"We're working hard," said Croom. "I think we've got better every practice this week and I feel good about that. It's pretty much narrowing it down to working the guys we know we're going to play against LSU and going from there." To that end the two- and in some positions three-deep spent the last 45 minutes of the morning working team-on-team, while players unlikely to dress for LSU or tentatively tabbed for redshirting, or both, stuck with more basic drills. The first hour-and-a-half were unit periods.
Each day closer to the season brings emphasis on a particular aspect. Wednesday it red-zone work for both offense and defense in a quicker rhythm than Tuesday. "Trying to get the guys to understand the game speeds up and things happen a lot faster down there," Croom explained. For a change this day it was the side in maroon shirts that struck first. "The offense made several plays, and I thought the defense bounced back." That is certainly a report to encourage fans used to seeing the defensive side dominate such situations in State practices.
Of course coaches see things differently, wanting both sides to do their job and cancel each other out. Croom liked the way things developed today, mostly. "We have to learn the momentum and tempo in games is going to swing, that's one of the mental toughness things of keeping poise and continuing to do what asked and execute. Because one play can turn the thing back around in your favor. We have to get our playmakers to believe in that and trust themselves and what is asked of them."
Play makers have been trying to emerge for over a week now, and based on most practice and scrimmage evaluations the group that has shown up most consistently and even impressively has been the defensive backfield. This also reflects how strongly the play-calling in full-team drills has leaned towards passing plays, giving the secondary more testing that to date they've usually passed, so to speak. Today it was starting CB Anthony Johnson who made the biggest play after slipping down trying to cover one-on-one.
"It looked like he was out of the play and he was able to get back in and make the play," Croom said. "Great effort and great athleticism." That said, the coach was pleased with how several receivers performed this morning after a couple of days of rough reviews due to alignment and procedure penalties.
"I thought Tony Burks was better, he made more plays. (TE) Jason Husband, Brandon McCrae are making plays. Co-Eric Riley is getting back in the mix now. As a group he bounced back better. And Lance Long always plays well, he's a phenomenal guy. I just wish he was about 6-3." Even at 5-11 Long is the number-one wideout on the roster this week."
Riley practiced well despite wearing limited-yellow for a minor muscle pull. He was one of several recently-gimpy Dogs getting plenty of work despite their official limited status, such as FB Jeremy Jones who practices despite an abdomen strain. So do starting OTs Mike Brown and J.D. Hamilton who are being protected from aggravating their own sprain and strain, respectively. Also in limited-yellow but getting less work were offensive players HB Arnil Stallworth, OG Chris Herrera, and for the first time starting HB Anthony Dixon. His was just a case of guarding him from tweaking a tight hamstring as Dixon isn't actually injured. Plus, backups Christian Ducre, Justin Williams, and Robert Elliot can use every practice snap available at this point of camp.
In purple shirts were defenders DE Avery Hannibal, DE Tim Bailey, and DE Jimmie Holmes. DE Charles Burns was the only player in a red-cross shirt today. And one defender was promoted off the injury list as freshman LaMarcus Williams returned to full competition for one of the interior tackle spots after ten days with a strain.
There were no changes to the two-deep on either the offensive or defensive lines to open today's drills. At linebacker OLB Anthony Littlejohn has solidified his place in the second unit and even took some snaps with the first group today. Walk-on Devon Edwards continues to hold off several talented freshmen to stay on the second unit also at the other OLB, and is giving starter Gabe O'Neal a healthy push too.
Corners Johnson and Marcus Washington have a good grip on those starting jobs while converted receivers Tay Bowser and Keon Humphries have been able to hold off their own newcomer challenges, respectively from jucos Chris Nance and Jasper O'Quinn.
Passing clearly has been the first focus on offensive practicing for two weeks, including the first scrimmage. Croom indicated a shift in emphasis for coming days. "We'll work more on the running game as the week progresses so both sides can get better. That's another area we have to concentrate on."
There will also be concentration Thursday and Friday on all areas of kicking. This morning there were no kickoffs or placekicks before team drills, just a lot of punting. Observations from the sidelines have read erratic, but Croom is more confident with what he's seen on the tapes. And review of Monday's drills came out encouraging. "We punted extremely well Monday. We intended to do more full-speed stuff Saturday than we did, but we spent the entire kicking period Monday on full-speed punting and rush and they kicked well.
"I'm not worried. It's just developing consistency where we don't have that one bad one Blake (McAdams) has had in the past. Right now he's hitting the ball extremely well." Adam Carlson and Eric Richards are second and third in the practice rotation respectively.
Wednesday was the last scheduled normal morning practice before the fall semester starts on Monday, though Saturday's scrimmage will also be at 7:00 and completely closed. Thursday and Friday have 4:15 sessions scheduled due to academic commitments those mornings. With the continuing heat wave it is expected both afternoon practices will begin outdoors and mid-way move into the Palmeiro Center.