Thursday, a full-pads session, it was the offense that got going faster first. When practice shifted from unit drills to nine-on-seven, the team with the ball came out ahead. Slightly. "We had good red zone work and it was real competitive," Croom said. "The offense won by one play in the drill we had down there, we had a 15-play period and the offense won eight of them, the defense won seven. So it was pretty hotly contested down in there."
The offensive edge came on the strength of good ball-hauling by just about the whole rotation of running backs, despite the absence of FB Brandon Hart who was held out with a sore groin. Anthony Dixon continued his impressive efforts, but this time Croom singled out one of the younger runners for the most praise as redshirt Robert Elliot makes his camp case.
"Robert had another good day. He's really practicing well. He hasn't put a ball on the ground the entire camp so it's obvious he concentrated on that all summer. I know he took a ball home with him and I imagined he walked around Okolona with his ball all summer, because you can definitely see the change." Jesting aside, it was his August scrimmage turnovers that led to Elliot redshirting in 2007 as he experienced superior contact for the first time in years.
Sitting a season has obviously paid off for the gifted back's attention to detail. "He has not fumbled the ball not one time the whole camp so far," Croom said. "That's what I like about guys like Robert, whatever you ask him to do and whatever the details are he'll go work on it. If everybody takes that approach we'll be OK."
With all the week's positive reviews for the throwing and catching, the defensive team has perhaps gotten a bit tired of such constant talk. So when it came time for periods practicing coverages, things got a bit more intense than normal for this time of pre-season. It resulted in some good work, too, such as on one field where linebackers took turns covering backs, half and full both. These drills seemed to come out even, though Dixon had few problems getting the ball whether defended by a starter or reserve. The backs likely should have done better as their coach, Rockey Felker, was throwing the passes.
On the neighboring field, wide receivers were taking on defensive backs and in their case coming out ahead more often than not when Wesley Carroll and Tyson Lee were throwing the passes. Veterans Jamayel Smith, Co-Eric Riley, and Aubrey Bell continue to perform consistently well, and Wilder came down with a few balls too. But to keep the top targets on their game, walk-ons Major Sosebee and Andrew Ellard often practice just as well and make their own cases for contributing.
The training room roster was somewhat shorter today, and dominated by first-year players. Freshman OG Tobias Smith's badly-sprained ankle will have him out well into the season but no worse damage has been found. Freshman RB T.J. Patterson's ankle continues to keep him sidelined, as he has barely practiced all camp. The only veteran staying indoors today was Hart. "Brandon could have probably practiced but I know enough about Brandon now," said Croom. "It was just to make sure he's healthy. I would expect him to practice tomorrow and Saturday, though." Freshman DT Devin Jones (hamstring) came to practices but was in red cross and sidelined.
Meanwhile freshman WR O'Neal Wilder returned to practices. He only worked non-contact drills in limited-yellow but wasn't given any mercy by defensive backs in one-on-one catch/cover situations. KO Eric Richards is also still in yellow on a sore hip. Defensively, DE Brandon Cooper (back) is working his way back into action while wearing limited-purple, as is CB/S Chris Nance with the cast on his cracked right wrist. Nance practices in all but hitting drills.
And both freshman wideouts who missed a couple of days with pulls are back; Delmon Robinson (hamstring) and Arceto Clark (groin) were participating in all drills.
Croom's other complaint with the day were pre-snap penalties. "I think we had three times the defensive line lined up offsides and motion penalties on the offense. That's too many, five of those in a game will get you beat.
"But overall I was pleased with the way we finished, but we've got to start faster. Our defense has to start faster in nine-on-seven, our offense totally dominated today and that's not good. You've got to be able to run the ball on offense, but you've got to be able to stop it on defense."
The Bulldogs will work Friday afternoon for a couple of hours in preparation for a second, and decisive scrimmage Saturday. Croom said "whoever is alive and well" will be in the game-type practice because this is when the lineup and immediate backups should be settled for the rest of camp, barring injuries of course.
"I've got a pretty good idea who is going to be our starters at most of the positions. A couple of spots we're not certain about but we'll make a decision pretty much after Saturday."