Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione characterized Tuesday morning's practice in full gear as good, but pointed out that the style of practice had not changed by the team putting on football pants. As he had pointed out earlier, the transition into full gear is not as significant as it was a few years ago when football teams were in helmets and shorts for three days, then went to full pads. Now the team is in helmets and shoulder pads in those three teaching days. And, Franchione said, everyone has learned to have pretty good practices before the kneepads go on.
"We're still in a teaching mode," he said. He pointed out that the three levels of practice are "tag, thud, and scrimmage." And, he noted, in some ways it takes a better athlete to handle the "thud" work than it does full-speed blocking and tackling because the player has to keep a good football position to make the thud stop, in which the defender wraps up the ball-carrier.
Franchione has also pointed out that he does not give his team a great deal of scrimmage work in the fall. Earlier this week he said he expected to have 75-90 plays when the first scrimmage of the pre-season is held Wednesday morning at the Thomas-Drew Practice Field. Prior to Tuesday afternoon's workout, Franchione said he expected it would be a 70-play scrimmage.
It will also be scripted so that players are involved in only six plays at a time.
Franchione said, "We want to see where we are. We want to see how the defense tackles, how the backs run, obviously how the quarterbacks execute. It will give us something on film for us to show our players so we can teach and they can learn."
There will also be scrimmage work Saturday with emphasis on special teams. What is likely to be the final scrimmage work of the pre-season will come next Monday. Two-a-day practices end next Wednesday, August 22, when classes begin. During the fall, Franchione said, it is possible that he will occasionally scrimmage a segment of the team for "12 or 15 plays."
Another change coming is that players will check out of Martha Parham Hall and move into their campus apartments after practice Friday. Franchione put the team in the dorm for the first week of practice as part of his team-building plan.
Franchione has been pleased with progress made by a number of individuals. He said that tailback Brandon Miree "is a different player than he was in the spring." He noted that Miree had come back lighter and quicker and that whereas Miree had been very poor in catching passes and pitchouts in the spring, "I don't think he's dropped a ball."
He said he was "gaining confidence in all the tailbacks," noting that Ahmaad Galloway, Ray Hudson (who moved from defense), and Santonio Beard have all showed improvement.
His comments came in a discussion of positions where there is competition for the starting job. The bottom line is that almost everywhere except tight end and wide receiver and a linebacker and defensive line spot or two has jobs still being contested.
Franchione mentioned that Marvin Brown had reported back in better shape and is pushing Donnie Lowe at fullback. He noted that Lowe "did well in the spring and is settling into his role as a fullback in the I and in the two-back set and he's also a member of several special teams." Lowe was a back-up middle linebacker last fall who moved to fullback in the spring.
The coach said that Brown, Miree, Hudson, defensive lineman David Daniel, and linebacker Jason Rawls were among those who had made "great strides." And he said that defensive end Antwan Odom "has made a tremendous turn-around in every way in the last six months," including a notable gain in strength.
And in answer to a question, Franchione said freshman quarterback Brodie Croyle made a "giant improvement" in the summer. "He's number three," Franchione said, "but he's a number three you can see making significant improvement on a daily basis. I'm encouraged."
The Tide head coach said the process of building the offensive line, which he called "unsettled," would continue this week and deep into next week. And he said that wasn't unexpected. "They're all getting a lot of reps," he said. "We need to get the first group used to playing next to each other, but we also need to develop quality back-ups."
Franchione said he did not expect the presence of the popular Saturday show, "ESPN Gameday," airing from outside Bryant-Denny Stadium prior to Alabama's first game to prove a distraction to him or his players. "It's not like we're going to be on the set," he said.
He also said that the Alabama-UCLA game, which will air on ESPN beginning at 6:45 p.m. CDT on September 1, would be a big recruiting weekend. "It's the first game and an evening game on Labor Day weekend, so we expect a large number of prospects," he said. He added that was one reason Alabama elected not to play the game on Thursday, even though that would have given the staff an advantage of two more days in preparing for the first conference game against Vanderbilt on September 8.