Brooks Daniels, a pre-season All-Southeastern Conference linebacker, is dropping out of The University for "medical reasons" and will not be a part of this year's squad.
The rumor had been floating for many weeks that Daniels would not return, but the final decision was not made until Monday morning when the upcoming senior weakside linebacker met with Shula. Daniels, who is from Jasper, Florida, had been a two-year starter and had recorded over 100 tackles each of the past two seasons. Although privacy laws prevent any staff member from commenting on Daniels' medical situation, a very reliable source said Daniels had been hospitalized recently.
While Daniels will not be on the practice field Tuesday, it is expected that there will be 105 players reporting and beginning work for the 2003 season. That season begins in less than four weeks when the Tide hosts South Florida at Legion Field in Birmingham on August 30. Kickoff will be at 2 p.m. CDT with television coverage by ESPN.
Shula said he is happy and excited to start fall practice. "I'm going through coaching withdrawal," he said. "Since I've been in coaching, this is the longest I've ever been without being on the field coaching someone." He said it was gratifying to see the assistant coaches working with high school and younger players in summer camps and clinics. He also said he thought the staff has meshed well.
Shula said "the door has been left open" for Daniels to return either next spring or next fall. Daniels has not been redshirted. "It's difficult for our football team because of our scholarship limits, but we have to move on under some tough circumstances," Shula said. "Our wishes are for Brooks to get healthy again."
Shula agreed that Alabama has more depth at linebacker than at many positions. The Tide returns senior and two-year starter Cornelius Wortham at the strongside spot opposite Daniels and both sophomore Freddie Roach and senior Derrick Pope at middle linebacker. Roach and Pope split starting and playing time last year. Shula said that Alabama would fill Daniels' spot with sophomore DeMeco Ryans moving from strongside to weakside linebacker to compete with redshirt freshman Juwan Garth, who had been listed as the likely back-up to Daniels.
There have been no official reports regarding other Tide players, but there have been published reports that signees Chris Felder, a defensive back, and Eric Packer, a running back, both from Wilcox Central in Camden, will begin their college careers in junior college. It is believed that two other signees, defensive back/wide receiver D.J. Chambers of Highland Home and fullback LéRon McClain of Tuscaloosa County, are waiting for final academic clearance.
Although the newcomers don't have the advantage of a few days of work before returning varsity players report as has been the case in the past, Shula said Tide coaches would stay aware of the need to show patience with the newcomers. And he said he wouldn't be nervous about playing a freshman. He said coaches had advised him to redshirt as many linemen as possible, but that Alabama's case was different than most. He said, "Alabama played five or six freshmen when I was here, and it wasn't because of a lack of depth. It was because they were good. We'll look at the depth chart, but it depends on the player."
This will be primarily a learning week for Alabama's players, who have a new head coach in Shula since the end of spring practice and later firing of Mike Price. While the defensive players have their same coaches under Coordinator Joe Kines, only one coach returns at his position from spring practice on offense. Bobby Connelly was retained by Shula to coach offensive linemen. Sparky Woods was also retained, but is now coaching running backs instead of tight ends. The offense under Coordinator Dave Rader will be changed from the spring as Bama reverts to a two-back offense. The Price offense had just one running back.
Despite what is likely an unprecedented hardship for a football team with the coaching change following spring practice, Shula said no one is looking for an excuse. "Our expectation is when you come to Alabama to coach or to play, you are here to win," he said. "If you don't have that expectation, you shouldn't be at Alabama. This (circumstance) is what we have been presented with."
NCAA rules mandate that the first four days of practice are basically non-contact. The players will have helmets the first two days and add shoulder pads on Thursday and Friday. The first full gear work will take place Saturday.
"The first day, everything will be new to the players," Shula said. "We've gone over it and over it as a staff, who's going to be where, what's the tempo going to be, and so forth. But we know we'll have to have patience and be flexible. The good thing about this week is that we'll have just one practice a day, but we'll have a ton of meeting time."
Practices will be closed, but Shula said they will begin with lots of individual work as the Tide gets what he called a "crash course." He said after perhaps an hour of individual work, players working in groups by positions, that Bama would go to "cross-work." That's wide receivers working against defensive backs, offensive line against defensive line, etc. Later the practice will get to the seven-on-seven (everything but linemen) pass skeleton drills. Finally there will be team work. "The urgency must be great," the coach said. "We have to get the most we can out of every drill, out of every meeting. It's all new to everyone and a lot has to get done."
He said that changes had been made in the practice schedule by the NCAA because of "a concern for health issues," which Shula said he agreed with. "We've got a lot of work to do, but we don't want to over-work them," he said. He added that Alabama will have much contact work in preparation for the season-opener.
As he has said on several occasions, Shula said it will be up to the staff to quickly identify play-makers and to get them the practice repetitions they need. But, he said, the staff also has to be aware of those players who develop a little less quickly and get them in position to play. "You have to be able to adjust on the run," he said.
He said the coaching staff had begun putting together a game plan for the "first few games" based on summer scouting reports. After opening with South Florida, the Tide hosts pre-season number one-ranked Oklahoma in Tuscaloosa, then gets into SEC play hosting Kentucky.
Shula isn't prepared to label his team as "finesse" or "power." He said that one comfort for the coaching staff is that a veteran offensive line was an excellent run-blocking team last year in a 10-3 season, but showed in the spring it was very good at finesse and pass protection blocking.
"We need for our linemen--offensive and defensive--to be our leaders," Shula said.
"If you have a quarterback who can throw it--and we think we do--then we're going to throw it," Shula said. "We have a quarterback in Brodie Croyle who has a strong arm, is accurate, can move around, and hopefully make good decisions. We have four seniors at wide receiver. But if I'm (tailback) Shaud Williams, who has had a couple of 200-yard rushing games, then I want the ball, too. But if our best personnel grouping includes four wide receivers, it's hard to be a power running offense."
The Tide coach said the playbook would start out relatively small with players "going over and over" the plans. As the season progresses, schemes will be added. He said the opening depth chart will come from the depth chart at the end of spring practice. But he said he had told his team that the back-ups had a fresh chance with a new coaching staff, and he thinks that should make the men who are listed as first team "a little nervous. And so we should get the best out of everyone."
When Alabama opens the season against South Florida, Shula said he wanted the players "flying around and making plays; reacting. The last thing you want is for them to be out there thinking."
Shula said his early time with videotapes was in watching the offense from last year and from the spring, but that in recent weeks he had been watching much of the defense. He said he was excited about the speed at linebacker and in the secondary and with the defensive ends, notably Nautyn McKay-Loescher and Antwan Odom. Earlier when he had been watching offense he had been impressed with Croyle. He said a bonus of watching the first defense in the spring is he saw a lot of back-up quarterback Spencer Pennington "and I feel better about him."