The beginning of classes Wednesday at The University marked the end of two-a-days, and the Alabama squad will now switch to its practice routine that will hold steady during the season. But there have been plenty of developments as the Tide continues its preparations for UCLA.
If you judged by the frenzied activity of some television reporters, big news was taking place at Alabama yesterday. The receipt of the NCAA's six-month ‘update' letter was excitedly reported on one station, resulting in extra crews being dispatched to cover the ‘story.'
Tide Director of Athletics Mal Moore
But in truth, as those that have followed the story carefully already knew, there was no news to be reported. And the mid-afternoon routine departure of Athletics Director Mal Moore on a previously scheduled trip to Panama City, Florida certainly proved that. Unless you consider stating that the investigation was "continuing" and they hoped to finish soon ‘news,' the letter essentially said nothing. But NCAA regulations mandate a six-month ‘update,' so the boilerplate verbiage was duly dispatched.
As others have reported, the Letter of Official Inquiry is now expected sometime in early September, which practically guarantees that Alabama will not be able to appear at the November meeting of the Infractions Committee.
Carlos Andrews getting work at safety
For all of two-a-days, close observers were able to note that the squad practiced with relatively more athletes at cornerback than safety. The reason for that is simple. According to Coaches Case (Safeties) and Thurmond (Cornerbacks), the transition from corner to safety is relatively easier than vice versa. But a simple count of scholarshipped bodies always showed that at least one athlete working at corner was likely to be used some at corner as well.
Earlier in the week, Case explained that they would probably look at the ‘No. 4' cornerback, and yesterday Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush confirmed that Carlos Andrews would receive work at safety. Andrews will keep a hand in at corner, but with Gerald Dixon, Thurman Ward, Hirchel Bolden and Roberto McBride all playing well (not to mention the possibility of true freshman Charlie Peprah seeing action) for this season Andrew's best chance to contribute lies with Case's unit.
If there was ever any proof needed that Dennis Franchione is serious about everyone following the rules, evidence was provided at Monday's scrimmage. Everybody's All-America candidate (and one of the most respected players on the team) Saleem Rasheed had arrived to a scheduled meeting late. And despite the fact that Rasheed's character and responsibility are unquestioned, the Leadership Council member was held out of defense work and assigned extra running as punishment.
One of Coach Fran's favorite lines that he repeats often to the squad is "Find a way to help the team." He's talking about the fact that even players buried on the depth chart can contribute, even if it's only by helping prepare their teammates. A good illustration was shown by Marc Miller during Fall Camp. Despite throwing the winning touchdown pass in last spring's A-Day game, Miller is no better than fifth-string at the quarterback position. So the sophomore walk-on from Gadsden worked for a time at receiver when an extra body was needed, and then later in camp switched jersey colors and numbers to move to defense and work at safety. Despite being a good athlete, Miller is almost certainly not going to ever play a down at either receiver or safety, but he did what was asked.
One clear concern headed into fall was the inexperience at safety. Both Reggie Myles (free safety) and Shontua Ray (strong safety) are seniors and very good athletes. But Ray has never played the position in a game, and he would have to learn his new role in a hurry. Obviously he still has to prove it on the field, but in recent practices Ray definitely seems improved. The former high school track star has always had excellent straight-ahead speed. But Ray is a powerful athlete, and an earlier experiment at corner was only marginally successful. However, at strong safety he is able to keep the play in front of him, and recently he has made several good reads, breaking on the ball to arrive in time to reach in and deflect the ball away.
It's doubtful that he noticed--and he certainly didn't do it on purpose, but Monday Franchione proved the perils of drawing personnel conclusions without specifically getting word from the head coach. After a couple of impressive returns by true freshman Brandon Brooks in Saturday's kicking scrimmage, several stories were written touting Brooks for action this season.
The young man who has single-handedly re-introduced the adjective ‘diminutive' into Alabama fans' vocabulary (Brooks is only 5-4) may still play as a true freshman. But in Monday's scrimmage work on kickoffs he worked exclusively with the scout team.
Center Alonzo Ephraim
Strong Guard Marico Portis
Nobody (certainly not this writer) is predicting All-SEC seasons for anyone on the inexperienced Tide offensive line. But the Bama coaches (specifically line coach Helduser) are not ready to proclaim the sky is falling either. They believe the recent personnel changes represent Alabama's best group. And the emphasis has been on selecting the best football players--not necessarily the biggest and strongest--to build on. Names like Portis, Ephraim, Smiley and Britt may be inexperienced (in fact extremely so). But to a man they are tough-minded youngsters who aren't afraid to hit you. Again, no one's is predicting any Outland Trophies, but the Tide backs can gain some yardage up the middle behind the blocking of Ephraim and Portis.
Franchione has made it clear that during the season no information will be released on injuries--with the exception of those that end an athlete's season. But he has spoken about defensive end Antwan Odom's recent shoulder dislocation. Odom had a similar problem last year and was able to continue and play. Franchione said that this time there was relatively more pain, but the doctors don't expect that it will be more serious.
For the last two days Odom has spent practice time working on the stationary bike with is arm in a cloth sling. But as Torbush revealed last night, the coaches remain optimistic that he will be able to play versus UCLA. Probably no player on the team has seen more improvement over the last year (in large part due to the correct diagnosis and treatment of Odom's sleep apnea), and his effective participation is obviously important to Alabama's success.