Tide Experiments In Spring

Alabama Head Football Coach Mike Shula understands that spring is a good time for experimentation as he and his coaching staff work to find the best players for each position. The Crimson Tide reached the two-thirds mark of spring training with the completion of the 10th practice Tuesday, and an experiment was among the most notable aspects.

Ramzee Robinson, the sophomore cornerback who last season was used primarily in nickel and dime packages as the fifth or sixth defensive back, has had an impressive spring. On Tuesday he was working with the first unit at left cornerback. Returning starting left cornerback Charlie Peprah got a look at strong safety, which has been an area of concern for Alabama.

"We wanted to get a look at that combination, just a look," said Coach Mike Shula. "Before spring practice is over, there will be several other combinations that we want to look at as we try to get the best 22 players on the field. It's not set in stone. This is spring ball."

While the good play of Robinson was critical to the experiment, Shula said that Peprah has qualities that are important in a safety, naming "Experience, a good feel for the game, confidence, he knows what to do, he has the ability to change direction, and he's big enough to deliver a hit."

Safety has been an area of concern with only one experienced man, Roman Harper, returning. Last year's starter at free safety, Charles Jones, has graduated, and two scholarshipped players expected to work at safety, Chris James and Eric Johnson, left the team. Bama has been working with Thurman Ward and Carlos Andrews and non-scholarshipped Bryan Kilpatrick at safety.

There had been some speculation that wide receiver Damien Jones, the former baseball player who is in college as a 24-year-old freshman, might get a look at safety, but Jones remained with the offense Tuesday. Jones had been used almost not at all in last Saturday's scrimmage.

Shula noted that another experiment is the use of 2003 starting fullback Tim Castille at tailback with fellow sophomore Le'Ron McClain at fullback. "We're going to give them more reps because that will be a combination for us," Shula said. Although Ray Hudson appears to be firmly entrenched as the number one tailback, the use of Castille (5-11, 231) and McClain (6-1, 240) together is a power combination.

Tuesdays' practice was in cool and very windy conditions. The Tide was in full gear for the two-and-a-half-hour workout. The Tide will practice Thursday and Saturday of this week and then Tuesday and Thursday of next week, with the A-Day game scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 20. Bama will have its second scrimmage of the spring at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday.

Bama is holding quarterbacks Brodie Croyle and Spencer Pennington out of contact work. Both are recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Shula noted that "Brodie (the returning starter) needs the work as much as anyone. He got a lot of reps in the seven-on-seven we did at the scrimmage last Saturday and we'll do that again." Croyle and Pennington worked between the controlled scrimmage sessions, operating with wide receivers and backs against linebackers and defensive backs.

Reviewing Saturday's scrimmage, Shula said, "there were some good things. We had some good plays and some not so good plays, on both sides. We had four for five plays that took away from the good things. We had four snaps over the quarterback and about four turnovers. You can have 50 good plays and one bad one that takes it all away. We're trying to get the guys to do the right thing all the time, and I think they understand the urgency."

He added, "But there were some positives. Marc Guillon did well at quarterback. The backs ran hard. And I think the defense is coming together."

Shula said, "We talked before practice about having just six practices left and making the best of them. Today was one of those six and we needed to focus on getting better."

In answer to a question, Shula admitted that it is a concern that three scholarshipped tight ends–David Cavan, Clint Johnston and Greg McLain–are being held out of most or all work this spring because of injuries. But, the coach said, "it's an opportunity for the other guys. We work some other combinations. But we like a tight end in the offense.

One area of good depth is middle linebacker, where former two-year starting strongside linebacker Cornelius Wortham is battling returning starter Freddie Roach. "It's competitive, which is what we want," Shula said. "Both are going to play. They are similar. I think Cornelius may be a little bigger. That position needs toughness to take on big guards and lead blocks by fullbacks."

Outside linebacker DeMeco Ryans returned to practice Tuesday, apparently much improved after missing a couple of days with what was reported as a sprained ankle. But though he took part in all drills, Ryans didn't run with the team afterwards.

After recent hernia surgery, offensive lineman Travis West was back at practice walking gingerly. He is out for the remainder of the spring. Defensive tackle Dominic Lee, also out for the rest of the spring after ankle surgery, was on crutches and watching practice and was able to take part in some conditioning work.

No official announcement has been made, but strong unofficial indications are that wide receiver Scoop McDowell's brief fling with college football may be over. McDowell continues to miss practice, but Shula would say only, "We have no announcement."

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