Defense 'wins' third scrimmage

Under a blistering August sun, the Tide went through its final scrimmage of fall camp. Afterwards, Head Coach Mike Shula was reasonably pleased with his team's effort. <br><br>"We started slow; I guess we were a bit lethargic," Shula said. "But we came on there at the end."

The scrimmage was held at Bryant-Denny Stadium to give the players (and coaches) a feel for the venue. As Shula indicated yesterday, the session didn't last as long as previous scrimmages and was also more structured.

"There were some guys out there doing some really good things," Shula said. "We practiced a lot of situations, such as long-yardage and overtime drills. We got a lot of good stuff on film to teach from."

Asked his feelings upon entering the stadium where he played as a collegian, Shula pointed out that he had visited Bryant-Denny earlier when he was first hired. "It looks a lot different now with both upper decks," he said. "I can't wait till our first game here. But first we've got some business in Birmingham."

Alabama will begin the 2003 season on Aug. 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).

Shula said that with the start of classes tomorrow, fall camp was over. The coaches would begin giving the players the game plan for South Florida, though the full game plan won't go in until next week.

Shaud Williams was again Bama's leading rusher, gaining 81 yards on six carries. Kenneth Darby also had a good day carrying the ball. He ran for 76 yards on 14 attempts. "He was good," Shula said of the redshirt freshman. "He runs the ball real well. As he gets more work he's doing a nice job."

"I felt pretty good," Darby said. "I had my focus more today. I was ready to get after it. Getting that many carries caught me by surprise. But when the coaches call my number, I've got to be ready to perform."

On his first day in full pads, true freshman fullback Le'Ron McClain got in some work. He had just one carry for 13 yards, but Shula sees potential. "Le'Ron got some contact," Shula said. "He's such a big guy. He's behind, but we hope he will progress. But we won't rush him."

In contrast to the previous two scrimmages, the offense only scored four touchdowns. According to quarterback Brodie Croyle, the defense got the better of the day's work. "We started out rough," Croyle said. "It was the first time in the stadium for many of these guys."

Weakside linebacker Juwan Garth led all tacklers with five. "We didn't play as well as usual," Garth said. "But people were really being physical out there. You can't beat a scrimmage."

Several front-line players like Justin Smiley and Antwan Odom were held out with only minor bumps and bruises. They could have played, but Shula wanted to use the scrimmage to get a long look at reserves that were pushing for playing time. "I wanted to get some others some work with the first team," Shula said. "We moved some new players in and out with the first unit, just like in a game. It may have disrupted our rhythm today a little bit. We've got to get to the point where when one player goes down, another steps right in and we don't think twice. Everyone has to be accountable."

On the offensive line Atlas Herrion and Danny Martz got extensive work with the first unit, setting them up as key reserves for the season.

Others players like Cornelius Wortham did not participate with more serious injuries. There was one piece of very good news on the health front. Sophomore fullback Greg McLain, who had missed practice the past few days, participated Tuesday--though only on a limited basis. "We didn't work him much," Shula said. "He was in there some early. Hopefully we can get him going."

The focus now shifts to game preparation. "We spent most of fall camp working on fundamentals," Shula said. "Now the players have got to realize how important the game details are. Getting the play in without taking too much time. Getting set at the line of scrimmage and not having a false start. They've got to realize how important every play is."

One of the tasks ahead of Shula and his staff will be deciding what to do with the true freshmen. "That's new for me," he acknowledged. "It won't be set in stone, but we've got to decide which guys we'll be getting ready to play and which ones may redshirt."

Several key defensive linemen have missed time this fall, including Odom, Anthony Bryant, Leslie Williams and Ahmad Childress. Shula said that made it "somewhat difficult" to gain continuity, but he thinks playing so many athletes will be good for the team. "Defensive line is a position where one player can come in and give the group energy. We've got to have depth to keep our guys fresh in the fourth quarter."

Shula has consistently praised quarterback Brodie Croyle for his talent and how quickly he's picked up the offense. However, he knows that backup Spencer Pennington will also be key to Bama's success. Pennington was held out of today's scrimmage. "Backup quarterbacks don't get quite as many reps as the starter," Shula said. "That's just the nature of the position. Like a relief pitcher in baseball, they've got to be ready to go on a moment's notice."

Asked whether his squad was ready to play South Florida, Shula said "No. We're not ready today. But we will be on August 30. No doubt.

"I feel confident about that. I told the team after today's scrimmage that it takes hard work and preparation to succeed at football. These have been tough practices, but that's what makes the game special. If it was easy, then it wouldn't feel as good. What you do together with your teammates in the heat of August makes the game special."

Scrimmage Notes

  • True freshman Tyrone Prothro led all receivers with two catches for 47 yards.
  • No Tide receiver had more than two receptions.
  • Placekicker Brian Bostick solidified his lead over Kyle Robinson. Bostick was 4-for-5 on field goal attempts with a long of 47 yards. Robinson was 2-for-5 with a long of 42.
  • The punting competition has narrowed somewhat. Bo Freeland kicked three times, averaging 37.6 yards. Jeremy Schatz punted twice, averaging 39.5 yards. Patrick Eades had one attempt for 47 yards.
  • Safeties Carlos Andrews and walk-on Bryan Kilpatrick both had interceptions. Kilpatrick returned his 85 yards for a touchdown.
  • Defensive tackle Jeremy Clark and defensive end Leslie Williams each had two sacks.
  • Juwan Garth led all tacklers with five. Derrick Pope had four.
  • Shaud Williams had the longest run of the day, going 58 yards.
  • Ray Hudson averaged 4.4 yards on eight attempts, scoring two touchdowns.
  • Tide quarterbacks threw two interceptions, with Croyle throwing his first during scrimmage work this fall.
  • Shula said running back Tim Castille had handled the transition from high school to college probably better than any of the other true freshmen. Castille has worked at fullback, halfback and on special teams.
  • Special teams Coach Dave Ungerer named linebackers Terrence Jones and Demarcus Waldrop as two other true freshmen he'd like to have on his special teams.

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