Recruiting, then spring, then the off season

Contrary to what many fans assumed, Mike Shula's Thursday informal press briefing was not called to announce any earth-shattering news. But the Tide Head Coach did pass along some interesting information.

Meeting with the beat writers just after the completion of the football season is actually a long-standing tradition, dating back to Paul Bryant. After answering several questions for the television reporters, Shula sat down to talk over some points with the writers.

Obviously the letter from the NCAA, guaranteeing that Alabama would face no further institutional penalties--no matter what may or may not come of the on-going legal situation in Memphis--was the first topic of discussion.

Shula said it was good "to put a period" to the end of that unwelcome sentence. He related that the Alabama assistant coaches applauded in the meeting when the news was passed along. "They were the ones that have had to deal with the lies and rumors on the recruiting trail," Shula said. "I think we're going to laminate copies of the letter and let them carry it with them."

Shown with Brodie Croyle during the season, Mike Shula said yesterday that he expects the quarterback to be able to participate somewhat in spring drills. (Barry Fikes photo)

It's hardly a secret that recruiters from rival schools have been hammering Alabama with the NCAA investigation for years now. Even after the sanctions were handed down, less-than scrupulous rival coaches have been telling recruits "You don't want to go to Alabama. They're still going to get the death penalty."

As Shula noted, now Alabama's coaches can prove that point to be the blatant lie that it always has been.

On the subject of Ben Pollard, Shula stated firmly that the former Tide Strength Coach had done an outstanding job while at Alabama. Shula explained that his decision to replace Pollard with Seattle Seahawks strength coach Kent Johnston was simply a matter of hiring one of the very best coaches in all of football to come work at Alabama.

Shula said that Coach Johnston was flying in to Tuscaloosa Thursday night and would be on the job Friday morning.

Asked directly by the media, Shula said he had no plans to make any further changes to the Alabama staff. His statement was taken to include both on- and off-the-field personnel. Shula acknowledged that decision was evidence that he was very comfortable with both the ability and loyalty of those men and women currently working with him.

"In the last 7-8 months I've gotten to know (these people) very well," Shula said. "The way everyone has worked has been excellent, right on through recruiting. Consistency is what this team needs right now.

"We've got a lot invested in each other. A lot has happened to help motivate us."

Shula related that quarterbacks Brodie Croyle and Spencer Pennington, both of whom underwent surgery to repair separated shoulders, were progressing well. He expects Croyle to be involved somewhat in spring drills, including some 7-on-7 work. Though Shula does not expect Croyle to take part in full team work. Pennington's rehab will take somewhat longer, but the junior quarterback should do "some light throwing" during spring.

His suspension now over, Todd Bates is understandably anxious to get back at it this fall.

Shula acknowledged that back-ups Marc Guillon and Mike Machen would have a great opportunity to learn and prove what they can do in the spring.

Tight end David Cavan (knee) and offensive tackle Wesley Britt (leg) are also ahead of schedule, but neither is expected to take part in spring drills.

Shula confirmed that receiver Antonio Carter had been notified by the NCAA that he could play a sixth year, completing his four years of eligibility. However, Carter is still recovering from his latest surgery on his leg. Shula doesn't expect him to be ready by spring, but looks forward to his return in the fall.

Linebacker Brooks Daniels, who dropped out of school for personal and medical reasons back last summer, is not yet enrolled in school. Shula didn't say much, but he indicated that Daniels would probably wait until summer to re-enroll. Academic eligibility issues are driving that decision.

Defensive end Todd Bates and linebacker Cornelius Wortham, two senior defenders who were forced to miss all of the 2003 season, are both "raring to go," according to Shula. The Tide head coach also confirmed that Anthony Bryant was still a member of the team and would take part in spring drills.

Shula confirmed that to his knowledge only Justin Smiley, Antwan Odom and Ahmad Childress had been lost to the NFL draft. When asked about all three athletes' readiness for the NFL, he declined to comment.

Construction on the Football Complex Annex is continuing. Shula said they hope to move in completely in "about two weeks." Shula noted that as with every construction project, you wished it would be over right now. But they would be patient. He did say that it was plenty far enough along to be an impressive asset during official visits this month.

Shula said that despite the change in strength coaches, he didn't anticipate any major problems in the design of weight room floor space or the ordering of equipment. "Maybe some minor things, but not that much," was how he put it. He was smiling when he said it, but Shula claimed that the new, extremely impressive facility had no effect on Johnston's decision to return to Alabama. "I guess you'd have to ask him that," Shula commented.

Spring practice is set to begin on Saturday, February 21. The A-Day scrimmage on March 20 will end the practice period. Shula said they would try to strike a balance between physical play and also protecting against injury, but he noted that the earlier dates gave the athletes plenty of time to recover from minor bumps and bruises.

Shula said he was aware of the criticism that has been directed at his staff, but that there were no further changes being planned.

"You can tell Coach Rader that the quarterbacks will not be ‘live,'" Shula said smiling. He then reminded the writers that as a freshman quarterback he broke his ankle during spring training.

Members of the media will have at least some access to spring training sessions, though Shula gave no details. No mention was made of the general public.

In private conversations and even commenting publicly on other subjects, Shula has indicated that he wanted the intensity level of Bama's off-season workouts to ratchet up this year. Choosing his words carefully yesterday, he said that this year's sessions would "be rigorous."

Asked about the now-completed bowl games, Shula couldn't resist reminding reporters that he told an AP writer that he believed the Sugar Bowl presented a match-up between two stellar defenses, but that LSU's ability to run the ball might give them the edge.

One writer asked Shula about his priority this spring.

"You mean after February 4 (National Signing Day)?" Shula replied rhetorically, "because until then it's all about recruiting."


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