So far, Croom says, the approach has paid off without muting the intensity too much. "I thought the guys practiced hard, but they practiced smart as well," he said, noting that no Bulldog-body has been damaged in the first two pads sessions. "I think overall we're doing a pretty good job of being physical at the point of attack and staying off the ground at the same time."
The only noticeable harm done so far has been to MLB Jamar Chaney, or specifically to himself as the senior has a hard time holding back entirely. "His shoulders are pretty bruised," Croom said. "But he still went out and worked."
Not only is State—so far at least—unscathed in contact work but one player, OT Chris Spencer, was upgraded today from red-cross with a Tuesday concussion to full-speed this morning. DT LaMarcus Williams shoulder is healed enough that he went from limited-purple back to regular defensive white.
Limited personnel Friday morning were freshman RB T.J. Patterson (ankle), KO Eric Richards (hip), DS Aaron Feld (back), OC D.J. Looney (knee), and defensive starters DE Tim Bailey (hamstring) and DT Kyle Love (toe). And both Bailey and Love were allowed to work with the first unit in non-contact settings. Red-cross players were S Charles Mitchell (hamstring), CB Damein Anderson (hamstring), and DE Brandon Cooper (back). Though not in a limited-shirt, OG Michael Gates was held out of some drills as a precaution with an aching lower back.
And despite the red-cross shirt, Mitchell was still working with the second and even at times first defense in place of starter Derek Pegues. During this first week of camp coordinator Charlie Harbison has mixed in several freshman in the secondary and on the line with the first team as a quick evaluation of their young talents; not as a sign of any depth-chart changes.
The ‘news' of this morning's setting was that for a change the offense came out ahead of the defense in 11-on-11 work. Well, OK, it was in one period, and that set up to favor the team with the ball. Still Croom was not happy with how the Dog D performed in short-yardage situations.
"3rd-and-one, the defense was very poor in that this morning," he said. "The offense should win most of those situations, at least our offense should, but the defense has got to win a high percentage of those when it gets to 3rd-and-1, 4th-and-1. In reality this morning, except for times the offense mis-executed they didn't win any of them. So we've got to get a heck of a lot better in short-yardage situations." Croom was still able to compliment the linebacker trio of Chaney, WLB Dominic Douglas and SLB K.J. Wright.
On offense he had praise for the passing game. "We threw the ball a lot better this morning. Wes (Carroll) threw the ball a lot better, I thought our tempo was a lot better as far as getting in and out of the huddle and getting some speed going offensively." It's worth noting that for the first time this camp Croom had nothing to say about pre-snap and alignment penalties from the offense, a sure sign of progress. The coach is also encouraged by how FB Brandon Hart has performed so far in camp, easing one of his serious spring concerns for the moment.
There was a move on the first offensive line today, as redshirt Quentin Saulsberry jumped up to the top spot at right tackle and soph Mark Melichar stepped back to second team in unit drills. Templeton Hardy is third at right tackle for now. And with Gates given a lighter work-load Craig Jenkins was running #1 at right guard to begin the day with Dakota Merritt his backup.
Derek Sherrod, Spencer, and Phillip Freeman are the left tackle chart; Anthony Strauder and impressive freshman Tobias Smith are 1-2 at left tackle; and center lines up with J. C. Brignone, Looney (in non-contact settings), Sam Latham, and John McMillan who has shed his yellow shirt after a bout of back problems.
Placekicking, and kick-rushing, were worked this morning and while Adam Carlson was efficient one of his efforts was rejected by an unidentified defender. Cornerbacks Tay Bowser and Marcus Washington are the off-the-end rushers in kick defense. Kickoff coverage was given some turns, too, as Croom said the staff is evaluating a lot of candidates for these roles and in particular younger players for depth.
The Bulldogs will re-assemble this afternoon for the second half of the day's work, though this time they will be in shorts. And, indoors. Both are to minimize physical stress in advance of Saturday's first full scrimmage. "Hopefully it'll be a chance to get a little breather and still get something done without adding to the injury situation," Croom said.
Although, the coach also noted that his players are calling upon a higher power than their coach for help whenever an afternoon session or scrimmage is settled. That is, they have been asking for rain, especially after Croom said in Thursday's press conference he was hoping for more hot days to test the team's physical and emotional endurance.
"I think the boys have been having a late-night prayer meeting on me," Croom explained.
The scrimmage is the only one open to media, but still closed to the general public.