So long as school is in session, NCAA rules strictly limit practice time to no more than 20 hours per week. And that total includes meeting time and mandated conditioning away from the practice fields. But just like during fall two-a-days, once final exams are finished, that stricture ends.
"I look at is as a chance to get better," said Anthony Madison, a cornerback also redshirting this year. "It's another chance to impress the coaches by giving them another look. Overall, I can better myself to help the team."
"It's getting us ready for the spring practices," Pennington added. "It lets the coaches know what we can and cannot do, and what we need to work extra time for."
Franchione has described the late sessions as almost an additional spring practice, a time for scout-team players and reserves alike to improve their skills. "Basically it is an extra spring practice," Madison agreed. "I like it. I enjoy it, and the other guys enjoy it, too. It gives the coaches a chance to get a look at a lot of the young guys. It gives us a chance to show them what we can do, and get your head into the spring."
Of course leave it to Roman Harper to put his own unique take on the matter. "I agree with that and disagree. I disagree with that because it's not as hot. It's kind of cold later on," he pointed out with a smile.
"But I understand that we're getting the extra work. These are extra practices, and it's helping us out a lot. I do agree with that."
With the exception of Todd Bates, every true freshman signed last February spent their first season in Tuscaloosa as a redshirt. For most of the year they've worked on the scout teams, running next week's opponent's plays against the Tide starters. The task is essential to the team's success, but on the other hand it doesn't give the scout teamers a chance to actually learn the Alabama playbook.
Pennington explained; "I haven't been able to run our offense since August. Getting this work for some of us that were on the scout team has been a great benefit for us. It's important for the quarterbacks to run the offense, but it also helps the other guys that are on the scout team."
Besides learning the Alabama schemes, another benefit is that the various assistants are able to provide some up-close-and-personal coaching. "Being redshirted, we're down here on the scout team," true freshman tight end Clint Johnston said. "We don't have our position coaches saying, ‘Hey, you did this wrong' or ‘You did this right.' This gives us a chance to get a jump on spring training with one-on-one work."
"You get more one-on-one coaching," Madison added. "More individual attention on technique and things like that. It's a real help."
Harper agreed; "It lets the coaches work more one-on-one with you. In regular practice they don't get to work with you as much, because you're working with the scout team."
Of course to the casual observer watching the starters file off to the locker room to get a shower and an early jump on supper and the rest of the night, it would be easy to assume the ‘left behinders' would resent the extra work.
"Nah, it's a great opportunity for us," Pennington said. "We don't resent that at all. The coaches are doing this for our benefit, and that's what we're taking it as. As a benefit. We want to do this. It's not a punishment."
"They've put in their time," Johnston agreed. "They've been through this before. They've earned it. I look at it as an opportunity to get better. When they're gone, we get all the attention that they usually get."
"Oh, I might have envied them the first day," Harper interjected. "But as it goes on you start to have a little bit more fun. The hitting is always fun to me, and the more you get into the groove the better it is for you."
Speaking of hitting, the late-night sessions were mostly no-holds-barred, with vicious hits and brutal licks being passed back and forth--even leading to the occasional 'football fight.' "That's what it takes sometimes," Madison explained. "Most definitely. You've got to get guys hyped up. Get on your feet and get ready to play."