"We talked about putting our best foot forward," Mike Shula said, following Thursday's last practice day of spring. "Even though it's March and it's just spring practice, we want to go out there in front of our fans and look sharp."
In the past fans have come to expect the Tide to divide the squad up into two relatively equal units, and then proceed to play a "game," complete with clock, statistics and a scoreboard. But severely reduced numbers due to NCAA sanctions coupled with numerous injuries have forced Shula to adjust.
He explained, "Our A-Day game is going to be somewhere between a game and a scrimmage. We won't have all of our packages in for any of the three phases (offense, defense or special teams), but we'll let the guys go play."
According to Shula, fans in the stands can make all the difference in a player's performance.
"We'll see who can come out a little bit better with a few more people watching," he said. "I think we got better from the first scrimmage to the second. Hopefully we'll get better from last Saturday to tomorrow."
In one sense fans will be able to keep score, but no attempt will be made to equalize talent on the respective squads.
"It'll be ones against ones and twos against twos the whole day," Shula revealed.
Besides the fact that Alabama is barely two-deep on the offensive line, quarterbacks--or rather a lack of healthy signal callers--will force Shula to stay away from a completely separate two-team format.
Fourth-stringer Mike Machen left the squad last week, leaving Alabama with just one healthy and fully practiced QB.
"Marc Guillon will play for both sides, and we'll mix in some with (redshirt freshman walk-on) Zach Golson," Shula said. "We'll have the clock and we'll try to do things as much as we can like a game, except the quarterbacks won't be live."
Golson only started taking regular reps with the varsity last Tuesday, so he frankly doesn't know all the plays. And of course Bama's top two quarterbacks, Brodie Croyle and Spencer Pennington, are still recovering from shoulder surgery and will be held out of all 11-on-11 work.
"Brodie and Spencer will get in but not with the full team," Shula revealed. "We're going to do some 7-on-7 stuff early, in between halves and at the end (of the A-Day scrimmage). That will make it look more like a scrimmage. But we need to get those guys more work, too."
Letting Croyle and Pennington take some protected reps will be a treat for Bama's fans, but Shula also pointed out that the two athletes need the practice.
"We'll get some 7-on-7 work at halftime, so we'll keep Brodie and Spencer in the mix," he said. "We'll actually get some 7-on-7 work in before the game. And then we'll get some at the end as well."
Anticipating that several incoming freshmen will see action in the kicking game next fall, kickoff returns and kickoff coverage have not been worked that much this spring. But fans can expect live placekicking and also some simulated punting Saturday.
Shula explained, "We're not going to kick the ball off; we'll put the ball down. We'll get some punt work in at halftime, but we're not going to punt the ball (in the scrimmage). We'll simulate a punt 35 yards from the change of possession."
Besides the actual A-Day scrimmage, which begins at 2:30 p.m., there will be plenty of other activities to keep fans busy over the weekend. On Friday, the A-Club Golf Tournament will be held at Ol' Colony Golf Club.
Fan Day will take place Saturday at Coleman Coliseum from 9-11 a.m., followed by the Tide Pride Luncheon at 11:30. At 1:30 p.m. at Denny Chimes the Walk-of-Fame ceremony will take place, where 2003 captains Derrick Pope and Shaud Williams will be honored.
A-Day Weekend EventsFriday, March 19
All Day A-Club Golf Tournament, Ol' Colony Golf Club
Saturday, March 20
9-11:00 a.m. Fan Day, Coleman Coliseum
10:00 a.m. A-Club Meeting, Scholarship Club Room, Bryant-Denny Stadium
11:30 a.m. Tide Pride Luncheon, Coleman Coliseum
11:45 a.m. Coach Shula meets with recruits at the Football Complex
Noon A-Club meeting, Scholarship Room
1:00 p.m. West Side Gates Open at Bryant-Denny
1:30 p.m. Walk-of-Fame, Denny Chimes
2:30 p.m. A-Day Kickoff (No Admission Charged)
Shula of course coached Alabama during the 2003 season, but tomorrow marks his first A-Day as head coach of the Crimson Tide.
"This is my first A-Day game in 12 years," he pointed out. "I keep asking questions about what the day is going to be like. ‘How many fans are going to be here?'
"The more you think about it and the closer you get to the weekend you start to get excited like with a game. There are going to be a few people in the stands. You want your team to put their best foot forward."
Fans interested in getting autographs and taking pictures should arrive early Saturday morning and head for the area in front of Coleman Coliseum and the old Football Complex. Beginning at 9 in the morning the various players and coaches will be on hand to meet and greet the Crimson Tide family.
"It'll be nice in the morning," Shula said. "It's a good day for our fans."
As for the afternoon scrimmage, Bama's young head coach is philosophical. With Alabama athletes competing against each other, Shula knows that every play represents a win/lose situation. He commented, "When your offense is going against your defense, someone is going to make a play, which means that someone is not going to make a play."
Shula's goals for the A-Day scrimmage itself are fairly simple.
"Hopefully we'll get through it injury-free," he said. "Hopefully we'll have guys competing and making plays as opposed to mental errors like pre-snap penalties. That's what you don't like. This spring we've gotten better with that each week. Hopefully we'll see that Saturday."