The Southern football team took the first baby steps of preseason camp Monday afternoon.

It was just a workout in helmets and shorts, but it was the first full-squad practice since December and the first gauge of how well the players handled their conditioning and unsupervised summer workouts. The team was unable to conduct spring practice because of NCAA sanctions.

“As coaches we have peace of mind, because even though we’re coming off not having spring practice, we have guys who understand the program,” coach Dawson Odums said after the two-hour workout at the Louisiana Leadership Institute.

“That’s what we talked about in the first team meeting (Sunday) night: Let’s not make things complicated, let’s play fast, let’s keep it simple, let’s play fast, let’s not beat ourselves.

“So let’s go out there the first day and have a lot of fun, play fast, play enthusiastic and at the end of the day if you can do those things you’ll get better every day and I think we did that today.”

The players knew the absence of spring practice set them back and they tried to minimize the effects by working together earlier this summer.

Senior linebackers Demetrius Carter and Daniel Brown and junior offensive lineman Anthony Mosley were the primary organizers of the workouts.

“I didn’t want to lose any steps,” Carter said. “We’re all about taking a step forward and getting better than yesterday. That’s our motto: ‘Get better than yesterday.’ We don’t need coaches to tell us to do things that we should be doing on our own.

“I think that’s going to make us better and closer as a family.”

The players couldn’t simulate what spring practice would have been, but they were able to work on conditioning, study the playbook and help one another.

“We got a chance to really study our playbook and focus on what we needed to focus on and understand why we do certain things,” sophomore cornerback Danny Johnson said. “It helped us come closer together as a team. Everybody was learning. Each and every one of us took time out to explain it to each other. It helped us learn the playbook even more.

“When we had free time, we’d go out on the field and work on whatever we felt like we needed to work on. Whatever was complicated for us last season we worked on it. Everybody was ready to work and was willing to work.”

Mosley, who was academically ineligible last season, said he was “just itching to hit another body,” but added he would be “physical but smart.” He’ll have to wait to really hit somebody because the Jaguars don’t practice in pads until Friday.

“I think we’re very prepared, but nothing gets you prepared like when you’ve got to put on those shoulder pads,” Brown said, “so everybody was anxious going through the spring and the summer with no pads. We’re biting at the bit right now.”

Odums is focusing on fundamentals the first few days, eager to see how well the veterans retained things from last season and how much the newcomers were able to learn.

“We want this camp to be fun and exciting,” he said. “We don’t want it to be about thinking. We’ll get the fundamentals and get a chance to work on that a lot.

“We really want to get into the playbook and attack it full speed because we do return a lot of veteran players. We had a lot of guys here over the summer so we hope that carries over to a fast and safe fall camp.”

But now that camp is under way, what the players didn’t get out of the spring and what they did get out of the early summer doesn’t matter as much as what they get out of the time between now and the season opener Sept. 5 at Louisiana Tech.

“We weren’t able to have a spring this year but we didn’t stress about that,” running back Lenard Tillery said. “The summer workouts were great but just coming into camp and putting the pads on has everybody excited.

“We’ll see if the freshmen coming in are ready to play. We’ll see if the veterans are at a higher level. Camp will set people apart.”

Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.