Little time for sentiment

The University of Alabama football team worked in shorts and shoulder pads at the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility on Wednesday. Saturday's contest versus the South Florida Bulls will be Mike Shula's first game as head coach. <br><br>Will he take time during pre-game activities to savor the moment?

"How long is a moment?" he asked laughing. "Maybe for about two seconds I'll be able to think about it."

"During pre-game you've got to be so focused. Make sure everyone is in the right place. Make sure everything is organized."

Alabama is preparing for its season opener Saturday in Birmingham's Legion Field versus South Florida. Kickoff is set for 2 pm (CST) with ESPN providing television coverage. The Crimson Tide will practice in Tuscaloosa on Thursday and Friday before heading to Birmingham where they will stay Friday night.

Lightning earlier in the day forced the Bama squad inside for today's workout. "Overall the practice went well," Shula said afterwards. "The offense was better. On defense we had some things to clean up. On special teams we worked on kickoffs and kickoff returns. We're getting zeroed in on South Florida. I just hope these guys stay focused and do the things we've worked on in practice."

Shula said Tuesday's practice was the heaviest of the week, and the coaches had already begun to back off a bit to keep the players fresh for Saturday's game.

"Today was more a situational practice on both sides of the ball," Shula said. "We put them backed up and in plus territory. We'll do more of that type work tomorrow. We can use as much of that type work as possible. From getting the play called and into the huddle, to substitutions and sideline control, coaches need the work, too."

For the umpteenth time, Shula was asked whether he was getting nervous as game day approached. He politely said no, but did acknowledge worrying over details. "I want to play sound football--all the things I've preached during fall camp," he said. "You can't cover everything. You want the players to be confident, just go out and play. If they do see something we haven't prepared for, react and move on.

"Some things that you worry about when you go to bed at night--when you get up in the morning they go away. When you see how prepared the players and coaches are, you feel good. We've got a good group of guys here."

With kickoff now less than three days away, the Tide coaches aren't having any trouble motivating the players. "The mood of the players is definitely changing," Shula noted. "You could sense that a little bit Sunday and definitely yesterday. They're excited. I think they're ready to hit someone else for a change.

"Everybody is ready for the game to get here."

Shula said that game captains would be announced tomorrow, drawn from the senior class. Alabama will rotate the job from game to game. "We won't have permanent captains until later," Shula said. "We're looking to get some leadership from the seniors."

No one is expecting perfection in the first game, but Shula isn't making excuses either. "I'm hoping we'll be polished by Saturday. I guess every coach hopes for that, but hopefully our guys will be focused. To me being sloppy is pre-snap penalties, lining up off sides, delay of game--that type thing.

You're going to have penalties during the game, but you hope they're full speed and not pre-snap."

Answering some questions about game-day details, Shula said he would use a headset on the sidelines to communicate with the coaches upstairs. There are still some decision yet to be made, but Offensive Coordinator Dave Rader and Defensive Backs Coach Chris Ball will be in the press box. Joe Kines, Sparky Woods and Charlie Harbison will be on the sideline.

Shula says he will be calling the plays, but "everyone will be right there. I like to ask the coaches in advance for suggestions. What run do you like here? That kind of thing. You don't necessarily use everything, but it sparks your thought process."

Contrary to some coaches with NFL backgrounds, Shula will not enter Saturday's game with a set number of offensive plays, scripted in advance.

"Except for the first one," he added.

Shula said Alabama's secondary had done a nice job preparing for the season, but they would have their work cut out for them against a dangerous South Florida offense. "They protect the passer well," he said. "Timing-wise they get the play off quickly. They use the no-huddle effectively. They think fast and spread the ball around. Our guys will be tested Saturday. We've got to be ready. If they make a play, then move on."

Shula again had praise for South Florida's quarterback, Ronnie Banks. But he noted that it would be his first collegiate start, which could work in Bama's favor. "He's a good athlete," Shula said. "He can make plays on his own. When that happens, we've got to keep our focus and move on. Our defense has got to get pressure and keep him in the pocket. When he does complete passes, we've got to break on the football."


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