Tide Has First Of Two-A-Day Practices

There are a lot of firsts for Alabama football these days. On Sunday, First Year Head Coach Mike Shula put his Crimson Tide through the first of its two-a-day practices. On Monday Bama will have its first scrimmage. And, as far as is known, Sunday's practice was the first in which number of visitors were invited in.

The Crimson Tide worked for 2 1/2 hours in full gear Sunday morning and then held a 1 1/2 hour practice in helmets, shorts and shoulder pads in the afternoon. Alabama will continue with two-a-day practices on alternate days through August 20. The Crimson Tide will have just one practice on the interceding days, including the first scrimmage of the pre-season on Monday. (This scrimmage will be at the Thomas Field facility, but a scrimmage is scheduled for Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.) Shula said he did not expect the Monday scrimmage to be as long as the one scheduled for Saturday.

There is no reason to expect any change in Alabama's official "closed" policy on practices. No visitors, including parents of players or former players or the media, are permitted to attend practices. However, that policy was eased a bit Sunday. On Sunday morning the all-time winningest coach in NFL history, Don Shula, was on hand to watch his son coaching the Crimson Tide. And in the afternoon, the team had a parade of former Crimson Tide luminaries on hand to watch practice and meet the 2003 Alabama squad. Former Head Coach Gene Stallings, former Bama quarterback Joe Namath, and former Tide linebacker Lee Roy Jordan addressed the team after practice. Also visiting were former Bama lineman Billy Neighbors and former linebacker Lemanski Hall. "What a special group," Shula said. "It was neat for our kids, and me too, to see and meet these guys. I am biased, but that is what makes this place so special."

"There were some good things in both practices," Shula said. "We had a long, hot practice this morning, and then our afternoon practice was not quite as long. We mixed in some two-minute offense for the first time today, and the defense won, as you might imagine. We need to get some mechanics down and we worked on that some today, too.

He said, "We toned down some this afternoon. We did not have as many compete drills. There was more group work and less individual work. We worked on moving the ball, two-minute drill and plus territory." Tide players were on the field in more of a game situation in much of the afternoon work. Coaches were on the sidelines rather than behind the players as is normally the case in practice work.

Shula said that practice standouts included tight end David Cavan ("catching and blocking") and wide receiver Antonio Carter. Shula said, "He's a good little receiver, particularly in three wides. He can move around, he's smart, and he's got good football instincts."

The coach also noted that quarterback Brodie Croyle "displays confidence in the huddle." He added that back-up quarterback Spencer Pennington is also doing a good job in that area. "We've told the team that the system will be harder on the quarterbacks than anyone," Shula said. "That's how it should be. We're trying to make it as easy as possible for as many as possible. And Brodie can handle that."

The Tide coach said that in the first week the goal was to get as many repetitions to as many players as possible. With the season-opening game now less than three weeks away, he said, "We'll have to start narrowing it down." He added that after the first week of practice, "We have to evaluate on personnel and on what we need to do. Do we need to cut back or can we add–in all three phases, offense, defense, and kicking game."

An exception to the "narowing down" process may be kickers, punters and placekickers. "It's been my experience those guys need as many competitive opportunities as possible," Shula said. In discussion of the overall kicking game he said that Antonio Carter and Shaud Williams and "some of the new guys, like Tyrone Prothro," are being looked at as return men.

Shula admitted that Alabama might have "a little risk factor" in preparation. Because Shula was not hired until after Alabama's spring practice, Bama's offensive players are having to have a combination spring practice and fall preparation compressed into the 29 practice sessions before the first game. Because of the need to get extra repetitions on a new offensive game plan, Shula said Bama might do more hitting than ordinary.

Defensive end Antwan Odom's neck injury suffered at the conclusion of Saturday's practice is reportedly not serious, and the junior lineman is expected to return to practice as early as Monday. Odom suffered a "stinger" during goal-line work Saturday and as a precaution was taken to DCH Medical Center for tests and observation. He was subsequently released. Odom did not participate in Sunday's first two-a-days sessions. Voted preseason All-SEC, Odom was the second-leading sack man in the conference last season, despite the fact that he shared starting duties. Although Shula is limited in how much he can discuss injuries, he said he had no reason to think Odom would not be back playing.

Alabama will begin the 2003 season on August 30 against South Florida at Birmingham's Legion Field. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN with kickoff scheduled at 2 p.m. CDT.

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