As he has made clear many times, Franchione considers special teams play to be every bit as important as offense or defense--probably more so. In fact, the players are told that if they need a breather, fine. But don't take themselves out on special teams.
That philosophy directly impacts Milons, a multi-talented star who is probably Bama's top athlete at three separate positions (receiver, punt returns and kickoff returns). It's easy (and obvious) to say that Milons should be on the field as much as possible. But given the full-out sprint nature of all three roles, something has to give. In an honest effort to explain to fans what the coaches are thinking, Franchione related recently that Milons sometimes got winded after long kickoff returns (surprise) and thus had to take a few offensive plays off to catch his breath--immediately prompting some fans to questions Milons' conditioning.
Talk about not being able to win for losing.
It's a very minor change--no more than a footnote to the game program. But walk-on receiver Lance Taylor is sporting a new jersey number. The Citronelle native had worn No. 25, a number he would obviously share with starting cornerback Hirchel Bolden. But this past week he switched to No. 39. Given the fact that coaches prefer not to take duplicate numbers to the same game, the change could indicate Taylor's recent climb up the depth chart. All other things being equal, as an athlete's contributions to the squad grow, he is often awarded with a unique roster number.
Less than a year ago many wondered about Alonzo Ephraim's future with the team. Always known as an excellent athlete, he had started spring slowly, and many were worried that he would be a career backup. But since then the Birmingham native has made steady progress, seizing the starting job in the spring and continuing that improvement through fall. Now, the Tide coaches are saying that Ephraim is probably the best offensive lineman they've got.
One of the most intelligent players on the squad, Ephraim is responsible for making the blocking calls from his center position. And since Coach Franchione prefers not to substitute too often with his centers, worrying about the timing of the center/quarterback snap, Ephraim has become the "Iron Man" of this year's offensive line.
Though the coaches still name Freddie Roach as a future star for the Tide defense, Darius Gilbert's solid play as a reserve middle linebacker has given true freshman Roach the luxury of developing at an unhurried pace. He is an excellent athlete with the frame to easily handle some extra bulk needed on the inside.
The reporting roster lists him as 6-2, 225, but Roach is still maturing physically. Benefiting from college-level nutrition, he's closer to 235 now, and the staff expects that he can carry up to 240 or so without losing a step. But with Saleem Rasheed starting and Gilbert in reserve, Roach may well be able to redshirt this season, giving him four full seasons to man the middle for Alabama.
No offense to either Ahmaad Galloway or Ray Hudson, but the athlete who could very well be Alabama's most talented tailback has yet to play a down--and won't until the 2002 season. Shaud Williams, who transferred to Alabama this past fall and thus has to sit out a season, was the Freshman Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year at Texas Tech. And several staffers shared their private opinion that Bama wins the UCLA game with Williams at tailback.
Williams' emergence, along with disappointment over his role in the Tide offense, was a major factor in Brandon Miree's decision to leave the team. When Miree first signed with Alabama out of Cincinnati, Ohio, he was hailed as a "faster, stronger version of Shaun Alexander" (mainly by Shaun Alexander). But while he was a powerful, determined runner, Miree never came close to living up to that hype. Not fast enough to run around tacklers and not elusive enough to avoid them, many practice observers believe he was more physically suited to fullback.
Miree's departure to Pittsburgh will leave Alabama temporarily thin at tailback, and Santonio Beard will now move to third string and inherit Miree's reps in practice. Interestingly, Beard was another highly publicized tailback coming out of high school. And there have also been rumors that like Miree, he is unhappy with how he has been used this season. But though obviously athletic, Beard must improve his grasp of the offense (i.e. execute the plays correctly every time) before his role is likely to increase very much.
For two games in a row, redshirt freshman guard Justin Smiley has led the Bama line in ‘knockdowns.' The Tide coaches keep track of the rather unusual stat to encourage the athletes to finish their blocks, driving the defender to the ground in the process. Coach Franchione said recently that he expected Smiley to be a "heat-seeking missile, looking for somebody to hit on the field." He just hoped it would be the right man."
The line can be traced back to spring drills, when O-Line Coach Jim Bob Helduser asked Smiley one day after a scrimmage how he did. "I think I did good, coach," was Smiley's reply. "I hit somebody on every play." Well…" commented Helduser in his best Texas drawl. "Once we get you to the point where you're hitting the right people, then we'll be in good shape."
But Smiley's position coach says that Coach Fran may have been a little hard on ‘Big Smiles.' According to Helduser, Smiley is much improved in his execution--to the point of being almost perfect in the first two games carrying out his blocking assignments.