Shula Discusses Spring Practice

When Alabama begins spring football practice Saturday, there will be a couple of surprises, including the pleasant surprise that quarterback Brodie Croyle is further along than expected. "He's not 100 per cent, but he is further along than we thought he would be," said Head Coach Mike Shula as he discussed spring training Wednesday.

Coach Mike Shula announced a couple of position changes and defections and said that Bama would concentrated on fundamentals this spring. Alabama's 15 days of practice will conclude with the annual A-Day Game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 20, at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

As previously reported by, Shula confirmed that Kyle Tatum and Taylor Britt would move from defensive tackle to the offensive line and that Evan Mathis would move from right tackle to left guard. The coach also said that another safety has left the team. It had been reported earlier that Chris James would no longer be on the squad. Wednesday Shula announced that Eric Johnson had also left "for personal reasons." That leaves Roman Harper, who is moving from strong safety to safety ("Our safeties are interchangeable," Shula said) with Thurman Ward and Carlos Andrews the other scholarshipped candidates.

In addition to Croyle being ready to take part in spring work, Shula said that quarterback Spencer Pennington is also further along than had been expected. Still, Pennington is not likely to take part in much team work in the spring. And, Shula emphasized, the quarterbacks will be protected ("unlike when I played," he noted caustically, certainly remembering the broken ankle he suffered in spring practice as a freshman at Alabama). He said that Mark Guillon, a sophomore transfer from Miami who sat out last season, will get a good look at quarterback, as will walk-on freshman Mike Machen, one of three former professional baseball players who are walk-ons with the Tide.

"Brodie is our number one quarterback," Shula said. "Now, no position is set in stone, but in my opinion it's going to be tough for anyone to come in an take that job. Now, there are things Brodie must do to be better, but that is true of every player at every position."

He said, "Brodie has such good delivery. He does so many things well. We'll work with him on his drops and footwork. And we just want him to be more consistent."

Guillon, the California native who played briefly at Miami in 2002, then transferred to Alabama last August, is an intriguing player. Shula has seen him only on the scout team and in a few "Sunday scrimmages," which were held a few times during the season for those players not seeing Saturday action. "He made a good first impression," Shula said. "He's smooth, has good balance, good arm strength, footwork, and a quarterback mindset. But it's early. He should get a lot of reps, though."

In addition to Machen, Scoop McDowell, a redshirt freshman, and Damien Jones, who entered school in January, are former professional baseball players participating this spring. Shula said that he did not know how much help Jones would be because he is not yet in good football shape.

Shula said the move of Taylor Britt and Kyle Tatum to the offensive line was in part because of the depth situation–good depth at defensive tackle with Jeremy Clark, Anthony Bryant, and Dominic Lee, and lack of depth on the offensive line with Wesley Britt unable to practice, Dennis Alexander having graduated, and Justin Smiley electing to by-pass his senior season in order to enter the NFL draft.

"It's also about trying to put the best 22 players on the field," Shula said. "We think Kyle Tatum can be one of those 22. And he's got the frame to play offensive tackle. And he's athletic."

Although Alabama still has a lack of depth at a number of areas, Shula said, "Ideally, we'll come out of spring practice with our team set. Then the (incoming) freshmen will be icing. But realistically, we played five true freshmen last year and we might have to play more this year."

Shula said, "I'm excited about this spring. With the end of recruiting we stepped up the intensity in our winter workouts. We're doing things a little more football-oriented, we're getting up up a little earlier, and they are a little sore, which is good. This is the foundation that is going to help them in the fall."

He said spring practice had been moved up early in order to have four consecutive weeks of work without the interruption of The University's spring break. "The day before spring break they usually lose concentration, and it's tough to get them back up after spring break," he said. "We couldn't waste those days."

The Tide coach said the spring would concentrate on the fundamentals of football, including stance, alignment, footwork, and assignments. He noted that since he and other members of the coaching staff came in after spring practice last year, this would be the first time to concentrate on those areas. "We preached them last fall, but we were having to put in a game plan. We won't have as many plays this spring. We'll concentrate on the basics. This will set a foundation so those things become second nature when the fall comes. We'll still work on them in the fall, but in the fall we have to work on game plans."

As an example, he said that wide receivers would not have a lot of routes to learn in the spring, but they would be drilled in the fundamentals of those routes, Working with the quarterbacks in individual drills will put the receivers and quarterbacks "on the same page." He said much of the spring would be involved in so-called individual work, such as quarterbacks working with wide receivers or quarterbacks working with tight ends or quarterbacks working with running backs.

Shula said that a number of players who were on the scout team last fall will have to start new learning and that things would go slow in spring practice. "We've asked them to come in with the attitude that we've all got a lot to learn," he said.

The Tide coach is particularly excited about two senior players who did not play last fall and who will be in uniform this spring. Defensive end Todd Bates was ineligible for the season because of an inadvertent use of a banned substance and linebacker Cornelius Wortham missed the season with an elbow injury. Shula thinks both will be exceptional leaders.

He said Bates "has been great since the first day we got here. He knew he wasn't going to play last year, and he did a great job on the scout team."

Shula said Wortham will move from strongside to middle linebacker to provide depth with returning starter Freddie Roach. The Tide coach said the move of Wortham is partly because DeMeco Ryans and Juwan Garth have performed well at outside spots and partly because the Tide needs to be sure to have a "stopper to take on a big blocker like a fullback or guard in the middle of the defensive front." He said the linebackers would all learn the basics of all positions.

Another player who will eventually return is wide receiver Antonio Carter, who has been granted a sixth year of eligibility after having missed the last two seasons with a leg injury. Shula said Carter would not get work this spring in hopes of having him 100 per cent healthy by next fall.

Wide receiver is an area where there will be new faces next fall. There were five seniors on last year's team. Only Tyrone Prothro among returning wide receiver candidates had appreciable playing time last year. "He's exciting when he gets the ball," Shula said, "but we've got to work with him to make sure he gets it more."

"Everyone's talking about the receivers we recruited, but we're looking at the ones we already have," Shula said. He mentioned redshirt freshman Matt Caddell, and the coach said that junior Brandon Brooks "has had a great off-season."

Shula said he expects the halfback position vacated by Shaud Williams to be "shared" this spring. He noted that Ray Hudson is the senior and that Hudson had done some things well and that Kenneth Darby had been limited by injuries last fall. Asked about Tim Castille, the Tide's starting fullback last fall as a freshman, Shula laughed and asked, "Did Tim ask you to ask that question." But, he admitted, Castille would get a "look" at halfback, but would not be relieved of his fullback duties.

"There are a lot of areas where the players are going to have to be flexible enough to play more than one position," he said.

Shula said special teams would get a lot of attention in the spring "but not 11 on 11. We will spend more time on it, though. We'll start out with the ones we ended up with (placekicker Brian Bostick and punter Bo Freelend) and we look for a kickoff man since (the graduated) Kyle Robinson did most of that."

Although practices are not open to the public, there will be a couple of Saturday scrimmages at Bryant-Denny Stadium, in addition to the A-Day Game at 2:30 p.m. on March 20, and those scrimmages will be public.

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