Photo report: That was then, this is now

With players graduating and others moving on, every football team is a 'work in progress.' And as new Head Coach Dennis Franchione re-makes the team based on his own design, that's especially true for Alabama. Since spring there have been notable changes in personnel, attitudes and the role certain individuals will now play on the squad. For example, sophomore Roberto McBride has not only switched numbers (35 to 19) but has taken on an entirely different set of expectations at cornerback.

Back in March, junior fullback Marvin Brown was listed third-string with an asterisk. Though easily one of the most gifted athletes on the squad, Serious questions about his academic eligibility had writers (and coaches off-the-record) warning fans not to count on Brown's contribution in 2001. But after stringing together several solid college sessions in a row, Brown is now eligible and has is set to make an impact.

At the conclusion of spring practice, senior quarterback Andrew Zow was described as "No. 1, having separated himself somewhat" from the other quarterbacks. And it almost seemed like Franchione couldn't say enough good things about true freshman Brodie Croyle either. But now most of the talk (including that from Brodie) has Croyle likely to redshirt, and Zow has recently admitted that because of "mistakes" (referring to misreads in practice) he's again waging a battle for the starting job.

Back in the spring, redshirt freshman Ray Hudson was no better than fourth string on the coaches' depth chart at cornerback. But after an off-season position move to offense (decided personally by Franchione), Hudson is now putting his "genuine burst" of speed to better use at tailback. He's still likely no better than third-string behind Ahmaad Galloway and Brandon Miree, but Hudson's talent has the coaches talking about creating a special role for him in the shotgun offense.

From the moment he first arrived on campus, coaches and observers have been predicting big things for Justin Smiley (#78). He's very strong (a weight-lifting champion) and incredibly quick for a lineman--plus he just enjoys hitting people on the football field. But despite playing well, at the conclusion of spring drills he was still behind junior Marico Portis at Quick Guard. And as Smiley explained, "Marico wasn't going anywhere." But after several practices in the fall, in a move to get their best athletes on the field, the Tide coaches switched Portis over to Strong Guard, elevating Smiley to No. 1 on the other side.

As defensive end Antwan Odom was being timed in the 40-yard dash last spring, a coach watching commented "there's an NFL draft choice just waiting to happen." Odom's physical potential has never been questioned--and in fact he played significant minutes last season as a true freshman. But after having a serious case of sleep apnea (the condition causes an inability to sleep soundly during the night) diagnosed and corrected following the spring, Odom has literally turned into a new man. Now his classes are going well, he's more alert and relaxed around his teammates and coaches--and just as important he's gained up to a solid 268 pounds, making him even more valuable on the defensive line.

Last spring many were predicting junior QB Tyler Watts might not have a future at Alabama. He was still no better than second-string behind Zow, and the coaches were pointedly praising super-frosh Croyle. All of it prompted yet another round of Watts-to-transfer rumors in the summer. The rumors (of course) were bunk, and after steady improvement during the fall Watts appears to have finally caught his head coaches' eye.

When spring drills began last March, junior center Alonzo Ephraim admittedly started slowly. And despite the fact that he's easily one of the best all-around athletes on the offensive line, some were even predicting a career back-up role for the Birmingham native. But Ephraim accepted the challenge and finished strong through A-Day. And during Fall Camp he picked up where he left off, turning in a succession of excellent practice days to put a strangle-hold on the starting job at center.

To say that Dennis Franchione has endeared himself to Alabama fans would be an understatement. From the moment he accepted the job with a self-deprecating joke to reporters that "I wasn't even (my wife) Kim's first-choice," the veteran head coach has scarecely made a single misstep. But whenever a coaching change is made, there are questions about how quickly the transition of power will take place. However, calling on his past experience in taking over troubled programs, Franchione moved quickly to assemble his staff and immediately put his plan in place. And even more importantly, he and his assistants proved immediately that accountability and trust were to become the new watchwords of the Bama program.

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