"In the scrimmage even though I wasn't pleased with the way the offense played some questions got answered for me," Croom said after the morning workout, the first of two sessions set for Monday. "The main thing was we needed to make some changes in the offensive line."
It showed. After seeing the first offensive front consistently beaten by the starting defense's superior experience and speed, the offensive staff made their changes on the right side. Brian Anderson, moved from left tackle to right guard in spring, found himself at right tackle when everyone lined up at the 7:30 start of drills. And Michael Gates, a backup guard for two weeks, was promoted to first right guard. On the left end transfer J.D. Hamilton, his tender ankle healed, was working #1 at tackle. Only center Royce Blackledge and LG Anthony Strauder remained in their accustomed practice places.
Croom had warned all Saturday that he was unhappy with the scrimmage blocking and was looking for five linemen who, as he put it, "want to play." This was the outcome of video evaluation. "So that is our five guys," Croom said. "We're going to get those guys ready to work as a cohesive unit, and I feel comfortable with that.
"(Guard) Anthony Dunning and (center) Johnny Carpenter are in that group as well. So those are our top seven guys and the guys that we'll give extensive work to in preparation for South Carolina. We want those seven working together as a unit." Both Dunning and Carpenter came out in first-group maroon this morning.
Just as telling were the color-coded demotions. RT Craig Jenkins and LT Calvin Wilson were in green shirts and working only with the second team after both ran on the first-unit all last week. Backup tackle Mike Brown also swapped maroon for green, though this might be partly due to his uncertain availability for the season as his appeal for waiver has not been granted.
Croom made it clear that demotion does not mean the former starters have been abandoned. Just the opposite. And he added that while Wilson and Jenkins did not scrimmage well they did put in a better practice this morning. "The big thing is, they're too heavy, they're both carrying about twenty pounds too much and are just not quick enough to protect on the pass right now. And our defensive ends are so quick, and those guys from South Carolina and Auburn are going to be quick. I think it finally caught up with them and their performance is not where it should be because of the extra weight.
"We'll keep working with them and getting them ready to play. I think Chris Spencer is starting to make a move in there, we moved J. C. Brignone from defense over to left guard to give us some depth." Spencer has practiced both center and tackle, while Brignone had been running third-team defensive tackle behind a bunch of veterans and was making some early moves up there. The second offensive line in drills was, left to right, Wilson, Dunning, Carpenter, John McMillan, and Jenkins; the third unit was LT Mark Melichar, Brignone, C Spencer, and RT Brown.
Just how serious the coach is about bettering the blocking showed when, after stretching and field goal work, the drills went to 9-vs.-9s with the first offense against the first defense, for nothing but running plays. And even when the next period was focused on passing plays, the two lines continued to butt helmets in full-contact, full-tackling activity. That showed a general tone for the morning and maybe the day.
"Our work ethic was a lot better this morning," Croom said. "We did a lot of team work instead of going back to our usual format. There wasn't as much individual work, more team work."
Croom also said the halfback lineup has been clarified. Brandon Thornton, who scrimmaged just two series but did some hard hitting this morning, remains the clear #1. It is the return of freshman Anthony Dixon to action (though still yellow-shirt limited) that has altered the depth chart. "Dixon has been learning very well, he's been very attentive in this time. I was pleased today he didn't make very many mental mistakes coming back out. He's going to miss some stuff but we can live with those things for a while. But those guys have so much more ability than the other guys we've got to get them ready."
The other ‘guys' the coach meant were transfer Christian Ducre and freshman Arnil Stallworth. Croom said a healthy Dixon becomes the top #2. "Those are the guys we're going to get ready, in that order right now." Derek Ambrose was demoted to the backup team.
Having not allowed a touchdown and only a handful of first downs to either offense Saturday, the defensive depth chart needed no Monday adjustments other than for injuries. "On defense nothing has changed," Croom said, "that unit is really, really getting better. We're running to the ball better, (MLB) Quinton Culberson is really starting to step up now, and (MLB) Tim Bailey showed up this morning. The defense is still a lot better and is going to be ahead of us on offense. But those changes I think are going to help us."
The staff wishes the injury roll-call could change, quickly, as a larger number of Dogs were held out or limited Monday. Dixon and receiver Joey Sanders on offense were kept out of hard hitting, as was safety/corner Demario Bobo who has progressed to a limited-purple shirt after over a week in a red cross.
Those in no-work shirts include receiver Will Prosser, who re-hurt his shoulder early in the action and came out today with a sling on the left arm. He was joined on the red-cross crew by receiver Keith Mills, safety De'Mon Glanton, linebacker Jamon Hughes, and defensive lineman Rodney Prince, all hurt in the scrimmage. Other, older injuries carried over from last week were linebacker Gabe O'Neal, tackle Roland Terry, and fullback Casey Rogers.
For the first time freshman tight end Brandon Henderson was able to practice after a hamstring problem. Croom quipped that the rookie came out with his pads on wrong, he'd been out so long. "But we need to get him back in the mix and see if he can make any kind of contribution."
Croom put names to his Saturday comment about finding some answers in the return game during the scrimmage. As of today Derek Pegues is the top kickoff return man and Adron Chambers the backup, with Tyler Threadgill falling back into the pack after an opening-kickoff fumble. Omarr Conner, Pegues, and Anthony Johnson are competing to return punts.
"We had a couple of guys who played real well on special teams the other day. Marcus Washington, Adron Chambers, and Jamon Hughes really showed up in the coverage aspects of the game and can be big plusses for us. Those areas of the kicking game I think will be a lot better."
Croom also reported that signee running back Courtney Jones has not qualified for freshman eligibility. "He's not going to make it, so he's out of the picture. We'll work with him, hopefully try to get him in a JC or whatever he chooses. We'll give him choices." As to the other un-cleared freshman the coach was more optimistic. "I have not talked to our compliance people today yet but we hope to get some positive information on (receiver Alex) Carpenter before the week is out."
The afternoon practice will be split into opening periods outdoors and the second half of work inside the Palmeiro Center. This is the last of three two-a-day dates for State.