Indeed, during a couple of preceding practices in partial gear the Bulldog offense and defense went at each other as if fully-armored. And Monday, in full pads, they invested more time in technical instruction than making contact. It's a sign of the confidence Croom has in this ball club after a vigorous spring and intensive off-season, that hitting won't be a focus this fall.
"I might test the freshmen some in the scrimmage, then maybe get a wild hair and 10-15 minutes a day go full-speed. But as a team I'm not worked about our ability to play contact football." Croom was also so sure of the team's mindset that midway of Monday's drills everyone went inside the Palmeiro Center for over an hour.
"I changed things up," he said. "Hey, I get bored, too!"
There were a few adjustments to the injury- and limited-lists. WR Tyler Threadgill was back in full uniform after missing a couple of days with a hamstring, though he didn't try to go full-speed. DE Tim Bailey (groin) was upgraded from red-cross to limited purple. OT J.D. Holmes (ankle) stayed in limited-yellow but did take part in some sessions with the first team. CB Chris Nance (hamstring) and DE Jimmie Holmes (ditto) stayed in red crosses, though Nance did take a few turns fielding punts.
The only new name on the list for today was freshman DT LaMarcus Williams with a groin strain, though he tried to start practice at full-speed before having to don the red cross. That, and Bailey's injury, are a disappointment to Croom. "Going into practice they were going to be backups to Titus and Avery Hannibal. They showed some promise but they haven't practiced since the first day."
When the offense went into 7-on-7 segments Hamilton retired to a sideline and Roland Terry took over as first right tackle. This let freshman Derek Sherrod work a good number of snaps with the second line at RT. Michael Gates has been able to hold on to first right guard ahead of Craig Jenkins, allowing Johnny Carpenter to return to center where he is second-team behind starter Royce Blackledge. The left side of the first team hasn't changed since February with guard Anthony Strauder and tackle Mike Brown.
But there was an adjustment on the second unit Monday there, with Chris Herrera returning to the offensive line and taking #2 left guard. The job had been held by J. C. Brignone, who missed a day last week with irritation of the surgically-repaired shoulder. Mark Melichar remains second left tackle.
As expected Anthony Dixon has a strong grip on starting halfback ahead of Justin Williams, and while Christian Ducre is also practicing at fullback now he remains the alternate-second HB as well. But five days into camp rookie Robert Elliot is stating his own case for instant opportunity and today he was third halfback in the rotation ahead of fellow frosh Marcus Green and veteran Arnil Stallworth. "Robert is doing well," Croom said.
For the first time another quarterback drew the coach's attention, and it wasn't the #2 man. "Wes Carroll had a very good day, a very good day," Croom said of the freshman. "Right now he's our #3 quarterback and it's going to be interesting to see, if he continues to improve he's going to make a pretty good case for that backup quarterback. But that was just one practice."
On defense, Jessie Bowman and Kyle Love remained the top two tackles ahead of Quinton Wesley and Cortez McCraney. ""We're still switching around those guys inside, we have six we're working with and all have the ability to help. We're looking for somebody to take the job and call it theirs. We'll look at film and see if it happened today." Having begun camp at tackle, Charles Burns has moved back to end and Monday was taking snaps with the first unit as an alternate with starter Titus Brown who was given most of the afternoon-off so other ends could be evaluated.
The starting linebacker group has not changed since juco Dominic Douglas was promoted to first-team at will-side and Jamon Hughes moved over be starter Jamar Chaney's alternate at middle. But as noted Saturday a number of freshmen are making strong cases for second-team status already. Monday, first-sam linebacker Gabe O'Neal was backed up by rookie Terrell Johnson; and Jamie Jones was working second on the weak-side. Freshman K.J. Wright is also in the mix of first-year linebackers bidding for playing time.
The same is true at safety where starter Derek Pegues was taking turns with Wade Bonner. At the other safety Zach Smith was getting practice time with the varsity in place of alternate starters DeMon Glanton and Keith Fitzhugh, with Anthony Summers behind the freshman. Smith—"He'll hit anything that moves," Croom noted—and Bonner are very much in the plans for playing time already. Croom also likes what newcomers like linebacker Karlin Brown and DB Damein Anderson have done. "We've got more athleticism than what we had," he said.
"The most impressive thing is we can run on defense. If we can get that stuff anchored inside…"
Every day some aspect of kicking teams gets more emphasis. Monday it was both placekicking and punting. #1 PK Adam Carlson and freshman Eric Richards each took four attempts from the same varied distances, and while the veteran was perfect the rookie did miss one. Range was not a problem for either though.
Blake McAdams held for both, before going to punt the ball in both regular downfield and angled attempts. Carlson is second punter while Richards did take an attempt or two with modest results. Pegues remains the first choice to run back punts with receiver Long and DBs Bonner and Nance taking turns behind him. Neither kickoffs nor returns have been practiced so far, though this is coming. And Croom is eager to watch rookie Richards show his foot-work. "He has an extremely strong leg, more than anything else I want to see him kick off."
State returns to work Tuesday for another 5:00 workout, then has the first of three two-a-dates Wednesday (corrected from previous reports) with a 7:00 and 4:15 session. The whole week is meant to build up to the weekend's big game-type session at Scott Field. "We'll find out a lot in Saturday's scrimmage."