"For our quarterbacks, guys catching the kicks and receivers adjusting to balls. When you have to play on real windy days it's going to change some things."
Not the day's schedule, though, as periods designated for passing and kicking went just as planned. In fact the very first drills included fielding short kickoffs; and later on full-field kickoffs with oncoming coverage of set-up returns. Needless to say every fielder had to run a long way to his right (eastward) just to catch those balls before angling up the field, which had both return and coverage squads taking interesting angles.
Yet wind was not quite as much a factor on the passing periods as might have been, with Bulldog quarterbacks apparently adjusting well and making the right reads and throws. Or most of the time, based on the boss' response. Mullen was willing to grant his passers some leeway today and grade them on a curve of sorts for this second day of camp.
"When you're starting off, getting in the flow of things, maybe you're not quite as crisp as you would be. And that wind took the ball. I wasn't as upset, I thought we did a decent job throwing it. Special teams got a little bit ugly with the wind blowing as hard as it was."
The defense didn't mind using whatever aid wind offered, but on the whole made most things happen on their own initiative. The last 40 minutes of practice were dominated by 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 situation work and, just as on day-one, the Bulldog defense was setting an aggressive tone befitting what new coordinator Manny Diaz is dictating. Though not yet allowed to hit guys in the maroon shirts, nor coming with true blitzes just yet, the white-jersied defense was on the attack in passing drills. They made both top quarterbacks, Chris Relf and Tyler Russell, read things just a little longer than ideal which would likely have produced sacks in a scrimmage. Even without that threat, coverage downfield was sound and both passers usually had to settle for shorter dump-offs or out-routes to the backs.
When Mullen said coming into camp that, just like year-one, no job was guaranteed, he obviously meant it. No better example was needed than on the defensive line where DE Pernell McPhee is working not at his old starting spot but with the second unit…behind a redshirted freshman. Johnathan McKenzie was first RDE on Thursday and McPhee #2. On the left end, Nick Bell is ahead of Sean Ferguson. True sophs Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox were first team at right and left tackles; backed by James Carmon and Devin Jones.
He may have been a hero in the Egg Bowl, but Corey Broomfield is #2 at right cornerback this week behind Louis Watson. On the left corner it was Maurice Langston backed by Damein Anderson. The first safeties are carried over intact from the last game of 2009 with Charles Mitchell and Johnathan Banks backed respectively by Zach Smith and Wade Bonner; then the third pairing of Nickoe Whitley and Dennis Thames.
Yet the offense did not just let the defense have its way all day, and interceptions were down Thursday. In an extended period of red-zone passing drills, pitting halfbacks and fullbacks against linebackers, the offense came through regularly when Vick Ballard was running routes. The junior college halfback had several excellent catches under pressure including two when the defender was grabbing and shoving. After taking the third-turn at his position in Tuesday's opening day of camp, Ballard was up to #2 Thursday behind lone veteran Elliott with LaDarius Perkins the third back. A demotion to last did good things for Montrell Conner though; after struggling with too many dropped balls on day-one, the redshirt had a very good afternoon catching both in- and out-route throws under pressure.
Maybe it was the increased efficiency that had Mullen upbeat after day-two, instead of fuming about mistakes and misses as he would have last spring or fall. Then again, the coach expected his varsity to be ahead of the game this spring. "Hopefully we're teaching at more of a ‘graduate' level of things than an introductory level of things," he said.
"It helps an awful lot in the whole process. They know the whole program, they know the practice routine, they don't wonder what's coming next. So guys are moving at a much, much faster pace. And for a lot of guys now it's their third time installing the offense; they had last spring and summer, they got to execute it for a whole season; and now they're installing it again. So when you go to teach it you're moving at a faster level."
The level will become more intense on Saturday morning as the Bulldogs have their first pads practice. And unlike before, there won't be as many limits to day-three. Put another way, the padding won't be just for decoration Saturday.
"We'll be full-go, get after it and hearing different sounds out there on the field," Mullen said. "A little more cracking than we had the first two days." Not merely that but some real scrimmaging period, too. "But not a full one," the coach cautioned. "A week from Saturday will be a major scrimmage."
SIDELINES: Taking turns returning kickoffs were WR Leon Berry, RB Rob Elliot, WR Ricco Sanders, and CB Maurice Langston… Just as on Tuesday when all non-linemen and quarterbacks took turns in punt-rushing drills, the same Dogs were all given tryouts in downfield kickoff and punt coverage Thursday… For the first two days of camp, pass defense drills have been run out of a regular four-man secondary. Saturday ought to give the first real look at how the nickel packages will line-up, with S Wade Bonner the most experienced extra DB… Former safety Cameron Lawrence earned his first-team job at strong linebacker in the off-season; he's held in two days of actual drills, backed by another converted defensive back in Emmanuel Gatling… Mullen confirmed that LB Bo Walters and DT LaMarcus Williams will go on medical redshirts, beginning at the end of this 2009-10 school year. "It doesn't get done until really after the spring. But both of those guys will with the injuries they've had."