"Jamayel Smith and Co-Eric Riley had an excellent day," Croom said. "Jamayel practiced like a pro today, he did all the little things, and Co-Eric had an outstanding practice as well. De'Mon Glanton and Keith Fitzhugh did good things today. Those four guys really stood out to me." The coach also thought the candidates to take the places of three graduated tight ends were showing progress.
There was reason to watch those matchups because the defensive secondary was missing a starter Tuesday. FS Derek Pegues did not participate, the result of a weekend arrest for previous and recent driving-related violations in the city limits. But the senior-to-be had not been officially suspended as of this afternoon, and with legal questions still to be settled Croom was unable to clarify Pegues' situation further. "No, it's no comment," he said.
The four injured players who missed Monday practice were still out Tuesday. Three of them are expected to be back by the end of the week, maybe even for Thursday. Those are WR Brandon McRae (turf toe), DT LaMarcus Williams (leg muscle strain), and DT Jimmie Holmes (deltoid strain). But DT Quinton Wesley is doubtful of coming back soon, and might require a procedure for his back disc problem.
C Johnny Carpenter had surgery on his injured shoulder Monday and is out the rest of spring. The younger snapper who succeeded Carpenter as #1 a day into camp, J. C. Brignone, was excused for a third day after the death of his father. He might not be back this week, Croom indicated, which does little to ease the coach's great worry of this spring.
"My big concern right now is down the middle of our offense. We don't have a center, and it's a real concern now with J.C. not practicing and Carpenter being out. We put a lot on D.J. Looney and Chris Spencer. Hopefully J.C. will get back after spring break and get some work in, but that's still a big concern."
Without Brignone, the two-deep for three days has had Mike Brown and Quentin Saulsberry at left tackle, Anthony Strauder and Dakota Merritt at left guard, Looney and Spencer at center, Mike Gates and Craig Jenkins at right guard, and Derek Sherrod and Mark Melichar at right tackle. Addison Lawrence is third left tackle, John McMillan third left guard, and Phillip Freeman third right tackle.
When Croom talks about a muddled middle, he includes a spot farther back from center. Not quarterback, fortunately, and certainly not halfback where all four runners have had excellent camps. But the fullback job remains very much up in the air after seven days and that might not change for a while longer. Croom right now would just settle for some consistency there.
"I know what Eric Hoskins can do, whether he is healthy or not is a concern. Brandon Hart is still inconsistent, one day he looks like a SEC player and the next day he looks like a 5A player. That doesn't allow for a lot of comfortable sleeping when you're talking about your running game. We haven't seen enough of Devon Edwards, and Ethan Stockett is injured and very inconsistent in his habits as well."
Hoskins, a walk-on turned starter last fall before a shoulder injury, is hampered by a nerve problem from that injury that keeps him from doing heavy work.
By contrast the early injuries have left the defensive line somewhat short on bodies to practice with. The first four is still intact with Cortez McRaney and Tim Bailey at ends, Kyle Love and Jessie Bowman at tackles. The second group is thin, though, with Reggie Odom the only full-time scholarship tackle left. Rodney Prince is spending more time at end for now, behind McRaney, but working some at tackle. So is DE Charles Burns, back at his old tackle position at the moment though wearing limited-contact yellow from that August shoulder operation. Walk-ons Anthony Smith and Davonne Wilson are filling out the two-deep at tackle and end as needed.
With everybody back in pads, there was some good contact being made even in small-group drills. For one period units were matched up for first-hit work, without tackling to ground. Running backs took on linebackers, wide receivers went against defensive backs, and tight ends with some walk-ons to fill out the numbers ran into defensive linemen. Only the offensive linemen didn't participate, though they were doing enough muscling with each other.
Though he singled out those defensive secondary players for individual praise, Croom has also been keeping an eye on the linebacker positions. MLB Jamar Chaney and WLB Dominic Douglas are settled; the strong-side starting job is somewhat open between K.J. Wright and Terrell Johnson who has come on well the last few days. The second team is more in-flux with the pending fall suspension of Jamon Hughes, who is practicing in spring but now on the third unit.
"We've really got to see some work now with our young linebackers. With Jamon suspended, Jamie Jones has really got to step up for us at the middle linebacker backup spot to Jamar. And then we have to see more of Terrell and K.J., both have to be players and one has to emerge as our starter. So we're pretty much where we were when we started. We know we've got some athletic ability there but the question is who is going to be the guys and are they good enough for the long haul."
After seeing too many fumbled footballs Monday, the staff put some extra emphasis on protecting the pigskin. Both wideouts and backs had to run gauntlets as heavy pads were swung, usually with vigor, by assistants and managers. Those drills appeared to be paying off with fewer drops today.
Two more players received their jersey numbers Tuesday. The promotions were both to redshirt freshmen backs, Robert Elliot and Wade Bonner. They join the roster of spring numbers with OG Anthony Strauder, WR Co-Eric Riley, WR Jamayel Smith, and DE Tim Bailey, S Derek Pegues, CB Marcus Washington, HB Anthony Dixon, OT Mike Brown, OG Mike Gates, and DT Kyle Love, S Keith Fitzhugh, S De'Mon Glanton, LB Dominic Douglas, LB Jamar Chaney, CB Jasper O'Quinn, QB Wesley Carroll, HB Christian Ducre, FB Brandon Hart, and FB Eric Hoskins.
The Bulldogs are off Wednesday while their coaches go through two days of tape. There will be a non-contact practice Thursday, and the first game-type scrimmage is scheduled for Friday before State goes on spring break for a week.