One down, several ready to take his place
The loss of Antonio Carter to academic problems will undoubtedly have an impact on Bama's offense. After all, the junior wideout was second on the squad in receiving and one of the Tide's most consistent pass catchers.
But truthfully, if Alabama had to lose a starter slot to lose, wide receiver would have probably been the first choice. In Freddie Milons, Sam Collins and Jason McAddley, Bama has three proven starters. While reserves Triandos Luke and Dre Fulgham literally can't wait to get their chance to prove themselves on national TV. And of course behind that top group, names like Lance Taylor, Michael James, Tarry Givens, Joel Babb and Brandon Greer would also dearly love to get a shot.
Franchione listed Luke as the athlete most likely to immediately benefit from Carter's absence. With the graduation of Milons and McAddley, Alabama is looking to add a couple of talented recruits this season. But for now the squad remains talented and deep at wideout.
The next best thing to growing your own
The talk of the day yesterday at practice, Independence Stadium's brand new artificial turf fooled more than one observer. Literally, when you first walk out on the field it looks for all the world like a Mississippi State valedictorian has been devoting himself full time to developing the greenest, lushest lawn ever seen.
But a closer inspection reveals the truth.
Named simply Field Turf, the individual strands embedded in a base of rubber BBs (made from recycled auto tires) is science's newest development in the attempt to create turf better than the original. Several schools, including Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, have installed the new product.
"Of course you always prefer a natural grass field," was Franchione's comment. "But this is as close as you can get to it."
"When you fall on it, it burns a little bit," junior wideout Sam Collins said. "But it's not anywhere near as bad as the Georgia Dome. That turf would cut you."
Indoor turf like that installed in the Georgia Dome is often rough on an athlete's body, but Field Turf is an improvement. However, there is one problem; Sometimes the small rubber BBs can actually get into the eyes.
" I like it; it feels like grass," was junior Tyler Watts' assessment. "It's amazing what they can come up with. It's got some give to it. And mostly it's soft, though right where they paint the line markers it's hard."
Surfaces put down on a base of sand have a tendency to bunch up and develop small hills and valleys. But the rubber BBs lie flat, ensuring a smooth surface. Of course despite the novelty value, Alabama will play only one game on the surface.
So what's all the fuss about?
"I would encourage it for our Indoor facility," Franchione explained. "I like this surface a great deal. I've seen it in a rain game, and I've seen it on a warm day. I thought both times it was a good surface to play on. It's a good surface, and I think in regard to artificial surfaces it's the best one that's out there."
Back to 1999?
As noted above, several athletes stand ready to replace Antonio Carter in the Tide offense. But Franchione will turn to a familiar face to return punts in the Independence Bowl. Senior Freddie Milons will resume the role he held for all of '99 and most of last season as well.
Tide fans won't soon forget ‘Fast Freddie's' exploits during that SEC championship year. His twirling, twisting run through the middle of Michigan's coverage unit during the Orange Bowl remains a career highlight.
Seeking more consistency and ball protection, Franchione tabbed Carter to return punts this season. And the junior had a solid year, excelling in rushing forward to field short kicks, thereby preventing long rolls and helping to set the offense up in better field position.
But with Milons, the threat to break one long is always a possibility. And Tide fans will have one last chance to watch the quicksilver Milons in action.