"I thought there was pretty good energy throughout the practice," said Mullen. "You could see guys wearing down towards the end, which is expected. But it was pleased, they kept battling throughout practice."
Those doing the battling were the roughly one-half of the 105-man preseason roster who were put on the field by 8:30 this morning. The other half of the team has their session scheduled for 4:00. "Same practice, different guys," Mullen said. Then again there was an obvious difference in the guys assembled in the morning. With just a few exceptions, the current starting lineup with a few key alternates were paired up with the available true freshman class. It was a mix of old Dogs and new pups, and by direct design.
"Really just so the young guys learn how to practice," said Mullen. Though the coach had another, more tangible reason as well. "We have all these freshmen, if we had the whole team out here they're probably the fourth or fifth guy in line sometimes going through a drill." Instead the new kids in camp got in a whole lot more turns whether running position drills, one-on-one matchups, or most notably the seven-on-seven squads. So many extra reps were paying obvious dividends by the end of their first opportunity to participate in college schemes…for better and worse according to old Dog Mitchell.
"I think they're rally trying to learn, they want to be out there and I believe their having fun. They're just struggling a little bit with the plays."
Which is only to be expected, especially the newcomers on the offensive side of the morning action. "We installed it this morning and the first time they're going to struggle with it," Mullen noted. Still some freshmen caught on faster than others, such as wide receivers Jameon Lewis and Robert Johnson who figured out at least a few of their routes quickly enough. 210-pound prep receiver Brandon Hill also ran some routes, but in his case as a tight end on opening day.
Another receiver happened to provide one piece of practice-news, though not the sort wanted. Michael Carr was the only player, new or old, who had a real problem with the muggy morning conditions. Less than an hour into drills he went to the sideline, then down on all-fours. Trainers gave a quick look-see and noticed nothing of abnormal concern. Even Mullen came to check the kid and made light of it, spraying Carr's head with the water bottle and coaxing him back to his feet. "I told him not to worry," said Mullen.
"That's one of the safety reasons we try to get the freshmen in early. We pulled Michael out of a lot of stuff today, he hasn't got to go through the conditioning the rest of the team has so physically we've got to be more careful with him on the field."
The coach could allow Carr a little latitude because this was the only eligible and healthy rookie who did not get cleared for summer school and off-season workouts. Carr in face has yet to be certified by the clearinghouse; he is working under temporary certification which means he can practice with the varsity until school starts or he is officially certified.
One true frosh, wideout Malcolm Johnson, is not practicing after a June foot operation. As the 105-man roster is already in place, he will likely have to wait until the semester begins and the roster limit goes to 120 to begin working. The varsity players not practicing with injuries are punter Baker Swedenburg (foot) and receiver Sam Williams (spring knee surgery).
No veteran players went down in the heat, evidence of their summer conditioning efforts as well as experience in handling tough conditions. Not that they enjoyed it, of course. "Hooo, hot!" first-team guard Quentin Saulsberry said. "But on a serious note, I think it was a good day. It was good for the young guys to learn the tempo of the game, the tempo of practice, and just pay attention to the older guys and the way they practice. Coach says being a champion is not a sometime thing, it's an all-time thing, and I think the young guys learned that today."
They learned mostly from peers, in fact, which is what the boss had in mind all along. Even before drills began Mullen instructed freshmen to watch and follow veterans' example; along with ordering the old hands to set that example. And as Saulsberry said, their own pride was at stake; no varsity Dog wanted to let the heat get to them in front of any rookie. None did.
"We talked to them plenty of times," Saulsberry said. "Not only the linemen but the skill players too. Because you've just got to build them up. We always say there's nothing easy about camp. But you'd rather hurt in camp than hurt in a game, in the fourth quarter. So we try to build them up and let them know they're not the only ones going through it, we're a team."
The rest of the team, those who hold down most of the second- and third-team jobs as well as a selected starter or two and veteran walk-ons, will be going through their drills later this afternoon. To round-out lineups though a couple of first-teammers, such as DT Fletcher Cox and CB Maurice Langston, were kept for the afternoon.
*One rookie who got some first-team turns was CB Jamerson Love. He moved into the right cornerback slot in special defensive drills to replace first-teammer Corey Broomfield, who in those sets lined up as a nickel safety for blitzing.
NOTEBOOK: No, Dan Mullen insisted, he was not showing off. Not trying to show sweltering players that he himself was out there to beat the heat. He wore that full-sleeve, rainproofed jacket for another purported reason this morning. "I'm trying to lose weight," Mullen said. "I need to get in shape for the season." OK, coach, seriously? Well… "My wife said I needed to lose some weight so I'm wearing this," he admitted. The jacket was certainly doing its job sweating the coach down, but Mullen never showed any strain himself moving around the practice almost non-stop.
*For their first appearance in a college practice, the true freshmen lined-up at the following postions: Dane Leake WR, Asian Ruff S, Jameon Lewis WR, Brandon Hill TE/WR, Matt Wells S, Jamerson Love CB, RB Nick Griffin, Jay Hughes CB, Christian Holmes WLB, Chris Hughes SLB, Ferlando Bohanna MLB, Corvell Harrison-Gay DE, Archie Muniz LOT, Dillon Day C, Eric Lawson ROT, Paul Thompson ROG, Damien Robinson LOG, Reed Gordon TE, Michael Carr WR, Kaleb Eulls DE, Jeff Howie DT, Curtis Virges DT.