”It was a little cooler today and I think that helped them move around a little bit better,” Head Coach Mike Shula said after the workout of just under two hours. The team was in helmets, shoulder pads, and shorts. “After the night practice, we let them sleep in this morning and then have a little rest in the day,” Shula said.
Even the weather cooperated in an unusual way. The team was in a ball-security drill (essentially runners and receivers holding onto the football when hit) when a heavy shower soaked the field and added the wet ball feature to the security drill.
Although Shula admitted earlier that Alabama would have to take “a little risk” in preparation because pre-season practice also includes much of the work that would be done in spring practice, he said so far that Bama has avoided serious injuries. “We’ve had some bumps and bruises, but all-in-all I’m happy,” he said. Defensive end Antwan Odom, who suffered a “stinger” in his neck and shoulder area Saturday, was back at work Wednesday. “He looked good,” Shula said. “He’s getting better.”
The Tide head coach said that the team is doing well mentally, too. “We threw a lot at them early, then kind of tapered off the last couple of days,” Shula said of the implementation of the offensive, defensive and special teams packages. “Today we picked it back up again and the did a good job of handling it. We’ll do more of that in the next day or two. Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of carry-over so we can build on it.”
Shula said that Saturday’s scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium (closed to the public and the media) will be important. “We’re still evaluating personnel, seeing what they do best, and then we’ll begin to formulate the plan (for South Florida, Bama’s opening game at Birmingham’s Legion Field on August 30),” Shula said. He said that by the end of the week he expected all but a very few special situation plans to have been installed. And, he said, some of those special things will be for South Florida.
He said that practices are already beginning to give more repetitions to the first and second teamers “and we’ll narrow it more after the scrimmage.”
Shula said, “Sometimes I feel like we’re getting there, and then something will happen that makes me say, ‘We’ve got to talk about this.’ But we’ve come a long way as a team, the players and coaches coming together.”
The head coach has to deal with things that others would never even think about. For instance? “The difference in the position of the hash marks in the NFL and in college,” he said. (In college, the hash marks are wider, so when the ball is on the hash marks, the short side of the field is shorter than it is in the NFL and the wide side of the field is wider. “You have to realize that a play you might try in the NFL isn’t right for the same situation in college,” Shula said.
He also has to think about the two-minute package. In the NFL the clock does not stop on first downs as it does in the college game and as a result the quarterback is pretty much on his own in professional football. But in college football, Shula said the coaches would help the quarterbacks with plays, perhaps using hand signals, perhaps sending in plays with a player, and “maybe even just shouting to him if the ball is on that close hash mark.”
Shula said the quarterback has to be something of a coach on the field, a man who has complete command and can lead the offense. He said Brodie Croyle “is the best we’ve got so far. Is he there yet? No. And I wouldn’t expect him to be. But he and Spencer (back-up Spencer Pennington) have made great strides.”
The Tide coach singled out 6-5, 304-pound offensive lineman Von Ewing. “He’s done a nice job the last couple of days in our compete drills,” Shula said. Compete drills are the one-on-one matches between offensive and defensive players that the Bama coaching staff uses to find–as the name implies–players who will compete. Ewing has usually been listed as a guard, but Shula said he is backing up at both left and right tackle.
Although Shula isn’t about to give away any hints about the style of the offense Bama will use this year, he said he is pleased with the work of the wide receivers, naming returning players Zach Fletcher, Triandos Luke, Dre Fulgham, and Antonio Carter. “We have to get them all on the field,” Shula said. “Maybe not all at once. But we can be specific. Some guys do some things better than others. We’ve got to have the right guy in the right place at the right time.” He said he also felt good about depth at tailback (“All three are going to play.”) with Shaud Williams, Ray Hudson and Kenneth Darby, and at linebacker.
The Tide coach said that much like the quarterback position there is an advantage to having one guy take charge as the place-kicker. But, he said, “We’re having good competition and it would be nice to come out of it with two that you could count on.”
Although defensive tackle is an area where true freshmen are not ordinarily expected to contribute, Shula said that Dominic Lee, the 6-2, 302-pounder from Birmingham Huffman, “has a chance to play.” He said Lee first caught his attention with his quickness before the team went into full gear, then “When we got into pads you could see where he is strong; he can hold his point. But, like a lot of young guys, he’s got a lot to learn.”