Heading into fall practice, Beard may have been overlooked by some. At the top of the depth chart, Ahmaad Galloway received attention automatically. And most of the early buzz surrounded the move of Ray Hudson from corner to tailback. Hudson has obvious talent, and his 4.41 speed brings a new dimension to the tailback slot.
And if asked for a darkhorse in the battle, most pundits would have probably listed Brandon Miree. A powerful runner with good straight-ahead speed, Miree had dropped significant weight over the summer, promising to increase both his quickness and speed.
But while all the tailbacks did fairly well in Thursday's scrimmage, it was probably Beard who turned the most heads. Formerly known mostly for his speed and elusiveness, the Nashville native showcased his new power--and more importantly the willingness to run hard between the tackles. That willingness to get his shoulders square and deal out some punishment of his own continued today. As Coach Franchione noted Monday, tailback is not a position where the worry is depth.
Offensive Line Coach Jim Bob Helduser would like to be two-deep at every position with players he can "trust" in the heat of SEC competition, but at a minimum he'll settle for eight--two centers, three tackles and three guards. Those names aren't hard to figure out. Alonzo Ephraim is having an excellent camp at center, and Evan Mathis is still improving. At tackle, starters Dante Ellington and Wesley Britt are being pushed by Atlas Herrion. And Dennis Alexander, Marico Portis and Justin Smiley are the principals at guard.
Helduser has said that in his system the various positions are mostly interchangeable, and that is apparently proving true. Franchione reported earlier that Alexander has been slowed somewhat by an ankle sprain, and Smiley (who finished spring as a virtual co-starter with Portis at quick guard) has been getting some reps with the first unit at the strong slot.
Obviously Tide fans are still getting to know their new head coach, and just as obviously the vast majority have been impressed by Franchione's calm, reasoned public persona. But in private his staffers have always chuckled at the suggestion that Coach Fran was some sort of mild-mannered, always-serene force on the practice field. "Fran can get intense," was their only comment.
There's a hard rule governing media reps who are granted the right to watch practice up close: ‘What happens on the field, stays on the field.' And that specifically prohibits quoting something that might be said in the heat of practice. So suffice it to say that Bama's new head coach is quite capable of making his feelings known on a subject--in a manner (and volume) sufficient to get the point across. Whether it be ‘coaching' a player on the necessity of holding onto the football, or ‘guiding' an assistant on the importance of keeping to the practice script, Franchione is more than capable of getting fiery with the best of them.
So why is little-known walk-on Hamid Haqq pictured in this report? Because he had a beautiful interception in Wednesday morning's work. Sticking with his receiver stride-for-stride down the sideline, Haqq maintained his position and was between his man and the quarterback in the corner of the endzone when the ball arrived.
A sophomore out of Huntsville's Grissom High School, Haqq may or may not have much of a chance to actually gain much playing time this season. But that play exemplified a new attitude permeating Alabama's corner corps. Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush and Cornerbacks Coach Chris Thurmond both promised an aggressive, attacking, in-your-face style of defense. And so far the corners are getting the message.
There was a time not so long ago at Alabama when a player like Anthony Bryant would have been handed the starting job at his position. After all, he was a nationally known recruit out of high school, and anyone who's seen ‘Bear' will attest that he clearly represents the future for Alabama at nose tackle.
But based on the premise that anything worthwhile must be earned, the new staffers will wait for Bryant to clearly win the job on the field before handing it to him on a silver platter. For now senior David Daniel may still be on top, and the former walk-on could very well start versus UCLA. But Bryant has recently been getting plenty of reps with the first-team defensive line.
On the assumption that ‘who should know the top talent in the SEC better than the athletes themselves,' one writer talked to the Tide players before submitting his ballot for the pre-season All-SEC squad. Most of their advice was expected--Rasheed at linebacker, Moorehead at defensive end, Milons at receiver and Jones at tight end--but to a man they also said ‘Brooks Daniels.' ‘Brooks Daniels? How can I vote for a guy that wasn't even a starter last year?' ‘Just wait,' was the reply. ‘You'll see.'
And the rest of the football world may see sooner than some might think. Coach Torbush continues to describe Daniels as being "all over the field," and observers note that the sophomore sensation seems ideally suited for Bama's new Rover slot: part linebacker, part strong safety and all athlete.