Certainly Bulldog quarterbacks have learned to adapt to situations and sudden shifts to the depth chart and rotation. After three games essentially taking turns with Riddell, now Carroll is the undisputed number-one man…or at least until season-starter Mike Henig is full-strength. In fact, today Henig returned to practicing for the first time since breaking his hand in the first quarter at Auburn on September 15. But while Henig is optimistic about his chances of getting back on the field soon, Coach Sylvester Croom re-affirmed Monday afternoon that Carroll and fellow true freshman Chris Relf are the top two triggermen for the UAB game.
"We're going to get Wes and Chris ready to play," Croom said. "Right now Henig's the third guy, whether that continues … Mike is doing well in our throwing, he can't take a snap but he can throw it."
And throwing was the priority in Monday's drills. "We did a lot of different things with the quarterbacks, as far as working on the passing game," Croom said. "We didn't scrimmage like we normally do, we took that time to really work on the passing game with both our young quarterbacks." Starting with Carroll, the only quarterback to have played in all five games this season with a start last week against Gardner-Webb. Not that the first-year collegian claims any special status. "I've just got to take advantage of it while I've got the time to mature and develop into this offense. I've just got to keep everybody behind me and keep everybody's confidence in me, which I think is fine."
Classmate Relf has yet to play as until last week he was in line for a redshirt. Now he goes into a game as the #2 man and, given the way this season has gone, with the strong likelihood of playing. So he practiced like a player today.
"I felt pretty good. I'm comfortable, I have to take charge and be confident," he said. "I didn't know I was going to be second string but stuff just happens I guess." Still it's a big step for a kid who hasn't had to run this offense under game pressures. Relf said he feels he knows "85, 95 percent" of State's system, but admits it's complicated. "I've had to learn a lot more plays and stuff. In high school we ran like 50 plays, we've got like 600 plays and different formations."
Fortunately Relf is getting some extra tutoring from roommate Carroll, who doesn't regard his fellow rookie as a competitor. "I don't think being a freshman I can't help another guy. I would never hold that back because I want everybody to play to the best of their ability to help the team. Chris is going to have to step up and get in the playbook. We're roommates, I quiz him all the time on what you do this play, who do you read."
For his part Henig doesn't want to be eased back into action. Croom would rather the veteran be held out until at least next week's Tennessee game. Not the junior. "I want to play the UAB game! Any time we talk about what sacrifices people are willing to make to help the team, that's something I'm willing to do." Henig still has evident stitching on the back of the right (throwing) hand and after tossing a few balls today he pulled on a glove which didn't seem a problem.
"I threw it pretty good. The glove is a little heavy but other than that I threw it good. It's a little pain in the knuckle but that's just from swelling and scar tissue. Other than that it was fine. I played in a glove in high school a little bit."
Henig said he took only one direct center-snap today, the rest were shotgun snaps. And he has experience playing with pain, having broken his hand in high school. He was able then to shift his hands and receive the ball with the left paw, which he thinks he could do again.
The depth chart was back up to four today as walk-on Zach Harrington returned to the team five days after leaving. "He called this morning," Croom said. "I knew it was a hard decision when he left, something I wanted him to work through. He called today and said he wanted to come back. I told him what time practice was." Which was 3:15, though the Dogs didn't actually get on the field until 3:40.
"I left at 11:30," said Harrington, who was home in Hattiesburg this morning. "I didn't make the meetings but I made the practice. I may take up NASCAR!" He'd watched the South Carolina game from his brother's house in Birmingham. "Josh went down in the game, I got some phone calls from some of the players asking what are you going to do? It showed their concern, how far this team has come with class and character like Coach Croom emphasizes. I'm honored to be back and help this team any way I can."
Croom said if Harrington, or any player, had left the team without warning or just not reported for a practice, being allowed back would be different. "But he was going through a personal decision, balancing football and academics. If he'd walked away from the team I would not have let him back."
So Harrington is back in the mix, fourth in line for now. And as everybody involved has learned, it's best to stay alert for sudden changes here. Carroll doesn't intend to be the next quarterback injured. "I know I'm probably going to need to slide more and not take any full-on hits. But I can't be in the pocket and think I can't scramble, because it's going to affect me and my teammates. I can't think of myself over picking up a first down or big-yardage play.
"We definitely have got to get our passing game going because we've trade-marked the running game, we can run against anybody. We're getting better and better with the blocking schemes and route-running and reading it correctly."
*Riddell's surgery for the torn ligament is scheduled for next Thursday, allowing time for swelling from the ligament tear and possible meniscus damage to go down. These surgeries come with a standard four-to-five month rehabilitation schedule.
Three Bulldogs reported to practice in red-cross jerseys. Starting ROT J.D. Hamilton is hurting of back, wrist, and thumb after the South Carolina game but nothing is serious and he should be back on the first-team Tuesday. For today, freshman Derek Sherrod was running #1 ahead of Roland Terry at right tackle.
DE Tim Bailey was taking it easy today to protect the groin that's caused him problems since camp. He's played every game on it, though. And DT LaMarcus Williams is still bothered by the plantar fasciitis that isn't responding to treatment. He has played on that foot in regular tackle rotation.
#2 cornerback Tay Bowser had his left knee scoped today. He has a sprained ligament and might be able to play next weekend against Tennessee.