First week of spring concludes

Practicing in front of hundreds of high school coaches on hand for the annual Coaches Clinic, the Crimson Tide started off a bit overanxious. But by the end of Saturday morning's workout the athletes had settled down.

Tide Head Coach Mike Shula commented, "Today completed our first week of practice. There were a few more people out here today with the Coaches Clinic. Some of the guys got a little bit more excited with the extra people."

Overall, Shula was pleased with the practice session.

"Towards the end of practice we settled into a nice rhythm and got some things done," Shula explained, "but early we were a little bit inconsistent, with some guys doing good things and some guys not. A lot of the people playing new positions today struggled during the early part of practice, but then settled down and did some good things."

The University of Alabama football team wrapped up its first week of practice in full pads at Drew-Thomas Field on Saturday. Bama's fifth practice included increased contact in individual and team drills.

"We had 13 plays of full tackling," Shula related. "We wanted to ease our way into it. We'll be doing full tackling a lot more from here on out. It's one more step toward making things completely like they are on Saturdays in the fall."

Matt Caddell and Tyrone Prothro have been Bama's best wideouts this spring.

Last season Shula wasn't always satisfied with his team's effort, and tackling is a target area for improvement this spring.

"There are a lot of things that you take for granted in practice, like a ball carrier being tackled when you (tag) him," Shula said. "But as we know there are a lot of broken tackles during the course of a game. We'll work on tackling from here on out, probably at least half the time during practice."

With Alabama desperately in need of players to step up at the wide receiver position, virtually every day Shula is asked about progress in that area.

"They're looking a little bit better," he acknowledged. "(If we played) right now the guys that would be out there would be Tyrone Prothro and Matt Caddell. We've got to get some other guys."

Prothro saw extensive playing time the last several games of 2003, but Caddell has yet to play a down of college football. "Matt had an even better day today," Shula revealed. "He's got a couple of (practice) days now in pads, so he's a little more comfortable with what he's doing.

"We've still got to find more guys when we go to our three- and four-wide-receiver sets."

Starting quarterback Brodie Croyle was held out of all action for the second day in a row, nursing a sore left shoulder. In his absence Spencer Pennington, Marc Guillon and Mike Machen took all the "live" snaps.

Shula assessed their play. "(The quarterbacks) were a little wild early on, but they settled down later. That was good."

Both Croyle and Pennington are mere weeks removed for surgery on their injured shoulders. But both have been able to take part in more spring work than expected. Shula talked about the importance of repetition at the position, but he also made clear how important it is to keep the two healthy.

"It helps both when they can participate. That position is just so hard to play without the physical repetitions. You need to see the looks and the speed of the game and how things are going to unfold.

"But we've got to be smart with both of those guys. You want to get them work, but you want to get them healthy for the season. That's the main thing."

For now the coaches will rely on the training staff to say when Croyle should return to practice. "We'll wait and see on Brodie till Tuesday," Shula said. "There is no sense to rush it now if he's sore. He's had a lot of good work the first week."

Shula explained that defensive tackle Anthony Bryant missed Saturday's practice for "personal reasons." Other sources indicated a member of Bryant's family is ill. Tight end Clint Johnston was on hand but not dressed out. "His is physical," Shula said. "Clint was injured a little bit. I don't know a whole lot, but it's not bad." Johnston is believed to have aggravated some shoulder "stingers" that have bothered him before.

Walk-on tight end Barrett Earnest got plenty of work today.

Shula listed Jeremy Clark, Mark Anderson, Freddie Roach and Cornelius Wortham as defenders that enjoyed a good practice. "Jeremy Clark has had two really good days," Shula said.

With Johnston sidelined, Alabama doesn't have a single scholarshipped tight end available for practice. Today walk-ons Barrett Earnest and Will Denniston took the snaps at tight end.

"It limits you a little bit," Shula acknowledged, "but we've got other personnel groupings. We use those at practice so we don't wear out the remaining tight ends."

The players will enjoy a mini-vacation, taking Sunday and Monday off before returning to the Thomas-Drew Practice Fields next Tuesday for a 2:45 p.m. session.

Shula commented, "We didn't condition after practice. We gave them that part off. They'll be back on Tuesday to work hard."

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