In his regular Tuesday press briefing, Mike Shula said that the Northern Illinois defense Alabama will face is second only to Oklahoma's thus far on the Tide schedule. And Shula said that Bama's defense will face a stiff assignment in trying to stop the running game of the Huskies.
Shula has great respect for Northern Illinois. He pointed out that Coach Joe Novak has done an excellent job of building the Huskies into a team that has been getting national recognition.
Shula said, "They will try to play ball control. They are committed to the run, unlike most teams we play." Shula said he is familiar with Northern Illinois' star running back Michael Turner from when Shula was an assistant coach with the Miami Dolphins. "I think he's an (future) NFL back from what the scouts and even some of the coaches were saying about him," Shula said. "He's got good speed and he's bigger than most people think, around 230. They do a nice job offensively, and it's geared around Michael. They don't try to hide it. They have a guy who can pound you and he also has speed on the corner, and he's got quickness to make guys miss and to get the ball in the end zone. Each week we've faced some guys that are dangerous in that at any time they can take it into the end zone. And here's another week"
The Tide coach said that the men who will be charged with stopping Turner have shown improvement. Shula said that the defensive line has been getting better. He noted that Baa has "speed guys" on the ends in Antwan Odom and Nautyn McKay-Loescher and "I hope they don't take this wrong, but Anthony (Bryant), Ahmad (Childress), and Jeremy (Clark) aren't speed guys; they are more power pressures up the middle. They do a nice job of occupying the linemen so our linebackers who also have speed can get freed up to make plays on running backs." And while Shula said his defensive line has good size, he said the second line of defense–the linebackers–is made up of relatively smaller players.
Shula said that Northern Illinois' defense is "quick and aggressive. Their linebackers are fearless taking on a lead block and up front they are very quick. Their coverage is good. They do a nice job of mixing in the blitzes; they make you try to hit a moving target."
Shula said Alabama's players will know they have to play well "as soon as they look at the tapes. When they see how Northern Illinois played against Maryland–not just that they beat Maryland, but how they played against them. And how they played against Wisconsin."
This will be Alabama's fourth game of the year and the Crimson Tide plays nine in a row before getting an open date. Injuries are beginning to be a factor. said Shula, "I think it's a little bit of a concern, but it's kind of like a lot of other things this year. Those are the cards we are dealt, so you go into that with the frame of mind that we are going to do whatever it takes. Whatever the situation is, whatever the team is, we come in and play. We've got to find a way to prepare, stay focused, continue our level of effort and energy and continue to improve. And do that with the injury factor, guys getting nicked up a little bit and having other guys come in. So far everything we've asked our guys to do they've responded well. We've got some work to do improvement-wise with what we're doing in all three phases and now we'll have to add some of these guys that are going to come in and play for us that maybe haven't played early in the season."
Shula said he hopes that freshman fullback Tim Castille, who missed last week's game with a knee injury, might be ready to play this week. He seemed less confident freshman LéRon McClain, who started in place of Castille, would be able to play. Castille suffered a sprained toe in Alabama's win over Kentucky. If neither can play, Shula said the position can be manned by Clint Johnston, who is more a tight end type; Greg McLain, Bama's starting fullback last year and who had been moved to tight end this year; or "our third receiver." Dre Fulgham was listed as an "F"-back on Bama's early depth charts.
Also on the injury front, Shula was not specific on the status of wide receiver Antonio Carter or linebacker Cornelius Wortham. Carter has seen no playing time and very little practice time this year. He did not play last year because of continuing pain from the after-effects of surgery on a stress fracture in his leg. Wortham, Bama's starting strongside linebacker last year, suffered a dislocated elbow in pre-season practice. Shula said both are still "week-to-week" and that both are making progress. He said, "We need to get them healthy. Then we'll make a decision on whether to redshirt them or play them."
As always, Shula is more concerned about Alabama preparing well than he is about the opposition. He said he would be talking to Bama players "about are that we've seen how they've reacted going into the first game. We've seen how they've reacted after a tough loss against Oklahoma. Now we want to see how we're going to react and see if we can put two wins together back-to-back. And also we'll talk to the players about just continuing to improve, each guy individually on his own game. We're still becoming more familiar with what we are doing in all phases. It's kind of an on-going learning process this year more than ever because of the circumstances. Those are the things we need to get ourselves ready for week in and week out and that's going to start today with our players."
Two senior players came in for special mention this week. Regarding halfback Shaud Williams, Shula said, "I think it's going to be tough for any back to carry the ball thirty times every week, so that's something we definitely have to look at. As a coach you are always looking for those comfort blankets, and Shaud's one of them. You get a little nervous when he's not on the field in whatever phase, special teams or offense, so we put him in there at the end where we felt we wanted to preserve the lead and keep the ball away from those guys. They'd just scored and we wanted to somehow keep our defense off the field and keep their weapons off the field. So to do that Shaud's a big factor in our offense. It's nice to be able to run the ball like that and have a lot of carries, but we've got some other guys in there, too, that we want to get work with, Ray Hudson and Ken Darby."
As for linebacker Derrick Pope, Shula said, "He's good. He's a little like Shaud in his toughness and his passion for the game. We have a lot of guys like that, but Shaud and Derrick stand out."
Overall, Shula said, "A lot of players on this team are proud to play for The University of Alabama. That's the way it was when I was here, so I'm not surprised. They want to show people that Alabama deserves respect."