Camp fires 4: Dillon defends receivers; halting the rumor mill

Grambling quarterback Greg Dillon has come out in defense of his receivers, who have taken their share of knocks after a so-so season.

No individual player could boast 50 catches in 2008, and the team’s top two receivers — Nick Lewis and Kiare Thompson — didn’t have 1,000 yards combined. Lewis, in fact, had the lowest total of receiving yards by a top performer at Grambling since Corey Caesar’s 539 yards in 1997.

“It had a lot of do with me,” said Dillon, who didn’t secure the starting position until late October, and even then was still growing into the role. “We have top-level receivers. I put a lot of it on me, not always understanding offense. But now we are starting to click; it’s moving along well.”

Coaches have been working in new wrinkles to take advantage of Dillon’s remarkable athleticism – including some misdirection plays that prey on an opponent’s willingness to believe that every play is a boot.

But Saturday’s scrimmage showed how a rainy week could slow momentum. The unit still has some work to do on the vertical portion of the playbook.

RUMOR MILL: Asked about a persistent theory that Dillon will be switched to receiver to make way for Justin Higgins – the talented Rayville, La., passer – third-year Grambling coach Rod Broadway was emphatic.

“Absolutely not,” he said, quickly dismissing the question. “Greg is our starter.”

Higgins, working with the second team, helped the Grambling offense to its only touchdown in Saturday’s scrimmage, the first of the spring. But Dillon, it’s more than clear, has firmly secured the No. 1 spot after finishing 2008 with consecutive most-valuable player awards in the nationally televised Bayou Classic rivalry game against Southern and then in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game.

GSU would win 11 games for just the fifth time ever, joining squads coached by Eddie Robinson in 1972 and ’74, Doug Williams in 2002 and then Melvin Spears in 2005.

TALKING IT UP: Grambling defender Nigel Copeland could be heard saying that he wasn’t going to let anyone catch a pass over him this spring.

No one, he repeated.

Copeland hasn’t managed a spotless record, but he’s been close.

And the trash talking no doubt will continue after a scrimmage that saw the defense manhandle the offense for most of the day.

“That’s how it is in the locker room,” said senior Grambling defensive back Kenneth Anio. “It’s offense versus defense every day, so you can expect that. We’ll keep trying to get something going.”

TIGER PAUSE: Grambling’s Pro Day will be held at 1 p.m. March 19 on campus. … Middle linebacker Derrick Johnson didn’t participate in the team’s Saturday’s scrimmage, plagued by swelling in the knee he injured last season – but is expected back for the fall. “Derrick worked his way into being a good player,” Broadway said. “He will be OK.” … Grambling baseball coaching legend Wilbert “The Dean” Ellis has returned to his familiar spot on the sidelines of football practice after having minor surgery.

EXPANDED COVERAGE OF GRAMBLING’S SPRING 2009 PRACTICES:

Video: First-team offensive drills, Week 1.
Receiver/secondary drills, Week 1.
Defense dominates first Grambling scrimmage; see photos, video
Photo galleries: Grambling opens 2009 spring practices.
More from Week 1 of Grambling’s ongoing spring sessions.
Defense dominates first Grambling scrimmage; see photos, video

STOKING THE ‘FIRES’:

Previous notebooks from Grambling’s spring camp: Camp fires 1: Notes from Grambling spring practices.
Camp fires 2: Quarterback depth chart; scrimmage planned.
Camp fires 3: Friendly battles, zippy corners, a two-sport star?

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