"We had a shorter practice today--a lot shorter, actually, just because we worked harder Sunday and we worked them hard yesterday," Mike Shula said following Wednesday's workout. "We want to make sure everybody is feeling fresh for Saturday. Thursday is normally a short practice. We may even cut it shorter."
Sunday's session focused primarily on perfection, at least as close to perfection as football gets. Over and over again the coaches put the team through its paces, demanding that every repetition be error-free.
"We've had two good days of reps," Shula said. "We got more reps in during practice, because we spent less time teaching in between plays, which results in more reps."
The ninety-minute workout Wednesday afternoon was in preparation for Saturday's nationally televised game with the No. 22 Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama's record stands at 3-5 (1-3 in the SEC). The Volunteers enter the game at 4-2, 2-2 in conference. The game will be shown on national television by CBS Sports. The kickoff is set for 2:34 p.m. (CDT).
Fans of both schools are getting worked up in anticipation of the showdown game, but Shula doesn't have to expend much effort motivating his players.
"There is a sense of urgency for two reasons," he said. "First, because of the way we played (last Saturday against Ole Miss), and that includes everybody, myself included. And it's Tennessee."
Traditionally Alabama's two biggest rivalry games have been against the in-state Tigers and versus Tennessee. "With these (players), you don't have to tell them," Shula said. "They know about this game, more so than a lot of our coaches. Myself included. I haven't been around. I've watched it on television, but I haven't been in (the game) in awhile."
Serving his first year as a head coach at Alabama, Shula's team has struggled to find success. But a victory over Tennessee would get things turned in the right direction. He commented, "Every year (the Tennessee game) is that way. We've found that momentum is up and down, but anytime you play and beat Tennessee, then you feel real good about yourself for a lot of reasons."
A players-only meeting Sunday afternoon gave the squad a chance to clear the air, and since then Shula and his staff have challenged the team to show more leadership. "Everybody feels that way," Shula said. "Hopefully we'll see some of that leadership show up on Saturday. You see it in a lot of different forms. Leadership can be shown in a lot of different ways. Not just vocally, but being accountable, being supportive.
"Sometimes when you lose games you find out who your leaders are, because that's when you need them the most. That's also when it's toughest to lead."
For the season Alabama is averaging only 18.2 yards per kickoff return, while its opponents average 22.4. Bama's longest kickoff return of the year has only gone 32 yards.
Ray Hudson and Ramzee Robinson have handled the job almost exclusively, but this week the Tide coaches have looked at other options. "Ray and Ramzee are still our starters, but we could look at Tyrone Prothro back there," Shula said. "And Charlie Peprah has been getting some reps.
"We've got to get some field position. We haven't had a big kickoff return all year. I don't know if our longest one has even been out to the 40 (yardline). It would be nice to get it. Of course we've had a lot of kicks against us into the endzone, too. We've seen some good kickers, but we've got to go create some good field position. That's one of those big plays we're looking for."
Shula said earlier in the week that they would give other kickers a look at kicking off. Wednesday starter Kyle Robinson, Michael Ziifle (who handled the job part of the time last season) and Jamie Christensen took reps in the role. But Robinson still appears to lead.
Saturday's contest will be Bama's ninth straight game without an off week, and fatigue is a concern. With that in mind Shula said the coaches would be looking to substitute even more.
"We want to make sure guys are fresh," he said. "We've done it at some positions, but we want to do it at more. It could be at running back, wide receiver--those two positions come to mind and defensive back."
On the injury front Alabama is in better shape than in recent weeks. Tailback Kenneth Darby sat out Wednesday's practice with a slight shoulder separation and is not expected to play Saturday. Quarterback Spencer Pennington is also out.
After suffering a blow to the head versus Ole Miss, wide receiver Triandos Luke did not practice Tuesday. But he did take part in Wednesday's session. "I think he'll be ready," Shula said. "We need to be cautious and make sure he's 100 percent, but he did get reps today."