VALDOSTA –– The Valdosta Wildcats wrapped up their two-day, 12-team OTAs Thursday morning.

Though the first day had its fair share of truculence and physicality, the ‘Cats came away impressed with their competitiveness against teams in different jerseys than their own.

“It’s nice to be able to put this on,” head coach Alan Rodemaker said. “It saves our Touchdown Club with our travel cost. ... We’ve got a good facility to do it on and I thought it was good. You always want more. I wanted more reps. I think we’re in good enough shape, we could’ve handled double what we did this morning. I don’t know how we did (overall) –– we did OK here and there, but there’s plenty of teaching going on and only the film will tell us that. It was a good day. Having 12 teams here and getting after it was a good day.”

Thursday’s practice ended with flair as athlete Jaheim Bell skied over a defender from Tift County and hauled in a touchdown pass from Tate Rodemaker to end practice. Bell was fired up after the play and competitive natures took over as the senior and the Tift defender jawed back and forth with each other after the whistle.

After practice, Rodemaker let Bell know he could’ve handled the situation better.

“You don’t gauge your actions to what other people do, you set your actions to what our Lord and Savior asks you to do,” Rodemaker said. “If you measure yourself to a man, then there’s no measurement. That was my teaching point. To me, there’s always a lesson. Other than that, I thought we played between the whistles and that right there, I thought was wrong. So we’ll learn from it and some of these things we talk about, people call it old school. I just call it respect. We’re teaching our kids respect all the time.”

Following their 7-on-7 tournament in late-June, Rodemaker circled this week’s OTAs as a true measuring stick to see which players are separating themselves from the pack. Going into the summer, Rodemaker identified the need for growth along the offensive line and a more confident and aggressive approach from the defense as points of emphasis heading into the season.

Rodemaker believes both units still have room for improvement, particularly in regards to cleaning up spring practice mistakes. Despite some depth being built, the search for more is ongoing.

“We’re getting better but we’re still struggling with the same things –– communication on defense from our linebackers and our safeties, and then just growing up on the offensive line in protection and the run game,” Rodemaker said. “Those two things, we probably left spring with those. Even though we get a lot of work in the summer, we don’t get a lot of padded work in the summer. We’ve addressed our depth a little bit but we still don’t have any depth anywhere really.”

Another question mark for the ‘Cats dating back to spring practice was the team’s depth at running back with senior standout Ra’jaez Mosley heading to West Georgia in the fall. Since the spring game on May 17, the ‘Cats have developed a

formidable core of backs that should allow for a more balanced look offensively.

In addition to the growth at running back, Rodemaker also detailed the search for an answer at tight end, which has called for some pieces to be shifted around.

“I got three –– Kaleb Robinson, he’s a returning starter from last year; TJ Dailey, who was in school here but didn’t play with us last year; Terrell Denson, Shavious Wright –– I’ve got three that I think can do it,” Rodemaker said of the growing depth at running back. “I feel like we’re talented enough and deep enough at running back. We’ve got to find a real tight end that can help us right now. We’re moving some guys over from defense to help us at tight end, but that’s really it. We’re looking for guys that will helps us.”

From the spring game, into the 7-on-7 tournament and now through OTAs, Rodemaker likes the progress the offense has made overall and feels his team is in a good spot the closer it gets to the season opener.

“I think we’re better than we were in the spring,” Rodemaker said of the offense. “We can run the football a little bit. We’ve got some real talented guys at running back. We’re just gonna have to be smart and crafty about what we do in the run game. We’re gonna have to have a run game and we certainly want to be more balanced (this year). I think we’ve improved and the things that concerned me in the spring, they concern me a little bit less [laughs].”

Shane Thomas is the sports editor at The Valdosta Daily Times.

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