The Jacksonville State tackle hasn’t backpeddled, held off a defensive tackle or pulled for a running back since fracturing his left fibula in the first scrimmage of last year’s training camp. But he did all those things Monday when the Gamecocks opened their 2012 camp behind Salls Hall in sweltering afternoon temperatures.
“It was OK coming back; I think I can get better out here,” Rush said. “It’s been a while.
“When I was rehabbing and everything I was trying to hurry up and get back out here; I couldn’t wait. I wanted to get out here and just show off, be better than I was. It’s a great day to be out here.”
Marques Ivory was in the same boat. The fifth-year senior quarterback was taking his first formal snaps since snapping his right fibula in the season opener.
Rush made it all the way through the first workout. Ivory was showing signs of discomfort at the end of the exercise — later described as cramps — preventing him from participating in a post-practice interview.
“There’s nothing that will really tell me what I need to know about Marques until it’s live and he has to get away from somebody,” Crowe said. “I don’t want to hit him. Both those Saturday scrimmages he’s going to have to get some.”
Rush and Ivory have been away the longest, but they weren’t the only players at the first day of practice with significant gaps in their development. Count defensive linemen Jordan Jackson and Sean Watson and defensive back Francis Duncan among them, but it’s the return of Rush and Ivory that elevate the expectations.
“Seeing Marques Ivory and Odie Rush out here is (whoosh),” Crowe said moving his hands in an upward motion. “Critical mass is what I call it. Sometimes that one guy makes a difference and it just changes the temperament of the whole bunch. All of a sudden there’s a presence.”
Rush was headed for a big year before he got hurt; he was a preseason All-OVC offensive lineman. But he got hurt when a teammate rolled over his ankle and he admitted it scared him a little. He did see some limited action late in the spring practice, but for the most part he considered Monday his first day back.
“I’m very excited,” Rush said. “It’s a chance to prove myself, to show I haven’t lost any of my talent.”
But in his absence the Gamecocks had some younger linemen really develop and Rush appears to be excited about the unit he’s coming back into.
“They’re focused,” he said. “Everything they’re doing is a lot better than what I saw before I left. I think we’re going to be pretty good this year.”
Still, Crowe said, for the Gamecocks to be a good offensive team, Rush and Tori Mobley (a preseason All-OVC pick this year) need to be “real anchors.”
Of the 95 players who reported to headquarters Sunday night, 90 were on the field Monday afternoon. The five players who didn’t participate were walk-ons who hadn’t been cleared either medically or administratively.
The Gamecocks will go in helmets again today, shells Wednesday and Thursday, then full pads Friday and Saturday. Two-a-days begin next Monday, with the first scrimmaging taking place in the second half of next Tuesday’s practice.
The first full scrimmage of camp will be Aug. 18 following Fan Day.
“I’m going to let the first two-a-day week tell me what the next two-a-day week will be like,” Crowe said. “I’m reading this as we go.
“I’m not really big on killing them. What I’m doing is trying to make sure the 70 pups don’t get left behind. We could take 25 and go real fast, but that wouldn’t be beneficial in the long run.”
Among the “pups” hitting the field with the Gamecocks for the first time and getting noticed were Anniston running back Troymaine Pope, Australian punter Hamish MacInnes and Wellborn receiver Dalton Screws.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.