Initially, though, it didn't seem the Bulldogs were going to continue their positive performances of Monday and Tuesday. On those days Croom came out giving the offense almost glowing reviews for making plays both running and throwing the ball; a marked change in practice pace at State most camps. Wednesday morning began with a less encouraging trend in passing drills with too many missed connections whether defended or not.
"The offense started slow this morning, the defense started fast," Croom said. "And the defense won the nine-on-seven." That too was a change from Tuesday morning when the offense repeatedly broke plays, most notably on carries by HB Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducre, in the nine vs. seven settings. Croom had a good reason why the defense that struggled to stop rushes yesterday was doing "a great job" 24 hours later. "Kyle Love had a lot to do with that," the coach said. Love, the first left DT, has been hobbled almost all camp by lingering concerns about the big toe operated on in summer.
Love did report to practice in purple, nominally meaning he would be limited to non-contact drills only. Not this time as the first-teammer gave a first-rate effort against the starting offense. "I thought he played pretty good," said Croom, adding that Love's fresh legs probably contributed against an offensive front that has been going full-speed for days now. Regardless, "He definitely is a force inside when he's out there."
Yet the offense didn't write the morning off after a slow start. Instead they rallied to earn overall compliments from the coach. "We had a good red zone period offensively, we got some things done." Again, a positive development after the first and second offense both failed to convert on three of four opportunities inside the 20-yard line during last Saturday's scrimmage. Red zone work has been emphasized the three days since and the effort appears to be paying off…for that side of the ball that is.
"But like I said yesterday, when we do well on one side it ain't so good on the other one," Croom added. "We left a couple of guys uncovered in our blitz protection on defense, so we've got to get that worked out." Especially as coordinator Charlie Harbison has his defensive front seven playing more often on the attack, making blitz-coverage a subject to stress in drills.
"But all in all it was another good day, we're moving in the right direction," Croom said. "I thought the guys had a lot of enthusiasm. I know they're tired and beat-up because that was two physical practices pretty close together there, but I'm pleased with the way they're reacting to that. We've still got a lot of work to do."
Love wasn't the only one back at work Wednesday. Freshmen wide receivers Delmon Robinson (ankle) and Arceto Clark (groin) skipped Tuesday to protect their injuries. They came to practice in limited-yellow this morning and participated in most drills, particularly Robinson who has worked his way into the rotation.
"It was good to get those young guys some work, because a lot our freshmen are going to have to help us," Croom said. "But we've got to get them caught-up real fast." These rookies got extra snaps also because classmate O'Neal Wilder missed Wednesday morning so trainers could work on a knee that was mildly strained earlier in the week.
On defense, CB Damein Anderson has been held out since camp began with a July hamstring problem, so as not to rush his return. Today he was back in varsity white and running second unit at right cornerback behind starter Jasper O'Quinn. CB/S Chris Nance was in purple, with a cast on the right wrist that was cracked in the scrimmage, yet he still took part in squad drills and at times lined up as a nickel safety. DE Brandon Cooper watched practice in purple.
DT Devin Jones (hamstring) and OG Tobias Smith (ankle sprain) stayed in the training room also.
Though indoors, State's kickoff return game is getting more work. Wade Bonner gets the first chance to field kickoffs followed by classmate Robert Elliot, with veterans Derek Pegues and Jamayel Smith after the redshirt rookies. Only about half of the return and coverage team has been picked so far, though as the week goes on those units will be filled in and practiced.
Two-a-days end this afternoon with a shorts practice, and while it looks like the rain might stay awaythe rest of Wednesday Croom said State will stay indoors. In fact, "It'll be a couple of days probably before we go back outside with the rain we've had here. I hope they (the practice fields) are dry by Monday." Presumably the coach isn't including Scott Field where a closed, to media and public both, scrimmage is set for Saturday afternoon.