Good words indeed as the Bulldogs completed their second working day of 2008 spring training. Per the NCAA's schedule they worked in shorts again, but this day the Dogs got to go indoors and avoid the frigid northwest wind. Not that a change of venue had any impact on day-two drills, physically or mentally.
"Our intensity was good. I thought every aspect of practice was better today," said Croom.
This spring has been encouragingly different from previous camps, and not just because the head Dog had good things to say in the opening days. Both Monday and Tuesday Croom handed out more compliments to the offense than he might have all of spring some years. Quarterback Wesley Carroll, going through his first spring session, has picked right up where he left off in the Liberty Bowl. Except he's doing it with frame carrying ten more pounds of off-season muscle.
Carroll is the fortunate case of a quarterback who is already comfortable in the mental aspects of the game so that the real work can be done on technical issues of how to use a maturing body. Though, unlike reporters and fans, the coach doesn't see a stronger arm as a priority with Carroll for now. "The biggest thing is I think his footwork is better. I'm not worried about Wes' arm strength as much as the footwork part and getting the ball out of his hand and to the right people with accuracy."
A day into camp nothing appeared to have changed atop the depth charts. Though due to his ongoing recovery from a knee clean-up, Anthony Dixon is sharing the #1 halfback spot with Christian Ducre in most settings. And for full-team drills Ducre usually takes the first turn, running behind FB Brandon Hart's blocks.
What the junior halfbacks have to watch for though is the youngest runner on the roster. "Robert Elliot continues to impress," Croom said. He's the one that really catches your eye now."
Brandon Henderson is holding on to first tight end though he will be tested long and hard this camp to prove he should start. Marcus Green is the second TE for now, while mid-year transfer Nelson Hurst already has shown a quick transition to college ball and will be pushing the others very hard, very soon. At wideout Co-Eric Riley and Jamayel Smith are first team, which means something now because the rotation receivers were putting on a Tuesday show catching all sorts of throws from a variety of passers.
And a new face is very much in the mix, Croom pointed out. "O'Neal Wilder has done some good things these two days but he's like a spring flower, we just have to keep nurturing him and hope he doesn't wither in the fall."
All the talk of offense shouldn't be mistaken for defensive problems. Far from it. Because based on initial impressions, when the pads go on this weekend the offense better watch out for a defense that isn't just strong but might even be better in some ways despite the graduations. Soph K.J. Wright has drawn praise for how easily he's succeeded Gabe O'Neal at the open linebacker slot.
And the secondary is so good right now they're almost not noticed, until the tape is rewound. "Our veteran players on defense are practicing well," said Croom. "Derek Pegues, Keith Fitzhugh, De'Mon Glanton, and our corners are playing good. We're ahead of the game on defense right now."
After a season at tackle Cortez McCraney is back at end and #1 on the left side of the defensive line ahead of Rodney Prince and Charles Burns. Tim Bailey is first right-defense end backed up by Jimmie Holmes. The first-team tackles are, left and right, Kyle Love and Jessie Bowman; with Quinton Wesley and LaMarcus Williams the seconds.
Replacing graduated starters Titus Brown and Avery Hannibal isn't automatic but early results are encouraging here. "Cortez and Tim are doing good things," said Croom. "We've got two guys we can work with there, and we're working Prince in to give us some depth."
Tuesday was also the first day any player reported to work in a numbered jersey, continuing a Croom policy of having to earn the privilege in camp…and then maintain it. Nine players got to don digits for day-two: S Keith Fitzhugh, S De'Mon Glanton, LB Dominic Douglas, QB Wesley Carroll, LB Jamar Chaney, CB Jasper O'Quinn, HB Christian Ducre, FB Brandon Hart, and FB Eric Hoskins. Hoskins did not actually practice again today, as the injured nerve from last November is still not 100%.
In fact Hoskins was wearing the sort of red jersey reserved for quarterbacks and kickers. That's not just a hint from the coaching staff, either. "Anybody with a red jersey on has a two-yard halo around them!" said Croom, speaking particularly of the passers. "Those guys are not going to get any contact at all."
But one recovered kicker is making contact, ball on foot that is. Redshirt Eric Richards is back after breaking his booting-foot in August in a scrimmage collision. Early indications are the young specialist is at least returned to his reporting form. "I watched him for a few reps yesterday, and he said it was OK," Croom said. " But we haven't tested him on any long-range field goals yet." In fact the only special-teams work so far has been setting the protect and block units without actually going through the whole play. Actual place-kicking and punting will come later in camp.
So after two days Croom can say so far, so good. "I like our enthusiasm, particularly as early as we're practicing and just coming out of the bowl game and the off-season program as well. I think they've got tremendous excitement about practicing, guys are having fun and working hard.
"All in all I'm pleased with the way we're going about things and the concentration level we have now. But we really won't be able to tell anything until we get the pads on."
Which comes Saturday. Before then though the Dogs have one more date in shorts, Thursday, with a Friday ‘shells' practice per NCAA policy.