With both coaches and players being careful to get their practice legs under them, any news at this time of year will likely be bad. And Franchione did announce this afternoon that sophomore free safety Tyler Harris had been lost for the season. After experiencing shoulder problems yet again, Harris' doctors are advising him to sit out at least a year. Whether the new problem will force Harris to give up football for good isn't clear, but if that is the case NCAA regulations would allow Alabama to keep him on ‘medical scholarship' if needed.
Harris has already taken a redshirt season, so unfortunately that option is not available. After redshirting his first year on campus, Harris saw limited action in 2000 during the Ole Miss game.
Franchione said that redshirt freshman Rafael "Ty" Tyreus, a cornerback from Geneva, will take Harris' place on the 105-man roster.
The injury will allow Franchione to bring in another player, but he also noted that other members of the squad deserved to be out there as well. "It's unfortunate that we have to make those determinations," he said. "There are always some guys you'd like to have with you in Fall Camp, but because of NCAA rules you just can't bring them in. We wish they were here."
Friday marked the first of three days of work in shorts, helmets and shoulder pads. Full gear practices begin Tuesday, August 14 and Franchione hopes to scrimmage for the first time that next Wednesday. 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.
After having virtually the entire squad remain on campus and working out through the summer, Franchione was generally pleased with the first day's effort. "It wasn't as snappy or as quick as I would have liked," Franchione said. "We just have 29 practices in 19 days and it is vital that every practice is good and I don't want to waste a single one of them. I'm not saying we had a bad practice, I just expect them to practice like we did last year and sometimes I forget that team (Texas Christian) had been together for three years. We've just had 16 practices."
For fans wondering about personnel decisions, Franchione said that they probably wouldn't make any changes in the depth chart until after the first scrimmage. He did acknowledge that Ray Hudson who was moved from cornerback to tailback in the off-season "no doubt has got speed. When the ball is in his hands, you can see the explosiveness. He's got speed and quickness and Ray is strong." Though the speedy athlete is behind the other tailbacks in learning the position, Franchione revealed that they might create a special role for Hudson in the shotgun offense while he gradually learns the schemes.
The Tide got in significant work on special teams, with candidates for the kick return jobs fielding punts and kickoffs for one segment of practice. "We're going to put a guy back there that we can trust," Franchione said. "You've just got to be able to catch the ball--especially on punts. And if that guy only runs a 4.8 (in the 40-yard dash), then that's OK. We'd prefer a 4.4 guy, but we've got to be able to trust him."
Today's practice sessions marked the first time the newcomers worked with the entire squad, and Franchione quickly named Freddie Roach as a freshman that stood out. "Freddie adjusted the best," Franchione said. "He was pretty comfortable out there and confident. We'll work him inside at (middle linebacker), but I think Carl (Torbush, Alabama's defensive coordinator) wants his players to be interchangeable."
Franchione then went on to acknowledge that Alabama's starting linebackers should be a strength of the team. "Actually, I think our entire front seven--so long as we can stay healthy on the inside (at tackle)--should be good," he said. "I like our starting linebackers, and Cornelius Wortham and Brooks Daniels are both going to be fine players. They're real comers."
The main athletes Alabama will rely on at defensive tackle are Anthony Bryant, Jarrett Johnson, David Daniel and Derek Sanders. "We'll use different groupings, but those would be our top four," Franchione said. The Tide head coach then said of Bryant that the sophomore lineman really "caught my eye." Franchione believes that a strong effort in the off-season conditioning program has left Bryant quicker and with better endurance. "Last spring he would get fatigued and then lose focus. But today he lasted longer. Longer than he ever did in the spring."
One equipment change noted by practice observers has all the offensive linemen wearing a knee brace on both knees, and the Tide quarterbacks all wear one on their plant leg. "We ask them to wear them," Franchione explained. "They won't prevent the really bad injuries, but we believe they help with the glancing blows. They can help prevent the twists and sprains. I've seen many times when a brace saves a quarterback when someone falls into his front leg."
The Tide returns to the practice field for two sessions tomorrow at 7:45 a.m. and then at 5:15 in the evening, before taking Sunday off.