Franchione keeps focus on season

Despite the breathless presence of some extra reporters on-hand for today's routine press briefing, there was nothing really new on the NCAA and Alabama to be reported. The University did receive a six-month ‘update' letter, but Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione remained characteristically unfazed.

"As needed, I'll talk to our players or have someone do that," Franchione said. "But right now there is no reason to spend too much time on it. Our plate is full enough without worrying with that. It's no big deal to me."

With classes starting tomorrow, Tuesday marked the last session of two-a-day practices in Fall Camp. Beginning Wednesday, the 105-man early reporting roster will be joined by numerous walk-on players prohibited from practicing until the first day of class. 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.

The receipt of the ‘update' letter communicated little more than the fact that the NCAA inquiry into possible recruiting violations by Alabama is "still continuing" and that they hoped to be finished in the "near future." Regulations require an update every six months, until the letter of official inquiry is delivered. But despite a brief flurry of excitement on some television stations and Talk Radio, the short and sparsely worded nature of the letter made it seem hardly worth the effort.

Replying to a question about whether the ongoing investigation would likely affect recruiting, Franchione's understated response was that it "has always been something we have to deal with."

After reviewing film of Monday morning's scrimmage, the Tide coach singled out middle linebacker Freddie Roach and nose tackle Anthony Bryant as players that "took steps." In the secondary Roberto McBride, Shontua Ray, Hirchel Bolden and Charles Jones all "played solid." And Franchione said that defensive veterans Kindal Moorehead, Saleem Rasheed and Kenny King continued to lead.

Roach is a true freshman clearly being groomed by the Tide coaches to play as soon as possible, but Franchione said "Right now he's probably not ready to be No. 2. But he's one that can come on soon."

Bama's season-opener with UCLA is less than two weeks away. "Right now we're not close to being game ready," Franchione said. "We're tired. But we've got a lot of work to do. We need another good week of practice." Franchione then noted that they would likely start on the game plan for the Bruins either Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

But the end of two-a-days came at a good time. "Practicing just once a day we will start to get our legs back," Franchione said. "We've had 10 days of two-a-days in 12 total days, and I think the ideal number for that would be eight. We're sore and nicked right now. Anything you've ever aggravated in your life is sore right now."

Alabama played UCLA last season as well, losing that contest 35-24. But with this being Franchione's first game as Tide head coach, he's hoping that the uncertainty regarding the team will be a benefit versus the Bruins. "They may be able to plan for our personnel," he said. "But they may not be in the places they think. Right now (the UCLA coaches) are studying a lot of TCU and North Carolina film from last year."

Of course Franchione and most of his staff coached last year at TCU, while Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush was with the Tar Heels. "We're both going through a similar process," Franchione said. "You don't know what you don't know. The first game is always pivotal in adjusting your schemes."

Responding to a question about Bruin Coach Bob Toledo who was quoted as saying his coaches read Alabama Internet sites to glean information about the Tide, Franchione called the Internet a "new phenomenon. Blame it on Al Gore, I guess."

"I have not figured out the best way to handle it," he continued. "But I do have control over my team."

But is someone from Alabama also scouring print and electronic media for clues about UCLA? "You bet," Franchione replied. "Coaches are ingenious competitors. We'll find any edge we can to prepare our teams."

Alabama has a few freshmen who are considered possibilities for early playing time, but the large majority of this class is thought headed for a redshirt year. "There will be five to six that we will take into September," Franchione said. "We'll see how they grow in the offense and defense. And those decisions will be affected by injuries and their progress. But historically I've redshirted a number of freshmen."

But don't expect the Tide coach to waste a freshman's redshirt without good reason. "You get to around game four or five and you don't want to use up a redshirt for a few plays. If they're ready to play in September, that's a different thought process. But it will probably be mid-September before we identify some of them."

Franchione also passed along some minor notes about the team. Though junior Patrick Hollingsworth is currently listed No. 2 at center, redshirt freshman Evan Mathis, who has gotten work recently at tackle, would likely play behind starter Alonzo Ephraim if needed. "We're working to get depth at guard, center and tackle."

And though he will likely stay at middle linebacker at least until Roach improves, senior Darius Gilbert has received some work at defensive end.


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