Kicking Scrimmage Should Help

Alabama's football team went to Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday morning for a "kicking scrimmage," in which the Tide worked on kickoffs, punts and field goals. The Tide will return to the stadium Saturday afternoon for a full gear workout.

The kicking workout was typical of a Dennis Franchione practice in that several functions occurred simultaneously. While the punt and punt return teams were on the field, on one end of the sidelines coaches worked with the field goal rush and protection units, and at the other end of the sidelines kickoff return and coverage units were drilled.

Franchione has a unique approach to special teams. Mark Tommerdahl is the kicking game coordinator, but all of the assistant coaches have a role in the kicking game, including a different assistant being "head coach" of each facet of the kicking game and other coaches being his assistants in that facet. The result is a lot of individual attention with no coach having more than two players to coach, Franchione said.

Franchione said Tommerdahl "takes a lot of pride in special teams. He works at it hard." He said Tommerdahl spent time just before the start of practice at the Detroit Lions camp to learn more about the kicking game.

Following the morning work, Franchione said, "It was a good workout. Not perfect, certainly, but a great teaching device, not only from what was good, but from what we didn't do well." He noted, "If you don't scrimmage in the kicking game, it's hard to get the fullspeed look you need to get better. You can drill and drill and drill, but until you get out there full speed you don't see the entire picture."

He said he expected to see some changes in the depth chart based on the morning work.

Franchione reiterated that "the best people play" on special teams. "You don't take a play off in the kicking game," he said.

As for individuals who were standouts, Franchione said that diminutive Brandon Brooks (5-4, 157), who had two nice kickoff returns, "is hard to see, which is a benefit on kickoff returns, and he has quick feet and speed. We lost contain once, which we can't do, and he took advantage of it."

One player who had a disappointing day on kickoff returns was the team's fastest player, Jason McAddley. "He can't drop the ball," Franchione said. "He had his opportunities and didn't take very good care of it."

Franchione was pleased with place-kicker Neal Thomas, who was good on all of his field goal tries, ranging in distance from 31 to 43 yards. "Neal is hitting the ball good," the coach said. "He is very confident and has a great mentality. There's no shakiness about him. He has complete focus."

Franchione said that every coach wants touchdowns from the offense. But, he said, when the offense stalls, "Neal erases the mistakes of the offense to some extent. Anytime we can get close enough for him to have a kick of 50 yards or less, we have a chance to get points."

As far as a "depth chart" among kickers, Franchione said that Lane Bearden would be the punter, backed up by Michael Ziifle. Bearden is the kickoff man (Franchione said he had been kicking six-to-eight yards deep in the end zone), backed up by Thomas. And that Thomas was clearly the field goal and extra point kicker. The back-up would seem to be freshman Mike McLaughlin, who almost certainly will be redshirted if Thomas stays healthy.

Nick Ridings, who broke his foot in the summer, is still wearing a protective boot, but is expected to be cleared for play soon. He has been practicing and will be the deep snapper. He's backed up by freshman walk-on Boone Stutz (who had planned to walk on at TCU until Franchione and his staff moved to Alabama). First team offensive guard Justin Smiley is also capable of snapping.

The team will go to church and have lunch together Sunday and will have meetings Sunday afternoon and evening. The team will return to Bryant-Denny Stadium Monday morning for the second and final scrimmage of the pre-season. After a Monday afternoon practice, the Tide will have two practices on Tuesday. Classes begin Wednesday, which will be the beginning of just one practice per day.

Alabama is two weeks away from the September 1 opener when Bama will host UCLA at 6:45 p.m. CDT, a nationally-telecast game by ESPN.


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