Winning vision includes running the ball

Like the rest of the Tide offensive assistants, Sparky Woods isn't about to reveal any details about plays and schemes. But there is no question that Bama will continue to run the football. <br><br>"Mike Shula has got a vision of how to win," Woods said. "Alabama has been physical in the past, and there is no reason to think we won't be physical this year."

Over time different teams develop a reputation for a certain style of offense. And since the famous switch to the wishbone in 1971, Alabama has always been able to run the football.

With 921 yards, Shaud Williams was the Tide's leading rusher last season. (Associated Press)

The Tide's recent flirtation with a one-back, pass-happy offense had many fans concerned. But Mike Price is gone, and Alabama's 2003 running backs coach says not to worry. "Depending on how you run the ball, you can get on the edge and change blocking schemes. But I don't think our guys will shy back from hitting their guy in the mouth."

Last season's offense finished 2nd in the SEC, based largely on the success of its running attack. Ahmaad Galloway and Santonio Beard are now gone, Galloway to the NFL and Beard to parts unknown. But led by Shaud Williams, the 2003 running backs sport plenty of talent.

Woods commented, "We've got guys that can run. They can catch the football. We've got reckless guys that are also unselfish players willing to block."

That last criterion will be especially important. Without a single dominant tailback, Woods will call on his players to be equally prepared to block as carry the football. "It's a team sport," he said. "You may give me the ball this play, but I'll block the next play. It's the common goal of helping Alabama win."

Reasoning that secrecy will be to Alabama's advantage early on, Mike Shula has decided to say nothing beyond generalities about his new offense. Fall camp will be closed to outsiders, and access to players and assistant coaches will apparently be curtailed.

The idea is to make it as difficult as possible for South Florida and Oklahoma to scout the Tide. But when it comes to questions about goals and overall strategy, Shula's record as an NFL coach speaks volumes.

With extensive experience as both a head coach and offensive coordinator, Sparky Woods is more than qualified to coach running backs for the Tide.

Woods commented, "The National Football League has the most money, the most time and the most skilled athletes. Shula has had a ton of experience there. He knows what it takes to win."

Depending on what type defense they face on a given Saturday, the Tide offense might lean slightly one way or another. But balance between the running and passing game will be the goal.

"Shula wants to be able to be a physical team and run the football, while at the same time being able to throw the ball," Woods said. "Whether you run it one more time or throw it one more time, Coach Shula knows we'd better be able to do both."

Returning tailbacks Williams (5-8, 182), Ray Hudson (5-10, 203) and Kenneth Darby (5-11, 202) are all good--but a tad undersized. However, as Woods sees it, that won't be a problem. "We'll use backs (plural) rather than a single guy is how I see it," he explained. "Shula's offense is flexible, so he can adapt to the talent we have on the roster. We'll play tailback by committee. We'll utilize all of them rather than one guy. That will help us stay healthy."

On the question of a fullback, expect Greg McLain to be on the move once again.

No official announcement will be made, but there is no question the Tide will incorporate some traditional two back (I-formation) sets, which call for a blocking fullback.

Ray Hudson came on as a running back last season and will be counted on as a member of the playing rotation at tailback. (Barry Fikes photo)

"We'll be more of a two-back, certainly more than we were in the spring," Woods acknowledged. "What that does in personnel we don't know the specific answers yet. But I do think that if you are defending us then you'd better be prepared for the two-back set as well as a one back."

Unless true freshman LeRon McClain can get eligible, the "Moose" (Greg McLain) will essentially be the only true fullback on Bama's roster. But a big bruiser isn't necessarily the only type athlete that can play the position. "Fullback doesn't always mean that you just go and knock the defender out of the hole," Woods explained. "Fullbacks can also be effective pass receivers."

Based on his NFL experience at Tampa Bay, Chicago and with the Miami Dolphins, Shula can be expected to use a big tailback when available. In Ricky Williams, the Dolphins had the prototype. But more traditional two-back sets, including extensive use of the tight end, should also be part of Bama's arsenal.

Woods concluded, "From watching film of Miami, there is certainly room in their offense to utilize a fullback--also a second tight end."


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