With the season opener versus Ole Miss just three weeks away, the Commodores donned shoulder pads for the first time Friday during a 2-hour 30-minute practice under the third consecutive evening of ideal weather. The practice featured two 30-minute offense versus defense sessions.
Though full contact was not allowed, Head Coach Bobby Johnson witnessed more intensity and activity than the first days of work. The practice also featured position fundamentals and a series of one-on-one competition, including receivers against cornerbacks, and offensive linemen against their defensive counterparts.
“We wanted to pick the pace up today and I thought the guys responded pretty well to that challenge,” Johnson said afterward. “I think some responded a little better than others, and those were the guys that stood out. As coaches, those are the guys you are trying to identify. You are looking for those that set the pace.”
The Commodores will practice in shoulder pads and shorts again Saturday afternoon at Rich Practice Facility, then move into full pads during an early morning practice Sunday. The entire squad and coaching staff will participate in Dore Jam II, the athletic department’s Fan Day that starts at 4:00 p.m.
Johnson and his staff are set to start two-a-day practices on Monday.
The 11-on-11 sessions featured flashes of individual athleticism from skilled positions. Sophomore Kwane Doster, junior Norval McKenzie, junior Ronald Hatcher and redshirt freshman Ron Bullock displayed elusive moves out of the backfield and a number of receivers, including junior Brandon Smith, sophomore Erik Davis and freshman Marlon White, hauled in impressive receptions.
The combination of limits on contact, an abundance of freshmen and walk-on candidates, and a new practice routine also contributed to several mental mistakes and errors in technique. Throughout the session, position coaches worked closely with Commodore newcomers to correct the mistakes. Veteran Commodores also were active, encouraging and offering tips to the newcomers in the huddle and from the sidelines.