Tide getting healthy

Alabama has played eight consecutive games without a break, but Tide Head Coach Mike Shula indicated that his team was in pretty good shape injury-wise for Saturday's game. <br><br>"If this isn't the healthiest we've been in over a month, it's real close," Shula said.

Other than the players already announced as being out for the year, tailback Kenneth Darby and quarterback Spencer Pennington are the only two Tide athletes definitely out for Saturday's game. Darby slightly separated a shoulder last week versus Ole Miss. Pennington separated his shoulder against Georgia. Pennington did confirm after practice that he would not require surgery and hoped to be back by Mississippi State.

Fullback Le'Ron McClain, limited in recent weeks by a jammed big toe, is "as healthy as he's been in awhile," Shula said. So far McClain has the only carry by a Bama fullback this year. "Tim Castille (the Tide's other fullback) reminded us of that," Shula joked.

The annual Tennessee-Alabama game will be televised nationally by CBS Sports with kickoff slated for 2:34 p.m. (CDT) on the Alabama campus. Handling the announcing duties for CBS Sports are Verne Lundquist (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge (analyst) and Jill Arrington (sideline). The game will also be aired on the 80-plus station Crimson Tide Sports Network with Eli Gold (play-by-play), Kenny Stabler (color analyst) and Tom Roberts (sidelines) describing the action.

Alabama enters the game 3-5 (1-3 in the SEC). No. 22 ranked Tennessee is 4-2, 2-2 in conference.

"It was a normal Thursday practice," Shula said afterwards. "We practiced harder on Sunday and Tuesday this week than normal. We cut yesterday's practice short, so today's was about normal (in length). We had good work."

At this point in the season Shula is being careful not to tire his squad out. "It's important to get the guys off their feet and get rested," he said. "48 hours from now we'll be wrapping up the fourth quarter."

Shula named Shaud Williams (offense), Derrick Pope (defense) and Lance Taylor (Special Teams) as captains for Saturday's game. Normally Bama's starting strongside linebacker, Pope is also recovering from injury, in his case a sprained ankle.

"That's a pretty good sign for Derrick, as far as his health and playing time are concerned," Shula said, talking about Pope's designation as game captain.

Shula took the squad inside the Crisp Indoor Practice Facility for the last part of practice, where speakers were set up blasting crowd noise. He commented, "We used it for a couple of reasons. It's going to be loud Saturday. Both bands are going to be there. We wanted everyone to be ready. We piped in both Alabama and Tennessee songs."

Playing Alabama noise might seem odd, since the home crowd always quiets down when its team is on offense. But Shula pointed out that the defense has to communicate as well. "Defensively we turned the sound up, because a lot of times at home games when you're on defense and your crowd is into it, then they're the ones that have trouble communicating. We wanted to simulate that for them, too."

Earlier in the week Shula said that he was not happy with Bama's production on kickoff returns. Ramzee Robinson and Ray Hudson are still slated to handle the job, but true freshman Tyrone Prothro is also a possibility. "He's got a chance," Shula said. "He might get an opportunity to return at some point. I can't guarantee that, though."

As SEC fans know all too well, intense rivalry games can sometimes get out of hand the week before, with talk-radio hosts and partisan columnists fanning the flames. Thursday's bit of excitement involved a Knoxville "commentator" calling this year's Bama team "soft."

But Shula said little of that actually filters down to the team. "Our guys have done a nice job of focusing in on our assignments. Of course I might be the last one to hear about that type thing. There is just so much to do in such a short time. As coaches it's hard for us to get involved in any of that. Sometimes that's good, sometimes it's bad."

Coaches will pay attention to the media looking for information on injuries and that type thing, but otherwise they don't have the time. Shula explained, "As a head coach you have to be aware of information that may help you make decisions or might affect the game. But you've got to concentrate on being a head coach instead of concentrating on what people are saying."

No surprise to anyone, once again Tennessee is sound in the kicking game. Their punter, Dustin Colquitt, leads the SEC and ranks fifth in the nation, averaging 46.1 yards per kick.

Shula commented, "Early in the week as a staff we talk about all three phases of the game. He was the first thing Coach Ungerer (Alabama's special teams coordinator) talked about. The first words out of his mouth were that ‘their most dangerous weapon on special teams is their punter.'"

Shula said the Tide would go right at Colquitt. "We'll try to put pressure on him, and that may affect him. With our team, pressure is something you have to deal with. We've had several blocks and a couple of returns for touchdowns this year. We've got to continue putting pressure on him."

Bama counters with its own good punter in Bo Freelend, who averaged more than 52 yards per kick last week against Ole Miss. "Hopefully, we can make (Colquitt) punt backed up," Shula said. "He usually does that to you. If that happens, we've got to do a good job making first downs and recreating field position."


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