Rain can't dampen first practice

Rain greeted the opening of fall drills, but the gloomy weather hardly dampened the spirits of Alabama's new coaching staff as the Tide newcomers went through their first official practice of the season. "It was good to see them run around and change direction," said Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione. "It was good to see some athleticism, to listen to them learn and see them out on the field with their coaches. The day didn't do anything except raise my excitement level about the whole group."

The entire squad will report later this week, but twenty newcomers, including three invited walk-ons, participated in their first practice at Alabama. "It's not like having a full group out there, but I think it's an important exercise," Franchione said. "It gives the young kids a chance to get some individual attention, to learn as much of our offense and defense as they can and to learn some technique.

The newcomers will practice again Wednesday and returning football players will also check in Wednesday. The entire squad will practice for the first time Friday, the first of three days of work in shorts, helmets and shoulder pads. Full gear practices begin Tuesday, August 14. Alabama opens the season at 6:45 p.m. Central Time September 1st hosting UCLA in Bryant-Denny Stadium in a game that will be nationally telecast by ESPN.

Today's group included nine athletes slated for offense, nine for defense and two special teamers. And the relatively small number of bodies meant that coaches and student managers were temporarily more physically involved than normal. "We're going to have to get our managers in better shape," joked Franchione. "Obviously the pace of practice can't be anything close to what we'd like it to be. But they're getting a lot of individual attention, a lot of instruction under their belt--some good coaching that will help them on Friday when things start coming at them a little faster."

Monday's first practice included one quarterback, Spencer Pennington; two running backs, Shaud Williams and Marquez Dupree; three offensive linemen, Von Ewing, J.B. Closner and Mark Sanders; one receiver, Brandon Brooks; and two tight ends, Donald Clarke and Clint Johnston. On defense there were four defensive backs, Juke King, Charlie Peprah, Roman Harper and Anthony Madison; two defensive linemen, T.J. Shaddix and Mark Anderson; and three linebackers, Freddie Roach, Todd Bates and Matt McMullin. Placekicker Mike McLaughlin and deep snapper Boone Stutz also took part.

Shaddix, McMullin and Stutz are all invited walk-ons, while the rest of the group will be on scholarship.

"With just one practice and 115 minutes it's hard to get any more excited than we were yesterday," Franchione noted. "I thought they tested well (this afternoon) in the weight room--their strength levels and their vertical jump. The vertical jump is a good indicator of their athletic ability, and we had some good jumps. That was exciting."

The bad weather resulting from tropical storm Barry that hit the Gulf Coast forced today's practice inside to the Crisp Indoor Practice Facility. "I think it's a real bonus and a benefit to have this building," Franchione said. "We can have productive practices--especially when we're in a teaching phase.

"But we didn't change anything. I think we'd always rather be outside, but I felt like today with the weather and fields we'd just get soaked and slip and slide around. We got a lot more done in here."

There were no real surprises in personnel groupings, but Charlie Peprah, one of the most highly touted of all the newcomers, did spend the entire session working at cornerback. Along with Roman Harper and Anthony Madison, Peprah performed drills under the supervision of Coach Thurmond, while Juke King received individual coaching from Safeties Coach Ron Case.

"I think (safety) is where King is right now," Franchione said. "Roman and Anthony are probably where they are (at corner). With Charlie we'll probably vacillate back and forth with him for a while, depending on whether we think he's more of a corner or safety immediately. He'll do a little of both as we go on, unless as we talk personnel the (coaches) start feeling like he's just a corner or safety."

Three players signed by Alabama last February did not report today. Fullback Quentin Bowens is still working to gain eligibility and the junior college transfer will not report until he does. Mac Tyler was granted his release by Alabama, and reportedly the defensive tackle will enroll at UAB in hopes of becoming eligible by next season. Receiver Bryan Bass was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft and will not play college football.

Shaud Williams is a transfer from Texas Tech. The former Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year will sit out this season and make his debut for Alabama in the 2002 season.

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