Tide Begins To Put In Game Plan

Ordinarily, Alabama will have a week to put in its game plan for each football opponent, and that process will begin on Sundays during the season. But for the first game, installation of the game plan can begin earlier, and so it was Wednesday, 10 days from kickoff against the South Florida Bulls, that Crimson Tide Head Coach Mike Shula and his staff began exposing the squad to that plan.

However, there was one complication. Wednesday was also the first day of classes at The University. For that reason, Shula said, "We didn't do as much as we ordinarily will on the first day of the game plan." He said that one thing accomplished was the coaching staff and players got a little idea of how the schedules will work on getting players to meetings and onto the practice field following classes.

"We watched a little tape today," Shula said. "We did not give them the official scouting report, but we talked about South Florida some. On offense, they (South Florida) are very good with three or four wide receivers, and yet they run well. On defense, they are very quick up front and aggressive. They try to disrupt your offense in the backfield, get you in second- or third-and-long, and then use their speed. They were 9-2 last year (losing on the road at Oklahoma and Arkansas), so they are a good team."

With classes beginning on Wednesday, the Crimson Tide will practice just once each day leading up to its 2003 season opener with South Florida on August 30 at Legion Field. The game will be nationally televised by ESPN beginning at 2 p.m. CDT.

Shula was told that South Florida Coach Jim Leavitt had described Alabama as "loaded." Shula said, "I feel comfortable. I'm glad to be around the players we've got. We've got talent. We've got good leaders. The players have character, as evidenced by all they've been through.

"But, I think South Florida has a lot of talent, too," the Bama coach added.

"With today being the first day of classes, we tried to get everybody lined up properly and get over here on time and get them into a routine for what the season will be like," Shula said. "We did not practice as long, although we were on the field for a good period of time. We wanted the guys to get a feel for what the first day of each week will be like in terms of preparation."

Shula also said the Bama systems are in place, although personnel not necessarily selected. It is not unexpected that the defensive schemes are installed because the defensive staff went through spring practice with most of the players being counted on for defensive play, particularly in early games. Shula said that special teams personnel–the place-kickers and punters, but also other players and notably freshmen–are still being evaluated.

The most surprising revelation is that Shula said the entire offensive package may be in. Queried following Wednesday's two-hour practice in shorts, helmets and shoulder pads, Shula said more schemes may be added, but said, "I feel we've got our stuff in. And I feel good about it. The guys have handled it really well. I think it's stuff we can to to week-in and week-out. We will, of course, cater the package to each opponent."

Shula said, "Everyone has done a nice job learning. But we have to get the fine points down, things like making sure you get out of the huddle and up to the line in time to run the play."

He said the man most responsible for making the offense work, quarterback Brodie Croyle, "needs to be more consistent, but he's got a real good grasp of what we're trying to do."

Shula isn't ready to say which freshmen might be redshirted this year, but said there will be some. He said if it is the feeling of the coaching staff that a player is not ready to help on offense or defense, he won't be used on special teams. He said that he expected defensive tackle Dominic Lee to play this year. He said that players like linebacker Terrence Jones and running back Tim Castille might be on special teams. The Tide coach was asked specifically about fullback LéRon McClain and said, "There is a chance he won't be used in early games. Until he is ready to play on offense, we won't use him on special teams."

As for the kickers, Shula said he would like to be able to make a decision as quickly as possible on a place-kicker and a punter, but said the candidates are still competing. He indicated he might make a decision by the end of the week on either Brian Bostick or Kyle Robinson to kick field goals and extra points. He said the punting situation was "less settled," noting that Bo Freelend had a good day Wednesday, but that Jeremy Schatz has been more consistent.

A handful of players who have relatively minor injuries were held out of Wednesday's practice. They included quarterback Spencer Pennington, defensive tackle Ahmad Childress, offensive lineman Travis West, defensive tackle Kyle Tatum, and wide receiver Antonio Carter. However, defensive tackle Anthony Bryant, who had missed a couple of sessions, was back at work.

Shula said an examination of the tapes of Tuesday's scrimmage work at Bryant-Denny Stadium revealed that things were not as bad as he may have thought, but that the team was somewhat lethargic. "The energy level wasn't where it needs to be," he said. "But I know it will be." He said that players tackled better and that "some of the twos (second team players) came up and fit in with the ones."

Shula modified the practice schedule for the remainder of the week. The Crimson Tide will practice at its normal time on Thursday, (4:15-5:45 p.m.) and then hold a "mock game" on Friday. The team will not practice on Saturday, but will return to the field Sunday, beginning at 4:15 p.m. The Crimson Tide will also take its regular weekly "off-day" on Monday and resume practice for the season opener next Tuesday.

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