Tide Makes A Few More Mistakes

Mike Shula was having a tough time describing the second day of Alabama's football practice. The new head coach knew what he wanted to say, but a bout of hoarseness made it difficult. "I've either lost my voice, have a little bit of a cold, or both," he said. He admitted that the way college players respond to a coach's yell is refreshing after his long career as an NFL coach.

Bama's practice, as Tuesday's with players in shorts and helmets, was not as good on Wednesday, Shula said. And he also said it wasn't a surprise. "There were a few more mistakes because we added things and because they were more tired. The first day was good and today wasn't quite as good. As a coach, you want things to be perfect, but you know that as you add things it's not going to go that way. The effort is still good and the intensity is still high, which is what you would expect from these guys."

The practice went for about two and a half hours. As all Alabama practices this year the work is behind closed doors, not open to the public or the media. Alabama will have five one-a-day practices before two-a-day work can begin on Sunday. (This year a team may work twice a day only every other day.) The Tide will add shoulder pads to its work gear for Thursday and Friday practices, then be in full gear Saturday.

Shula said the coaching staff expects to have all its "inventory" (offensive and defensive schemes) installed by early next week. "Then, after it's all in, we can draw out what we want," Shula said. He noted that over two weeks to refine its package for the opening game. He added, "If we feel real good about what we put in this week, we may add to it."

The coach said that Bama had worked on first and ten situations Tuesday, second and long situations Wednesday, and would work on third down situations Thursday. He said one day of work would be almost exclusively on blitz situations with the defense throwing its entire blitz package at the offense, which would have to blitz protect. There will also be time spent on every other aspect, including things like clock management.

He said Bama would have three scrimmages prior to its opening game and that the squad would also have a mock game in which the squad would experience every aspect of game day, even to including warm-ups and where the offense and defense are positioned on the sidelines.

Shula said he is still spending most of his time working with the offense, but that he was paying attention to the defense and would begin spending more time in that area.

The coach said he is looking forward to seeing the team in full gear Saturday. "That's when you find out who the tough guys are," he said. "All of the coaches and players are looking forward to it."

He noted that some teams are noted for getting in a huge number of repetitions in practice and said that Alabama would not get any awards in that area. But, he said, the tempo is good. He admitted he would like to be able to get in more reps because those who are involved in changes are going to need as many as they can get.

Classes at The University begin August 20. Until then even when the team is limited to only one practice in a day, there is ample meeting time that Shula said is being put to good use. The incoming freshmen have to miss some of that meeting time because of obligations to freshmen orientation, but Shula said that time away from football is good for them. He reiterated that while it is unfortunate a change in NCAA rules don't allow the newcomers to have a few days alone with the coaching staff, that Alabama's freshmen probably have an advantage over others (at least on offense) because the entire squad is learning a new system.

Shula said the terminology of the offense would be different than it was in the spring under the brief Mike Price term. But, he said, "These guys are young and intelligent and flexible." He doesn't expect the new playbook to be a problem. He also noted that Alabama "won't be a huge audible team. We'll use it, but not a lot."

The Tide coach, who was a quarterback and who spent much of his coaching career tutoring quarterbacks, is pleased with the men who are expected to fill the top three spots on the depth chart. He had good things to say about likely starter Brodie Croyle and back-ups Spencer Pennington and Brandon Avalos. He gave particular praise to Avalos.

However, Shula's first area of praise Wednesday went to the offensive linemen, who had also caught his attention Tuesday. "They can do a lot of different things," he said. "And they are definitely the most vocal group on the team, which is probably not usually the case. I think we're going to get good leadership there." He said he also liked the work of the defensive line, "especially the ends. They are speed guys. They do a good job of getting off the ball and getting up field."

Shula didn't hesitate when asked who the most vocal wide receiver has been. "A.C.," he said, referring to fifth-year senior Antonio Carter. "That was easy. You definitely sense he's anxious to be back out there after missing last year. And he asks the coaches a lot of questions, questions the other receivers would probably like to ask. That's good."

He said Triandos Luke had also been a standout at wide receiver. "He has real good skills overall and real good speed," the coach said. "And he has a quiet intensity."

Shula added, "I'm not used to quiet receivers."

He said that even though he was not at Alabama in the spring, he was aware that Brooks Daniels had been a leader of the defense. Daniels, who was a pre-season All-Southeastern Conference linebacker, has withdrawn from school this semester for medical reasons. Shula said that others, including senior linebackers Cornelius Wortham and Derrick Pope, were filling the leadership gap and that it was apparent that the defense has players who feel a "sense of urgency for defensive leadership."

Shula added, "We've got to have a mindset that things we cannot control will sometimes happen. The next guy has to step up and everyone has to rally around."

As for filling Daniels' spot at weakside linebacker, Shula said (sophomore) Demeco Ryans and (redshirt freshman) Juwan Garth both run well. I know Demeco will be good and Juwan just needs experience because he has the speed." Although a team is allowed 105 players in early camp (before the start of classes), Alabama is practicing with just 104, holding a spot for incoming freshman fullback LéRon McClain. McClain is awaiting final academic clearance, which–if he successfully completed the Alabama high school exit examination–could come sometime next week.

Alabama opens Shula era on Saturday, August 30, at Legion Field in Birmingham against the South Florida Bulls. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN with kickoff at 2 p.m. CDT.

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