"The heat won today, hands down. We weren't mentally tough."
Indeed, the first-day conditions proved tougher than the Bulldogs, if not atypical for the first weekend of August. Trainers reported an air temperature of 103 degrees on the practice field and ground-level heat on the artificial field of 124.5 degrees. The post-practice ice water tubs were swarmed with players needing a fast cool-down, and a handful had to be helped their with cramping.
Tough but not extraordinary, again. And Croom thought that the players handled the morning sprints session, a series of 16 half-gassers run at 6:00, very well. But between then and the 3:50 start of drills State players lost something and it showed in an unproductive debut practice. About the only aspect the head coach could compliment was defensive work in throwing situations, especially the pass rushing of linebackers like Dominic Douglas. Of course this implied problems on the other side.
"The offense didn't pick up some things that are elementary. Blitz pick-up was terrible." Nor did Carroll acquit himself well under the circumstances; Croom thought the sophomore starter was pressing, aiming his throws too much.
What really bothered Croom, though, wasn't so much execution or even effort since it is so early in camp. What he was hoping to see were some veterans of 2007's winning season stepping up into take-charge roles and setting a tone for an entire team. It was a '08 concern Croom has mentioned often since the Liberty Bowl, and day-one of camp did nothing to answer this question.
"We've got a lot of guys who've played in SEC games that didn't act like it today," Croom said. "We didn't have a lot of leadership today, and that was my concern going in. So we're going to do it again until we find some, no matter where it comes from. If we don't get that it's going to be tough. I don't care what position, what grade, I'm just looking for leaders."
And, for tough guys. Because it isn't projected to get any cooler on campus until later in the week, and Monday should be even hotter for practice. But as Croom noted, the Bulldogs have September games starting in daylight hours and continuing into muggy evenings. "So we're going to keep working in it until we can handle it."
Four scholarship players were held out of the first day of drills with varying ailments. DS Aaron Feld (recurring back problems) and second OC D.J. Looney (meniscus) were in limited-yellow jerseys, while DE Brandon Cooper (back) and CB Damein Anderson (hamstring) were in red-cross shirts. None are expected to be out long.
Opening day saw freshman being slotted into their initial places, with one—defensive lineman Sean Ferguson—already working with the second unit at left end. This of course was due to Cooper's restricted status, as Cortez McCraney moved up to first team for the day and the rookie as his temporary backup. All his classmates were, predictably, rotating with third and fourth units, such as S Charles Mitchell, LCB Corey Broomfield, MLB Bo Walters, ORG Tobias Smith, and ORT Templeton Hardy, to mention a few. As the week develops the status of freshmen will be tracked.
A host of new walk-ons got their first taste of college football practices today, too, joining a dozen veteran walk-ons retained from 2007. The newcomers were: FB Ryan Lester FR of Indianola Academy, FB Wes Almond FR Olive Branch, FB Sylvester Hemphill FR Olive Branch, FB Allen Tolbert FR Duluth, GA Northview, SN Taylor McElhenney JR Itawamba CC, QB Todd Kilpatrick FR Monroeville AL Academy, K Zac Warden FR Jackson Prep, DB Andrew Shannon FR Trussville AL Hewitt, DB Chris Cameron FR Palm Beach Gardens FL, DE Renaldo Buck FR Coldwater HS, LB Nick Pounder FR Memphis Briarcrest Christian, LB Jasper Williams FR Suwanne GA Air Force Prep, LB Tyler Chancellor FR Decatur AL Austin.
The veteran walk-ons who have dressed for games and in some cases played are: DS Anthony Bowles, FB Taurus Young, WR Andrew Ellard, TE Austin Wilbanks, WR Major Sosebee, OL Sam Latham, DB Robert Gurley, DB Jarvis Williams, DB Emmanuel Gatling, LB Mark Brown, LB Mark Lynn, OL John McMillan. They brought the first-day roster total to 103 players, two shy of the NCAA's limit for pre-school semester participation. Those two slots are supposed to be taken this week by DL Trevor Stigers and QB Terrance Davis as soon as they receive NCAA certification.
The first two full practice periods were spent on placekicking preparation, with the protect team on one field and defend/block team on the other, without any actual kicking done.
Monday practices will begin an hour later, starting at 5:00. The Bulldogs have two more days to work in headgear and shorts before pulling on shoulder pads Wednesday.