"Today was a day we wanted to finish up strong. We started off good, with all the individual stuff at the beginning of practice. Then we wrapped up with a little scrimmage here at the end."
‘Little' only in the sense it was shortened from other such days to first down and third down situations; to series starting coming-out from the 20 or 35; and then red zone work from the 25-in. And befitting what will be the last serious day of true contact practices, the 13th session concluded with what Mullen called ‘last play' drills. As in the ball spotted somewhere inside the 20-yard line with one chance to score. Though, that ‘last play' was practiced five times each by the first and second teams against their peers.
In the ones-vs.-ones, the first two tries failed with MLB Jamar Chaney breaking up a throw to WR Terrance Davis open behind him in the end zone on the second chance. But QB Tyson Lee came back hit Davis with a bullet at the goal line, at Chaney's expense. Play-five put HB Anthony Dixon at ‘quarterback' with Lee flanked all the way to a sideline. The snap from OC J. C. Brignone was high but Dixon pulled it down and got around right end to stick the ball across the stripe, dragging nickel-safety Marcus Washington with him.
When it was the second teams' turn, QB Chris Relf was sacked on first down—to the great displeasure of Mullen—only to respond with a nice strike to WR O'Neil Wilder in the end zone behind S Robert Gurley. A swing-pass to FB Patrick Hanrahan produced another touchdown from the two-yard line.
There were other successes from the offensive teams in other situations, most notably when it was 7-on-7 passing work. There Lee and to a lesser extent Relf put together some impressive plays including three to WR Delmon Robinson that got to the end zone. The quarterbacks also used their backs for other throws, though this day tight ends were largely absent from the gameplan.
Still on the whole, Mullen gave the final nod to the guys in white jerseys and let them leave without running gassers. "The defense came out and played well today. You know, I'd like to see a little more consistent play out of the offense."
Asked to expound, considering how often the offense did complete a productive throw or break some sort of rush through traffic, Mullen still balanced the good and the bad in his evaluation. "And when you get herky-jerky you get out of rhythm there. You watch us, we're hitting a twenty-yard play and then taking a sack the next play. You just can't do that, that makes it tough. Offensively you want to stay in a rhythm so when you hit a big play you come back and continually move the ball forward."
There were a number of sacks registered, most of them via whistles though at one point Relf—despite a yellow jersey worn after taking a shot to the helmet Tuesday--was put down on a scramble just to remind him that this defense isn't to be fooled with. For a second time this week the offensive line had ‘flipped' guards with three-week starter at right guard Quentin Saulsberry lined up left, and redshirt freshman Tobias Smith moving over to right. Mullen has said he wants to test his interior blockers going either side, first and second teams. Craig Jenkins and Templeton Hardy were the backups at left guard, Mark Melichar the right. The rest of the offensive two-deep was unchanged though third tackle Dakota Merritt worked at both ends today.
The offense worked without HB Christian Ducre another day to protect his hurting right shoulder. But other than still-restricted WR Brandon McRae all the wideouts were able to go this day. Redshirt Davis and classmate Charles Bailey both continued their late-camp surges, while Robinson, Leon Berry, and Tay Bowser hold on to the top spots in the rotation with Wilder.
TEs Marcus Green (pelvic strain) and Brandon Henderson (concussion last week) did not practice. HB Robert Elliot, who can't carry in team drills, did work almost the entire afternoon with the wide receivers as a slot man.
The defense got a scare when first tackle Pernell McPhee went down in 8-on-8 ground game drills after making a hit. Helped up, he had his left leg attended to and spent the rest of the practice watching but apparently not too badly bothered. His place with the first unit at left tackle this time was taken by LaMarcus Williams, joining Kyle Love as the first two interior men. Devin Jones and Nick Bell are the first ends, right and left in the ground game situations.
DE Brandon Cooper returned to action today and ran both second and third team at left end as he recovers from an elbow injury. The second defensive line more often had Trevor Stigers and Sean Ferguson at ends, with Shane McCardell rotating in on the second and third groupings.
The defense also got Bo Walters back today after he missed most of last week with a hip problem. He ran #2 middle linebacker again in some drills though when it came scrimmage time Jamie Jones took his place on the second squad. There were no changes at either cornerbacks or safeties noticed today.
The Bulldogs will have their last actual practice Friday, though it will not be contact work. "Helmets and shorts," Mullen said. "We're going to wrap up some special teams stuff, get a lot of individual work. We'll go whole, to part, to whole and split up, just try to get a lot of individual work and clean up a lot of fundamentals and technique work by positions. Then we'll split everybody up into their two teams for the end of practice so they can figure out how to call some plays with the team they have."
Those two teams will be drafted Friday morning, by staffs that have already been compiled not just from Mullen's aides but managers, trainers, even administrators. "We'll have it set up and ready to go," Mullen said. "We'll have the ‘head' coaches come in and let them meet with their assistant coaches, form some strategy and pick a team together. We try to balance it out so if someone drafts Tyson Lee the other team gets Chris Relf, so we can keep it all balanced."
To an extent so will the planning as Mullen has set a limit on trickery. But just to be safe he will watch Friday's practices. "I've got to make sure we don't have too many gadget plays when I let it all go and the assistant coaches go grabbing on them. Each team is limited to two trick plays so I've got to manage that so they don't go too crazy!" Now if the Bulldogs want to run a bit wild, well, that's their springtime reward.
"These guys came out and busted their butt," the coach said. "They deserve an opportunity to go in the stadium and put on a show for their friends and family."
The show starts at 5:33 with a pair of 15-minute periods. In the second half the clock will be allowed to run to minimize risk of over-exuberance producing more injuries. Mullen doesn't expect to put Ducre, McRae, Green, Henderson, and now possibly McPhee on the field, or have any late returnees from the injury list. "I don't think anybody is going to be back."