"I thought about it a bit while the players were stretching. You have a little time then to look around. I peeked over my shoulder and spotted the tower."
As Mike Shula explained, it's hard for any coach not to feel the history at Alabama, especially with Paul Bryant's coaching tower still standing to the side. And with two of his former collegiate coaches now serving on his staff, there was more than a touch of deja vu as well. "I definitely felt it when I listened to Coach Kines and Coach Rader," Shula said with a laugh. "I caught myself raising my voice to Coach Rader, and that was a little different."
The team worked without pads today, and will continue in shorts and helmets on Wednesday. The Tide will be in shoulder pads and helmets on Thursday and Friday, and in full pads for the first time on Saturday. Two-a-day sessions will be held Aug. 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 while one-a-day practices will be conducted on Aug. 11,13, 15, 17 and 19 before classes begin on Aug. 20.
Alabama is working toward its season-opening game on August 30, versus South Florida in Birmingham. The game will be televised by ESPN, with kickoff set for 2 pm (CST).
Shula has been on the job for several months, but today's workout was his first chance to get on the field with his players. "The tempo was excellent," Shula said. "The guys were excited about being there. You could feel the newness in the atmosphere. It definitely felt good to get out there and teach. Of course I'm not used to that many guys."
Up to this point, Shula's entire coaching career has been in the NFL, where actual squad sizes are barely more than half the 104 players on hand today. (One spot on the 105 roster is being held open for fullback Le'Ron McClain who hopes to receive word on his eligibility later this week.)
The players leaving the practice field were obviously exhausted, to the point that several sat down on the grass while being interviewed by reporters. "We talked about tempo from the beginning," Shula said. "It's up to the coaches to set the pace from the start. We got more plays in today than I expected. It was a rapid-fire pace. We expect that tempo from them. That's what it takes to win in this league."
Shula spent the first part of practice working with the Tide quarterbacks, and he liked what he saw from Brodie Croyle. "There's still some newness there," Shula said. "But he's got a good grasp of what we're trying to do. I like his talent. He's got a lot of work to do, but there's a lot going through their minds right now. They just need repetitions."
Asked to identify returning veterans that stood out, Shula listed senior tailback Shaud Williams first. "Shaud had a good day," Shula said. "He's in great shape. He really picks everybody else up on the offense."
Shula went on to list the entire offensive line as a team strength. "They did a nice job, especially in run drills," he said. "They're tough; they've got good size and athleticism. They'll be an asset."
Senior wide receiver Antonio Carter missed last season with an injury, but Shula said he ran "full out" today. "He's got that good look in his eye," Shula noted. "He wants to prove to himself that he's ready to go."
Sixteen new scholarshipped players reported Monday night, with McClain still waiting on his test score. Eric Packer and Chris Felder did not qualify and will attend junior college. And quarterback signee Cliff Davis earlier signed a minor-league baseball contract.
Asked if it might be tempting to use his late start and lack of spring practice as an excuse, Shula was direct in his response. "We're not using anything as an excuse," he said. "Just like the players, our attitude as coaches is that we've got something to prove."