"They're slowly getting it," Mullen said. To the point that even when pushed to hit as hard and as often for a second practice the Bulldogs responded. "Our guys came out and practiced hard today," said the coach, adding that since there'd been a couple days-break between sessions there was no reason not to. Still, "Their effort has been pretty good every day."
And in most cases the health has held up going into week-two. Saturday produced no injuries of note, though WR Delmon Robinson did tweak the already-tender left hamstring again. He did not participate in any drills today, instead exiled to the recover/rehab field to put in other forms of work. So did WR Brandon McRae and RB Robert Elliot, who were held out of the scrimmaging Saturday and spent this day riding the bike or running laps of the kicker's field.
But Tuesday did take a toll. In 8-on-7 running drills SLB Mike Hunt hurt his right ankle and was sidelined. Later on in two-minute work RB Christian Ducre banged his right shoulder making a sideline catch and needed icing-down. Two Dogs who missed Saturday with illness, DT Charles Burns and LB Karlin Brown, returned to work today.
"We've got some guys banged-up right now," Mullen said. Most notably from the catching corps, which is getting far too thin for either efficiency or comfort. "I've almost put an ad in the school paper," Mullen said, "go watch intramural football and find some wide receivers. We've got two practicing right now and it's hard to run a spread offense with just two wide receivers. We might open up some tryouts."
Mullen was only slightly exaggerating the situation. For Tuesday, only five scholarship wideouts were lined up: Tay Bowser, Leon Berry, O'Neal Wilder, Terrance Davis, and Charles Bailey. Just to be able to rotate in team work, TE Marcus Green moved into a slot role and saw his first serious action of spring as he comes back from a pelvic muscle problem.
Also, after working his first three camp days in college at quarterback, Cameron Lawrence moved to wideout. "He's one of the two practicing right now," Mullen said, though in team settings Davis was in the second group behind Bowser-Wilder-Berry. Still, it showed the depth of his concerns. "That's a high school senior quarterback and he's your starting wide receiver right now, that makes it rough duty." Davis had been #3 at quarterback in fact. He celebrated his first day in a new job by catching a touchdown against the #2 defense in goal-line work.
This left starter Tyson Lee and backup Chris Relf to do all the handoffs and throwing in either 8-on-7 or 11-vs-11 settings. And given what the coach said today, both could use all the work they can get. While Mullen said both are understanding the ideas and operations of this spread-system, completing the plays is another matter.
"Accuracy was way off today. We just have to keep throwing a lot more, I'm disappointed with their off-season work. I don't think they understood what an off-season throwing workout is. I can't be with them so they have to do it on their now. Hopefully they're beginning to understand what they need to do in the off-season to become a real good quarterback."
Lack of accuracy didn't transfer into many interceptions at least, though each passer got picked once today. And Marcus Washington was the picker each time, playing as a nickel back once in a special defense set. Lee's interception came in open-field work, while Relf was picked to end a two-minute drill.
That hurry-up situation was how practiced finished, with the first offense against it's counterpart defense and twos-vs.-twos. Each time the offense was spotted at the ten yard line coming out, and even given a break in that the ball would be advanced regardless if caught or not. Lee was able to take the #1 offense to the other ten-yard line but overthrew TE Kendrick Cook in the end zone to fall short. There were no subs on either offense or defense in these drives, first or second groups, to further stress everyone involved for this pressurized situation.
Contact was the order of the afternoon, whether in pass-protect drills where backs and tight ends tried to fight off—and usually didn't—blitzing linebackers; or the 8-vs-7 ground game work. The eight were five blockers, a tight end, quarterback, and running back. These drills were particularly intense with all running ‘tween-the-tackles until breaking the line of scrimmage. Here the offense came up better as the still-developing offensive line actually controlled the trenches against the first defense. And the running, whether by Ducre, Arnil Stallworth, or Anthony Dixon was as hard as a coach could ask.
"All three of them are doing a great job," Mullen said. "Just watching their unselfish play and moving around, rotating guys. And they're trying to get on special teams. I think they're understanding the team concept of things. If they can continue to buy-in that way those are three guys we can feature in the offense."
Especially if the blocking continues to mature at this spring's pace. Mullen cautions about the need to keep the first group healthy, but he said Coach John Hevesy and the unit are getting good things done. "They're kind of building some camaraderie. There is some experience there of guys that have played before. We still have a long way to go but they're taking little steps every practice of understanding the offense a little bit more and more."
The first line was unchanged from Saturday's depth chart listed in the practice report. The second group adjusted with former starting tackle-turned-guard Mark Melichar now running #2 at left guard, ahead of redshirt Templeton Hardy. Just for depth purposes starting RG Quentin Saulsberry did some snapping for the fourth quarterback during those warm-ups, but he is still #1 at his spot.
While Burns did run first-line in drills, after missing a day his place was taken for 11-on-11 work by Kyle Love at right tackle. That made the #1 group today LDE Brandon Cooper, LDT Pernell McPhee, Love, RDE Sean Ferguson. On the second unit redshirt Devin Jones was splitting snaps with Shane McCardell at right end, while LaMarcus Williams has been promoted to #2 at left tackle and Rodney Prince bumped down to the third group. Reggie Odom and Joshua Jackson are competing for second right tackle, and Trevor Stigers is having to fend off Nick Bell at second left end.
When starting RCB Washington moves to nickel safety, Corey Broomfield steps in on the right corner. Louis Watson got more snaps today at left corner behind starter Damein Anderson as the secondary gets further evaluations and various special packages are practiced. #2 safety Wade Bonner is also the second nickel man.
On the whole Mullen likes how the defense is shaping up. "They're doing a nice job. And we have some depth, some younger players getting out there. At linebackers we have some depth and I'd like to keep it developing."
Development resumes Thursday with another afternoon session. And that's when the pace really picks up with more practicing Friday and Saturday, which will pressure the Bulldogs even more to stay both focused and healthy with their first consecutive-working dates of this camp.