The Jacksonville State coach was fond of calling his junior quarterback a “baseball player playing football.”
But he changed that tune Saturday after watching his second starting quarterback make a number of plays in his first action in full pads of training camp — less than a week after arriving from a full summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
“I said that because there were some elements of the game that he’s missed because he wasn’t here, but I’m going to take that back,” Crowe said. “I think he’s a football player playing football now; that’s what he is out there right now.
“There’s some aspect of the game of baseball that transfers to the game of playing quarterback. He’s so much more competitive mentally right now as a quarterback than he ever was last year. How do you explain that? He’s been competing.”
The football playing baseball player thing never really bothered Blanchard. He is a baseball player during baseball season and a football player in football season, and never has the twain met. He’s never gone through spring football with the Gamecocks and he’s never participated in fall baseball when pigskin is fashionable.
“He’s just glad I came out there with the competitiveness I left with,” Blanchard said of Crowe. “I’m glad he sees it in me because it’s still there. And I want to compete. I want to win at everything I do. I’m just ready to keep this thing going.”
Blanchard was going to be tested in the Fan Day scrimmage, but his load increased with sophomore Steven Coates out with an unspecified but non-debilitating injury. Senior running back Washaun Ealey also was held out — but in pads — for similar reasons; he has been plagued with hamstring problems throughout his career and met with a trainer for exercises during the scrimmage.
Both would have played if the Gamecocks were in a real game, Crowe said.
In Ealey’s absence, DaMarcus James rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns, freshman Troymaine Pope had 62 yards and a touchdown, and freshman Miles Jones caught an eye or two in picking up 48 yards. James is penciled in as this year’s Calvin Middleton, a bread-and-butter back who can get the tough yards. Pope also is expected to have a role and he has eyes on the team’s freshman rushing record.
Blanchard entered on the second possession, after Marques Ivory opened the scrimmage with a 12-play touchdown drive capped by Troymaine Pope’s 19-yard run. Ivory appeared in some distress near the end of the first half of the scrimmage, but it was described as a scraped leg and he was under center on a successful drill simulating a drive for a last-minute game-winning field goal.
Blanchard’s 2012 public debut didn’t start out well, leaving one to wonder if he wasn’t still a little rusty from baseball. His first pass attempt was intercepted by junior defensive back Robert Gray at the goal line. His next possession lasted five snaps, scoring points for a young defense that made strides by what Crowe said “created opportunities using our scheme today I’ve never seen us do before,” but at the same time “gave up way too much, unacceptable in its total effect” due to individual breakdowns.
The offense produced at nine plays of at least 17 yards in the exercise – and that doesn’t count a couple long plays on special teams.
Once Blanchard got settled in, he directed his own 12-play touchdown drive and his next trip to the field threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Wellborn product Dalton Screws after a 60-yard hookup with Telvin Brown. A true freshman who has turned heads in camp, Brown caught four balls for 110 yards in the scrimmage.
“That’s a spring training play and he wasn’t here,” Crowe said of the interception.
“I’m not going to blame it on baseball or anything,” Blanchard said. “I’ve just got to be better next time.”
After the pick Blanchard, last year’s OVC pass efficiency leader, completed eight straight passes before the string was snapped by a throw batted at the line of scrimmage. He was 8-of-10 for 137 yards passing and rushed for 36 yards on five carries.
Not bad for a guy who only arrived in camp Tuesday and had to undergo a series of orientation practices before finally suiting up in full gear.
“It felt great, my first time being in full pads and trying to start to get hit a little bit,” Blanchard said. “I really was ready to get back into it full speed. I kind of remembered from where I left off last year, so it came easy to me today.
“I just wanted to have a good day, be smooth with everything — all my calls, all my checks — and just deliver the ball. I thought for the most part I did a decent job, but there are always places to improve.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.