CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern opened its first fall camp under head coach Mark Tucker with a two-hour practice Tuesday night on the CSU campus. The session was the first of 22 in the preseason as the two-time defending Big South Conference champions build toward the Sept. 2 opener at Mississippi State.
The Bucs worked out in shorts and helmets and will do so again on Wednesday before moving to shells on Thursday. CSU's first full contact practice is scheduled for Saturday at 2:45 p.m.
Tucker, a largely new staff and a roster with a solid mix of experience and potential promise were eager to get back on the field.
"We've been waiting and preparing for this for a long time and we're just ready," Tucker said. "It's fun. It's the same thing it's been the last four years that I've been here. It's just that I'm responsible for a lot more than I've been the last four years (laughing). We're getting to coach a game that we love and be around young men, pour into them and watch them compete and see the product on the field. It's a process and we're looking forward to seeing it come together over the next month."
Spring practice provided an opportunity for some of the Bucs' new coaches to acclimate to the roster. Tucker is confident that fall camp will help those relationships develop further as CSU's players become more accustomed to hearing new voices.
"We're different just because there's different people," Tucker said. "I believe that we've got good teachers. When you've got young men that are motivated and have an expectation to win and you've got good teachers and motivators, then you have an opportunity for good results."
Senior offensive guard Frank Cirone, a STATS FCS Preseason All-American selection, echoed Tucker's thoughts. CSU is bidding for its third consecutive FCS playoff appearance, and was tabbed Big South preseason co-favorite along with Kennesaw State.
"It's really not too different in my opinion," Cirone said of the Bucs' culture. "I think we're trying to keep it the same and stay committed to the standard we've established."
No more two-a-days
Two-a-day practices, a staple of fall camp, are no more. The NCAA Division I Council opted to eliminate two-a-days last April in the interest of player health and welfare. Tucker and company are seeking to make the most of the time they have to work on fundamentals and the conceptual side of the game.
"By necessity, we get an opportunity to have a walk-through before every practice the first week of fall camp because Summer Session II is still going on," Tucker said. "We get a rehearsal before every practice. From that standpoint, I think it will more than likely translate to productivity in teaching. We can slow things down in that atmosphere and really focus on teaching without the threat of a double session looming."
Filling voids and answering questions
CSU returns starting quarterback Shane Bucenell, Cirone and fellow veteran offensive lineman Jackson Williamson, and a large chunk of a deep receiving corps and defensive front seven from last year's club. The biggest question marks entering 2017 lie at running back and in the secondary.
In the offensive backfield, CSU graduated the program's all-time leading rusher in Mike Holloway, along with fellow four-year stalwarts Darius Hammond and Ben Robinson. In the defensive backfield, the Bucs will have to replace three-time all-conference cornerback Troy McGowens and savvy safeties DJ Curl and Corbin Jackson, all of whom were essentially four-year starters.
"We know the questions we have to answer," Tucker said. We've got to replace young men who played a ton of football in the back end defensively and we've gotta replace a lot of production at running back. Everywhere else, we're in pretty good shape."
"Two years ago, everybody was wondering about Mike Holloway and Darius Hammond and Ben Robinson when Christian Reyes graduated," Tucker continued. "We've been in this place before and those young men met and exceeded expectations. We feel very good about Ronnie Harris and Chanin Hamilton and feel like we recruited well. We're excited to see all those guys compete."