Practice Heats Up

It was hot on the Crimson Tide football practice field Wednesday. One might have thought it was mid-August in Alabama. Bama was out for a two-hour workout in helmet, shoulder pads and shorts, then spent a little longer than usual in post-practice conditioning.

Alabama returns to the practice field Thursday for two practices. Bama will have another open-to-the-public scrimmage Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Crimson Tide is working towards a season-opening game on September 4, when Alabama will host Utah State at 6 p.m. CDT.

Although the heat is up and the work is hard, Coach Mike Shula said one of the things that pleases him is "the guys are still working hard at the end of practice. That conditioning can overcome some things late in a game. Are the guys tired? They should be if we coaches are doing our job. And we're still making mistakes. We're not there yet."

Shula is not a pessimist. He sees many good things about his team. But he's also realistic. He is focused on correcting problem areas.

It is not unreasonable to see the offensive line as an area of concern. Even before considering that the fifth member of that squad and third true freshman was injured Wednesday, Shula has pointed to the need for improvement in pass protection.

"Kyle Tatum really needs a lot of work (on pass protection)," Shula said. Tatum is playing on the offensive line after moving over from the defensive line in the spring. "Kyle's going to get there," Shula added, "but he needs a lot of reps. He's going against (senior defensive end) Todd Bates in practice every day and that's making them both better."

Shula said that right guard Danny Martz, moving up into a starting role, and Evan Mathis, a three-year starter at right tackle who is now playing left guard, also need repetitions

Freshman tackle Cody Davis suffered a leg injury in Wednesday's practice. After the workout Shula said, "We're hoping it's not too bad. The young guys need work." Two young guys–true freshmen–who are net getting work are center Antoine Caldwell, out four to six weeks with a broken foot, and tackle B.J. Stabler, out at least two weeks after undergoing surgery on a finger. Tackles Chris Capps and Mark Sanders have also been out with injuries.

In addition to the offensive linemen, Shula said the young receiving corps needs lots of practice. The coach noticed the difficulties as more intricate offenses with three and four wide receivers is added. But Shula also listed the offensive line as an area in which there is the kind of good competition that is needed at every position.

"We have competition at every position, but when we get it across the board like we have it at linebacker and at wide receiver, we'll be a good football team," he said.

D.J. Hall, a freshman wide receiver, was one of those who had a highlight film-type catch in Saturday's scrimmage. "He had another big catch yesterday," Shula said Wednesday. "If he keeps making plays, he's going to be in the mix. He doesn't seem to be intimidated."

When Shula named young players who have performed well enough to earn the extra repetitions that will go to players expected to participate this year, Hall was joined by freshmen Keith Brown and Zeke Knight. And, Shula said, that doesn't mean freshmen Will Oakley and Marcel Stamps are not also still viable for playing time, particularly on special teams.

Other young players mentioned by Shula as moving up are freshman cornerback Simeon Castille, freshman defensive tackle Justin Britt, redshirt freshman linebacker Demarcus Waldrop, and sophomore linebacker Terrence Jones,

He said sophomore Tim Castille would play both halfback and fullback. The coach said sophomore fullback "Le'Ron McClain has had a good camp, and that factors into how we use Tim."

One of the least well-known Tiders is defensive tackle Rudy Griffin, listed at 6-0 and 286 pounds. He is a junior who transferred from The Citadel and sat out last season. Shula said, "We first noticed him last fall when he was on the scout team and giving our offense fits. He continued to do well in the spring. He's not very tall, but he weighs a lot and gives great effort."

In answer to a question, Shula said that Bama being bowl eligible this year after two years of NCAA sanctions that prohibited post-season play, "is on our minds, but we're trying to keep it in the back of our minds. It's a long way away. Right now we need to be thinking about Utah State." He said the staff had spent time studying Utah State, but that game plan work was not yet a part of practice.

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