Football Notebook: reading between some lines

With UCLA arriving tomorrow, the obvious focus now shifts from preparation to actually playing the game. But of course the flurry of activity continues around the Alabama team, including Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione's announcement yesterday that four walk-ons had been placed on scholarship. <br><br>That and other items comprise our Thursday notebook.

The news that junior strong safety Waine Bacon (currently No. 2 on the depth chart), senior quarterback Jonathan Richey (third-string), senior flanker Michael James (probably third string) and sophomore corner Corey Ferguson (probably fourth string) had been granted full scholarships was not unexpected. Indeed many assumed Bacon, Richey and James had already been rewarded for their hard work. The four join Neal Thomas, David Daniel and Lane Bearden as former walk-ons that have taken advantage of Franchione's commitment to playing the best players, regardless of their status.

Sophomore cornerback Corey Ferguson

But Franchione's revelation that even with those seven names, Alabama's total number of scholarshipped players is only 82 is interesting. The Tide is obviously below the maximum number allowed by the NCAA, and yet informed speculation continues to predict that Bama will only sign around 18 athletes this year. Only the Tide coaches know for sure--and they're not talking--but it would certainly appear that Alabama is preparing for a self-imposed reduction on new scholarships for 2002.

Tuesday's announcement that starting defensive end Kenny King would henceforth be working mainly at nose tackle was intriguing in several ways. Obviously the move was made in large part to shore up a previously thin position on the inside of Bama's defensive line. But practice observers believe another major factor was the desire to free up some minutes for Aries Monroe and Nautyn McKay-Loescher.

With an incredible 44-inch vertical jump and also having won the Iron Man Trophy last spring, Aries Monroe could be the best all-around athlete on the squad.

The phenomenally gifted Monroe was elevated to No. 1, and as the principal backup now at right defensive end McKay-Loescher's likely snap total increased as well. Both Monroe (239 pounds) and McKay-Loescher (240 pounds) would have been judged ‘too small' to contribute as every-down players by the previous staff. But new Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush places a much greater emphasis on speed at the end position.

King to nose tackle should not be taken as a slam at either David Daniel or Anthony Bryant. The coaches admire Daniel for his maturity and effort, and no one doubts Bryant's long-term potential. But at only 274 pounds, Daniel must be used carefully on the inside and Bryant still has some maturing to do. Interestingly, suddenly true freshman Todd Bates' chances of playing this season are much improved. Though he's still got a lot to learn, Bates is a relentless athlete who has impressed the coaches with his talent and desire.

2001 Alabama squad

Along with mug shots of all the players and coaches, the Alabama Media Relations Department provided a copy of this year's team photo. If you have an occasion to visit Coach Franchione's office, you'll find it blown up to wall size adorning the hallway outside his door.

Note two interesting points. With 100+ athletes perfectly and uniformly posed, which one managed to sneak in a touch of individual personality?

And also notice the ‘fashion statement' being made by so many players. Tide Strength and Conditioning Coach Ben Pollard said months back, that you knew the players were buying in to what the coaches wanted because the guys were starting to wear more T-shirts to show off their muscles. Notice how many of the players in the photo 'just happen' to have their uniform sleeves rolled up to show off their biceps.

One of the best athletes on the team, Alabama needs Marvin Brown to have a break-out game versus UCLA.

There are a lot of players looking for redemption this Saturday. Indeed, after last season you could probably make that statement about the entire squad. But if you're looking for one player with the potential to really have a break-out game, you could do worse than betting on Marvin Brown.

Since getting eligible this summer, the coaches have been more than pleased with Brown's work effort on the field. He was already pushing Donnie Lowe for playing time at fullback before a concussion caused Lowe to miss some practices last week. Little used as a freshman and sophomore and forced to sit out in 2000 because of academic problems, Brown should definitely get his chances this Saturday to finally show the fans what he can do.

New tight end Donald Clarke

Franchione said yesterday that true freshmen Freddie Roach, Charlie Peprah and Todd Bates all had very good chances of playing this year. But another newcomer that should definitely contribute is junior-college transfer Donald Clarke. Signed mainly based on his ability as a blocker, the sophomore tight end has surprised everyone (including himself) with his very good talent as a receiver.

Clarke is a legitimate 6-5, 253 pounds, but he runs very well for a man that size and displays soft hands. During regular pass drill work yesterday at practice, Clarke was running a simple pattern up the middle but the ball was overthrown. Running full speed Clarke reached forward to snag the ball, stumbled briefly as the forward lean threw him off balance, but then immediately regained his stride after bringing the ball in. Senior starter Terry Jones Jr. will need some help this year, and Clarke should definitely be able to provide it.

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