"We had a really good practice today," Mike Shula said. "The execution was as good as we have had in probably a couple of weeks. The tempo was real good and upbeat."
The Alabama Crimson Tide football team worked for two hours in helmets and shoulder pads Wednesday afternoon as preparations continue for the Saturday's Southeastern Conference game with No. 11 Georgia at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia.
"We actually finished a little bit earlier and then had a chance to back through some things," Shula said. "That's how well we were moving along today. Hopefully we can get another day like this again tomorrow and it pays off for us on Saturday."
Still recovering from a separated left shoulder injury which he aggravated last week versus Arkansas, quarterback Brodie Croyle was dressed out for today's workout. He took some snaps from center, but backup Spencer Pennington got the majority of work.
Shula commented, "Spencer took a lot of the reps (today). Brodie took a few reps and looked good in the reps he took. Spencer took most of them and had a nice day."
The Alabama-Georgia game will be televised nationally by CBS Sports with kickoff set for 3:34 p.m. (EST) from Athens. This will be Alabama's first road game of the 2003 season after playing its first five games at home, including four straight in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Croyle actually played the entire second half of last week's game, after having the separated shoulder popped back into place at halftime. "You want him to get as many snaps as possible, but we've got to get Spencer ready," Shula said.
Asked if Pennington's increased reps were due to Croyle's physical limitations or just a desire by the coaches to cover their bases, Shula replied, "It was probably a little bit of both. We definitely want Spencer to get as many reps as possible. Brodie needs some to get ready for the game.
"It's a trade-off, since we're not sure what will happen."
The next logical question was "Who will start Saturday?" but Shula wasn't ready to say. "I try to delay that as long as I can. Not because I'm trying to keep anything from you, but we want both Brodie and Spencer to prepare like they're going to start."
If Croyle can't go, then Pennington would get the start with redshirt freshman Brandon Avalos moving up to second string. "Brandon also got a few snaps, but it's tough," Shula said. "Right now Spencer needs as many reps as he can get. You try to mix everyone in, but it's hard."
As a team the Tide is nursing more than its share of injuries. Besides Croyle, defensive starters Derrick Pope and Antwan Odom were also injured last Saturday. Pope sprained his left ankle, while Odom sprained his knee.
Shula said both players practiced "a little bit. Derrick looked very good running. Antwan got a lot of work in early, but I'm not sure how much he did later. They're both coming along."
Saturday's game will be Bama's first experience in front of a hostile crowd, and Shula plans to work with crowd noise on Thursday. "We'll bring in the speakers for crowd noise tomorrow," he said. "We'll use them during our (two-minute) drill work. We don't want to do that too much, otherwise our ears will be tired."
Starting punter Bo Freelend had a tough game versus the Razorbacks, averaging little more than 30 yards per kick. At both Tuesday and Wednesday practices, senior Will Fountain took repeated reps punting during special teams work. But Shula made clear his support of Freelend. "Bo's our punter," he stated firmly. "We work guys every week, but he's our No. 1 guy. We're getting some other guys reps."
Reserve halfback Kenneth Darby missed the Arkansas game with bruised ribs. He's better, but still may not play. "He's doing okay," Shula said of Darby. "But with a three-back rotation, he's got to be 100 percent.
"We still feel good about (junior halfback) Ray Hudson. He got a good bit of work last week. We'll play the guy we feel best about this week. That way hopefully he'll be able to get in a little bit of a groove."
True freshman Tyrone Prothro saw his first collegiate action last week, prompting speculation that he may see action returning kicks. A prep sprint champion, Prothro was a kick-return specialist in high school.
But Shula seemed to throw cold water on that idea. "We've worked Shaud Williams, Triandos Luke, Brandon Brooks, and Lance Taylor at the job in practice. (The depth chart) would probably be in that order. Brandon has done a really nice job the last couple of weeks catching the ball.
"Shaud is our No. 1 guy."
Georgia will enter Saturday's game with a record of 3-1 (0-1 in the SEC). Alabama's season count stands at 2-3, 1-1 in conference. Alabama has lost two straight games. Georgia had an open date last week and has not played since dropping a 17-10 decision at LSU September 20. The loss at LSU snapped Georgia's eight-game winning streak dating back to the 2002 season.