Mark Melichar and John McMillan at guards. When not snapping, freshman Aaron Feld will also begin working with the regular line in reserve.

The receiver rotation now stands at six (not counting Prosser) on the ‘first' group, as Mills joins starters Omarr Conner and Tony Burks, along with Ryan Mason, Keon Humphries, Lance Long and Joey Sanders.

There were no Monday-morning moves on the starting defense, though a couple of backups have earned first-unit status. Michael Heard and Titus Brown remain the #1 ends with Deljuan Robinson and Andrew Powell at tackles and alternate Antonio Johnson essentially a co-#1 in the three-man rotation. Redshirt tackle Quinton Wesley has solidified his place in the mix also as a backup tackle in first-team white. Charles Burns and Avery Hannibal remain the second-team ends.

The same three linebackers—MLB Quinton Culberson and OLBs Gabe O'Neal and Jamar Chaney—take every first series. But a couple of their backups are working more like alternates after a week of drills. This is particularly true of Anthony Littlejohn, who is pressuring O'Neal again and often taking snaps on the first squad in his place. Transfer Timmy Bailey is set behind Culberson with Carlton Rice backing up Chaney.

Summers' early efforts have earned him a white shirt for week-two, though he remains in reserve at the position behind Keith Fitzhugh and Marcus Evans.

Placekicking was practiced full-speed this time by the first and second units, complete with actual kicks by current #1 Adam Carlson. This day he kicked out of the hold of #1 punter Blake McAdams; last week backup punter Brooks Crabtree had been holding while the first-punt group had their own drills. Conner remains the first punt return man, while Ducre has joined Tyler Threadgill, Anthony Johnson and Derek Pegues in that mix as well.

Croom's satisfaction went beyond how his team handled heat and an early wake-up call, as he liked the general execution…with a couple of caveats. "We still had four offsides on the offensive team, just one on defense. And one of them was we had a freshman lined up wrong. But hey, they're still going to call it, and we're going to run extra when we did that."

Still on the whole it was a good day, and one that isn't entirely done with the single practice completed. Croom said there will be a team-walk through and group meetings this afternoon. Until then? "If they're smart they're going to get in the bed!" he quipped. Especially because Tuesday brings the first two-a-day practice date.

"We're getting better and they're working hard. Our goal each day is to get a little more mentally tough than the day before and I thought we did that. Keep doing that and we'll be a good football team at some point."


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