Spring Football Underway

Alabama's football team couldn't have picked a nicer day to start spring football practice, and Crimson Tide Head Coach Mike Shula was generally pleased with things Saturday. The two-hour workout, under sunny skies and cool temperatures was the first of 15 spring practice dates. The A-Day game on March 20 will conclude spring training. There were 104 men out for the first day of practice, which was one of the days mandated as a non-contact day. The players were in sweatsuits and helmets.

"Number one, I think the effort was good," said Alabama Coach Mike Shula, who is overseeing his first spring practice after having taken the Alabama job last May. "This is a good group of guys. We've told them we want them to improve themselves this spring in order to earn positions and playing time."

Shula said, "We've got a long way to go in a lot of areas. We have so many guys who need to learn what we're doing in all three phases. And learn how we're doing it."

Although Alabama returns its quarterbacks from last season, that is still the position of greatest interest. That's partly because both Brodie Croyle and Spencer Pennington had off-season shoulder surgery and were expected to be limited. Shula noted, "Brodie didn't look very limited today. He went pretty hard today and threw the ball well. Of course, it wasn't a contact day. We'll have to be smart with him. We will limit him on scrimmage days."

Pennington, whose surgery was on his throwing shoulder, was held out of part of the drills. David Rader, Bama's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said, "Spencer is so competitive we have to watch him so he doesn't try to cut loose. He wanted to throw more, but he had plenty of throws. He's doing well, but he doesn't have all his arm strength yet. We want to bring him along."

Shula said Marc Guillon, a sophomore transfer from Miami, and Mike Machen, a former professional baseball player, are also getting looks at quarterback. "They have a lot of learning to do," said Shula.

Rader noted, "Marc has never worked in this offense before. He did soe things in our Sunday scrimmages last fall, buI think we only put in six plays for them."

He said there were a number of players in that category. "We have a lot of guys who haven't had this," the coach said. "This is all new to them." Those are the players who were scout team performers last fall.

But Shula had said prior to the start of practice, and reiterated Saturday, that he wanted all the players to go into spring practice with the idea of getting better. He said one of the goals of the spring would be to identify those "who are going to be the guys we are going to be able to count on. And then we have to make them feel good about themselves by giving them plenty of work."

He said the Tide would also attempt to "develop some depth. And we need to get consistency of execution. We can't have five doing it right. We have to have 11 doing it right."

The Tide's offensive line, minus three starters, "was kind of ragged, as expected," Shula said, "but not from effort. There are guys competing at new positions and we'll just have to see how they progress. Kyle (Tatum) and Taylor (Britt) are coming from the defensive side, and they'll get a good look to see how they fit."

As he had said prior to the start of practice, there is a heavy emphasis on fundamentals. "Before we got into team work, we spent a long time on fundamentals," Shula said. "We had a lot of individual work. We need that to carry over. But when we got into competitive situations, we lost a little of that consistency."

A non-contact practice features passing game work, and one area Alabama needs to find performers is at wide receiver. Last year's Alabama team featured five wide receivers who were seniors. Sophomore Tyrone Prothro is the only returning receiver who had appreciable playing time last year. Shula said he and redshirt freshmen Matt Caddell "did some nice things, but they still have a lot to do."

Wide receiver Antonio Carter, who has not played because of injury the past two seasons, but who has earned a sixth year of eligibility, did not practice.

Rader said from an offensive standpoint that it was a "mixed bag. We left the ball on the ground too much and we had too many missed assignments. But that means we have plenty of room for improvement.

"But the effort was good. We had a commitment to finish; there wasn't any dragging, even when we didn't execute. And I was pleased with the retention from last fall. Those who were involved in the fall are comfortable with the terminology."

Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines said he, too, was pleased with the carryover from last fall. "We're way ahead of where we were when we went into two-a-days last August," he said.

One area of concern on defense is safety, where only Roman Harper has experience at either strong safety or weak safety. Kines said there would be several experiments this spring, but said it was possible that it would be next fall, when four potential safety candidates arrive with the recruiting class, before the safety positions would be firmed up.

At linebacker he said Cornelius Wortham, coming off an injury year, had a good day. He said Wortham would get some work at strongside linebacker, where he started in 2002, but that he would work primarily at middle linebacker, along with returning starter Freddie Roach. Kines said that Juke King also had a good day at middle linebacker. He said that outside linebacker Juwan Garth "has been blessed with a lot of ability."


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