"We were practicing all those scenarios, because (in season) you probably spend about five minutes on that stuff. So we try to get it all during training camp, but they've got to remember it during the course of the year."
Working outdoors for over two-and-a-half hours, the Bulldogs ran through a real variety of potential plays. Many are sure to come up in the opener, like all the kicking, coverage, and return plays. One practice period alone took 25 minutes involving most normal specialist situations beginning with the placekick-defense team, turning to punt protect and field, and then kickoff returns. As usual for State, the regular defense stays on the field for placekicks but #2 CB Tay Bowser does hurry in because he continues to be the best Bulldog at pressuring the kicker.
With S Derek Pegues out for the first game, and redshirt Bonner hurting, WR Jamayel Smith is still booked to handle punts and kickoffs both. Freshmen Delmon Robinson and Charles Bailey take turns competing for who backs up Smith, while Pegues watches and awaits his activation for game-two in his old job.
Though there is another day to make choices, the kickoff return team has taken mostly-settled shape. The front-line of five includes two receivers (Aubrey Bell and Co-Eric Riley), a pair of defensive backs in Bowser and Fitzhugh, and OLB Anthony Littlejohn. Tight ends Marcus Green and Nelson Hurst, both about to see their first college action, are the next row and ‘hands' guys, while FB Brandon Hart is flanked by S Zach Smith and redshirt CB Damein Anderson in the next-to-last line. Smith, Robinson, and HB Christian Ducre are the return rotation for now.
Pegues' absence hasn't caused much problems practicing the secondary as soph Zach Smith has stepped right in as the free safety, alongside Fitzhugh. And the latter's illness only let senior De'Mon Glanton get a few more snaps as a regular safety; he is already the first ‘nickel' back in those sets. Freshman Charles Mitchell has practiced in Fitzhugh's place, too, and Nance is the other nickel man.
Those are the normal, expected kicking plays. But today Croom wanted the teams put in such situations as first-down field goals, where the team has to get on-field and lined up after the ball goes over without a delay penalty. Also, "We practiced field goals in a two-minute situations with no timeouts, hurry-up field goals, all that stuff," Croom said.
After kicking periods the focus shifted to offense and defense in overtimes, in normal goal line and then in hurry-up goal line as well as two-point attempts. This took a large portion of practice, because "We went with a couple of different personnel packages on offense and defense just trying to make sure our depth situation fits all that." The same held for four-minute settings on both sides of the ball. On offense, the quarterback and running backs rehearsed how to eat minutes while keeping the ball at the end of games. This particularly involved when to break the huddle, when to snap the ball, and most of all how to avoid going out of bounds.
While, at the same time, the defense drilled on foiling those same tactics and preserve at least some time for the offense to get the ball back. It was a lot to throw at the team in one afternoon, but to Croom it was now or never because starting next week practice time is strictly game-prep oriented.
As for overall evaluations, Croom said the work was good on this non-contact session. And the pendulum swung back in favor of the team with the ball Friday.
"Our offense looked pretty good today; the defense didn't look as good. Yesterday I thought the defense looked excellent and the offense didn't look as good. So right now we're in a little bit of a yo-yo deal, up and down. I don't like that. We need some consistency, I like to know exactly where we are."
Coach Ben Pollard likes to say that the closer the season gets, the fewer the number of players reporting for practice in injury-color jerseys. That was certainly Friday's case, as the starting lineup welcomed a pair of veterans back. ORG Mike Gates missed three days with tonsillitis; and SS Keith Fitzhugh a couple of days with stomach ills. There were in their accustomed slots to end the week.
Only three Bulldogs were in limited-status, and even they participated in most drills to some extent. Starting WLB Dominic Douglas (ankle), and backups S Chris Nance (wrist) and DE Jimmie Holmes (back) should all be ready for full-speed work next week. In fact Holmes lined up with the first unit at left d-end for the early practice periods, and Douglas was with the starting group as well.
The only players held out entirely were red-cross crew HB/KR Wade Bonner (hip) and freshman HB T.J. Patterson (ankle). Though early on starting OLT Derek Sherrod went to the training room with a hurting foot, the result of an infection that required a trip to the hospital. No long-term effects are expected. Freshman WR/KR Terrance Davis had to spend time on the bicycle with a touchy hamstring. Alternate DT LaMarcus Williams and backup HB/FB Arnil Stallworth are still getting over wisdom teeth extractions, which make a cranky hamstring seem mild by comparison.
Going into the week Croom listed a handful of positions where starting jobs were not assured. Though, who the first two wide receivers are out of the foursome of Smith, Riley, Bell, and Brandon McRae means little other than the honor of starting.
At RT redshirt Quentin Saulsberry has moved up to first-team after Mark Melichar missed a couple of days' work with a stomach virus. That #1 job will be contested into next week. On the defensive line left end remains a rotation in progress. Holmes, who played last year as backup right end, is battling a just-got-healthy Brandon Cooper and freshman Sean Ferguson and it still seems too close to call. After opening camp as first left end, Cortez McCraney has been practicing at left tackle for depth purposes though he can easily shift out a step at any point.
While he didn't come out to practice, Croom reported on another Bulldogs' return. Offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey, who had unspecified surgery Monday and left the hospital Wednesday, came by the office this afternoon for about 45 minutes. "And we expect him to in on Monday. I don't know how much he'll be able to do by that point but he looked pretty good today. He really did."
For their part the players got an unexpected bonus Friday, as Saturday's tentative morning practice was cancelled and the Bulldogs given a whole day-and-a-half off to, as Croom said, "freshen up a little bit." After three weeks of work everybody can use the short break, though the head coach will likely spend this free time figuring what sort of club he truly has to put on the field in Ruston a week from tomorrow. For the moment, though, "I guess we're not going to find out until next Saturday night.
"I know we can be a good team, I think if we keep working we'll be a good football team sometime this year. But where we are right now, we're not going to find out until next week."