Tide Begins To Cut Back

Alabama's football team is having it a little easier in practice this week than will ordinarily be the case, but one reason for that is the Crimson Tide has already paid a price. Head Coach Dennis Franchione had his squad out in helmets and shorts for about two hours Wednesday, a practice that was interrupted briefly for the team to go indoors and avoid some lightning in the area.

Bama is in the final days of preparation for the season-opening game against UCLA on Saturday.

Franchione said that all coaches would like a little more time for teaching and a little more contact in practice to make sure the team is physical enough. But, he said, Alabama has had good, tough practices, including ten days of "grinding two-a-days."

He said, "You get to a point where you need to play a game in order to get better. We've taught them, but now they need experience to help the learning curve. Now, we hope we're successful (in the game) because that enhances learning."

Franchione said that one reason Alabama has had good practices has been the unseasonably cool weather. A year ago Tuscaloosa was in the throes of 100-plus degree temperatures. This week the temperature has been as much as 20 degrees lower on corresponding days. "It's not the weather we expected," Franchione said. But, he noted, the team was in Tuscaloosa all summer when it was hot, and the relatively cooler weather for fall camp has allowed the players to get a lot done. He noted that it wasn't so stifling as to affect learning or performance.

This isn't Franchione's first game as a head coach. He's taken 19 previous college teams into opening games and he has figured out a formula. "We want to make sure they have their legs Saturday," he said. "We went out in shorts today and we'll go out in shorts and cut back on what we're doing Thursday. Friday we'll have just a walk-through. We had a good practice last Friday, a light practice Saturday, a good practice Sunday, we were off Monday, and had a good practice Tuesday, and I think we're on course to be ready. I've done this schedule several times before and I think they'll have their bounce back."

Alabama's Wednesday practices will ordinarily be in shoulder pads. Franchione said, "I told the guys that it takes a mature team to practice in shorts and get things done. We got a lot done and had a lot of reps today."

Early last week Franchione said that he didn't want his team to peak too early. He said that even though the UCLA game plan had been "subtly" introduced last week, that there was no talk about UCLA until this week.

There has been an inordinate amount of questioning of Franchione about what he expects his feelings to be when he coaches Alabama for the first time. He has patiently explained that he expects it to be a special night, but quickly steers to the game. "I've been in big stadiums before," he said. "The difference is this time most of the people in it will be for my team…or, at least, I hope they will." And, as he pointed out, there won't be 35,000 UCLA fans helping to swell attendance. A large number of Alabama followers swelled attendance in the Rose Bowl to over 76,000 for last year's opener against UCLA in Pasadena. Fewer than 3,000 UCLA fans are expected in sold out (83,818) Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night.

Franchione said Alabama's offense has grown each day. While he said the game plan would not be complicated, he said "it's different from what the players were accustomed to, and they have really picked it up. Their ability to learn and retain has been good." He said the offense would be perhaps 15-20 per cent less than it would have been had the team had a full year with this coaching staff. But, he said, "I don't feel we're going to be deprived. I think we've got enough offense to win the game."

The Tide head coach said he never thought about having two redshirted freshmen side-by-side in the offensive line "until you guys (reporters) asked me about it." He said that tackle Wesley Britt and guard Justin Smiley would start because they are the best at their positions. "We don't worry about the class," he said. "We're going to play the best players." He said he hoped to play eight offensive linemen. The other starters are center Alonzo Ephraim, guard Marico Portis, and tackle Dante Ellington and back-ups guard Dennis Alexander, tackle Atlas Herrion, and tackle-center Evan Mathis. He noted that of those offensive lineman, Ephraim has been the best. "He has done a great job in camp, he had a super spring, he's athletic, and I'm impressed with his knowledge." He also said that he didn't like to change the center during the game if possible because of the snap mechanics working with the quarterback.

Bama is expected to dress 105 players for the game (not exactly the 105 who reported, but very close to that).

He also announced four more players who have been put on scholarship. They are quarterback Jonathan Richey, strong safety Waine Bacon, wide receiver Michael James, and cornerback Corey Ferguson. Previously Alabama had added place-kicker Neal Thomas, punter Lane Bearden, and defensive tackle David Daniel.

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