"We've got a lot of work to do," Franchione continued. "We're going to push them mentally and physically. We're going to toughen them up, but of course we'll be careful. Actually, today's weather would be considered a cold front back in Texas (Tuscaloosa's high Thursday was 88)."
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.
Back in May when spring semester ended, Franchione challenged his team to improve during the off-season and report back in even better shape. "We had a great summer," he said. "Coach Pollard (Head Strength and Conditioning Coach) did a super job. We just finished testing them and they made more progress than I thought we could. We're in pretty good running shape to go into two-a-days."
Franchione specifically noted the progress several big men made in both losing weight while also getting stronger. Dante Ellington, Dennis Alexander and Anthony Bryant were all praised, in that regard. "I'm proud of the changes they made."
And Franchione again repeated his conviction that teams are built in the weight room and running on the practice during the summer months. "Summer is when you develop that spirit of camaraderie," he said. "And that's definitely in our favor. Players need to be challenged, to sweat together and to hurt together to be a good team."
Addressing the concerns that have come up with the recent deaths of some football athletes around the country, Franchione said he is in favor of extending the eight-hour rule (that limits practice time during a given week) to the summer. "If we had the support staff there, we'd have more eyes, and I think it would be a benefit to the players.
"Also, it would help if you could let freshmen go ahead and come in on scholarship," Franchione continued. "Starting that summer before their first fall would allow them to acclimate at their own pace. Basketball already has a summer scholarship, and it can be an academic bonus. Start college before you start football practice."
On the academic front, Franchione praised the impressive turnaround made by the team since he arrived in January. "Credit goes to John Dever (Director of Academic Services), the assistant coaches and the players," Franchione said. Fullback Marvin Brown and defensive end Antwan Odom (two players that had some academic ground to make up) will be eligible, though Franchione reported that junior defensive end Shawn Oglesby "didn't make it."
On the injury front, Bama is in very good shape. Only defensive end Nautyn McKay-Loescher (strained back) and deep snapper Nick Ridings (broken foot) were mentioned. McKay-Loescher's problem should resolve itself quickly. And Franchione is optimistic that Ridings will be available by the first game.
Practices will be open the first 11 dates with controlled access by pre-registration, through Monday, Aug. 20. On Aug. 21 the Tide will close practices in preparation for UCLA. Fans wishing to attend must call the Crimson Tide Practice Hotline with ID information by 5 p.m. the day before a morning practice, or 12 p.m. before an afternoon practice. The number is (205) 348-5453.
Once again Franchione declined to answer a reporter's question directly regarding Bama's offense, describing it only as "broad-based and very multiple." But he did reveal that the UCLA game plan has already been done; though it obviously could change. And as a further note on that subject he said that, "Our offensive strengths are tight end, wide receiver and depth at tailback. I'd expect a 60/40 run/pass ratio with a lot of formations."
Franchione explained that his famous player playbook (really a careful listing of duties and responsibilities for every athlete) was distributed to the team last night. Nightly team meetings during Fall Camp will be utilized to walk the players through its content.
In earlier interviews Franchione has described the task of turning around such programs as New Mexico as a ‘marathon.' But on a positive note for Tide fans, he said regarding his present job "It's not a marathon. I hope it's a 100-meter dash---or even 60-meters. We've got a chance to turn things around her more quickly.
"We have a lot of guys that were 10-3 in 1999, and that was only two years ago. A lot of our guys know how to win. This group didn't so much need for me to instill self-esteem and confidence. I think they needed someone to unite them, to mesh the team together. To give them a vision and a plan--and then to push them toward it.
"The players have confidence that we can do this."