“I hope to see better productivity from our offense,” said Coach Mike Shula, addressing the media Monday afternoon. “The worst thing we could do Is a lot of different things. We have to work on the core stuff, do it better than we did last year.”
Shula said, “Last year we were kind of learning as we went. Hopefully, this year the guys are a lot more comfortable in what they are trying to do. We expect to be more consistent. Last year we had a lot of big plays–passes over 25 yards and runs over 15 yards–but it wasn’t enough to overcome the inconsistency.”
He said that improvement will come “hopefully in all three areas–offense, defense, and special teams.”
The coach said the players have done their best to get ready for the season, “and that’s all we can we ask–that they give us their best.”
Alabama will practice in shorts through Friday, go into full gear Saturday, have two practices every other day beginning Sunday, August 15, and have two scrimmages at Bryant-Denny Stadium, on August 16 and August 21. The only practices open to the public will be those two scrimmages.
Alabama opens the season at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 4, hosting Utah State.
Shula doesn’t discount the importance of Alabama being bowl-eligible after two years of NCAA sanctions prohibiting championship competition. While Shula said it will be the goal of Bama to win every game, to win the Southeastern Conference Western Division championship and go to the SEC Championship Game, and “then on from there,” he also said he didn’t want the players “worried about that. They have to be worried about Utah State. They have to be worried about tomorrow’s practice. But I’d think, particularly, the older guys should be motivated to win the West.”
Shula noted that an important task for the coaching staff is to get players in the right positions to have positive results. As he has throughout the year since Signing Day last February, Shula said that newcomers will play a big role in Bama football this year. He said that while there was talk about Alabama signing 28 new players when the Tide had room for only 19 scholarshipped newcomers, “there was a plan for all 28 then and there is still a plan for all 28.”
There will actually be 20 of those signees in camp with one unnamed signee electing to pay his own way this fall.
Alabama’s original preseason roster listed 104 players. A team may bring in 105 players for work prior to the start of practice. On Monday that 105th player was revealed as redshirt freshman Kenneth Vandervoort, a 6-3, 210-pound walk-on strongside linebacker from the Donoho School in Anniston. However, Bama will have only 104 for a few days. Although freshman wide receiver Ezekiel Knight of Randolph County High School in Wedowee recently passed the Alabama high school exit examination to complete requirements for freshman eligibility at The University, he must still be declared eligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse, a procedure that should take only a few days.
Shula knows that a 4-9 record, which Alabama had last year, is unacceptable. He said, “We have to be very, very serious. We have to move forward. Last year wasn’t good enough. We can’t overlook anything. And we can’t compromise anything we’ve done, such as in strength and conditioning.”
Last year Shula and his staff had only the 29 August practices to prepare for the season-opener. This year, he said, it seems as though he has a “different football team.” Instead of trying to learn the names of all the players and install a system in a compressed time period, Shula said he has watched the team through a full season, the off-season program that started “the day after the end of the regular season, spring practice, and having them here all summer. Many of them are in summer school.”
He said, “The guys who have been here have really done a good job working out.” The coach added, “A big thing for me is to see the growth these guys go through. They are still growing in height and weight and strength to a greater extent that I have seen the past 15 years (coaching in the NFL).”
Although circumstances for Shula and Alabama football are far different this year than last year, the Tide coach said there would be some similarities because of so many newcomers who have not been exposed to Bama schemes. He said, “I think a lot of the young guys are going to be participating, but they have to earn that.” He noted that his first recruiting class was special to him and that he knows they are dedicated to Alabama, and he is anxious to see how they do.
Shula said that middle linebacker Freddie Roach will miss at least a week of work after having had arthroscopic knee surgery recently, but said he expects Roach to be ready for the season. He also confirmed that cornerback Thurman Ward and wide receiver Tarry Givens, back-ups who are earning their degrees this summer, have given up football.
Alabama has only 17 seniors on its roster, but Shula said “that is not a concern. We talk a lot about senior leadership, but we’ll count on leadership from a lot of underclassmen who have played. We’re going to have to lean on them.”
Commenting on various individuals, Shula said that quarterback Brodie Croyle “has a chance to have a really good year;” that Cornelius Wortham was moved to middle linebacker “to provide toughness and leadership, and also because we had DeMeco (Ryans) and Juwan (Garth) outside;” that Brian Bostick would start off as the place-kicker, although Shula expects good competition from the likes of Jamie Christensen; that freshman defensive tackle Justin Britt will be “productive;” that it’s possible one tailback will emerge, but he expects Ray Hudson, Kenneth Darby, and Tim Castille will all get work; that if Castille is at halfback, that exposes another weapon in LéRon McClain at fullback; that the team will continue to get the ball to wide receiver Tyrone Prothro in a variety of ways, although he expects Prothro’s improvement as a route-runner to be the most dramatic change; and that he expects sophomore newcomer Jeffrey Dukes to be able to provide depth both at safety and cornerback.
Shula did not make any changes in his coaching staff following last season. Monday he said, “I learned this staff is good coaches, good communicators, good recruiters, and loyal to me. I’ve also learned not to make changes just to make changes.”