Punter Injures Knee

No newspaper is likely to stop the presses for announcement of an injury to an Alabama football player. In a year of extraordinary bad injury luck, Bama may have suffered another injury as practice has begun for the Music City Bowl.

Saturday morning, following the first of two practice sessions, Alabama Football Coach Mike Shula said that senior punter Bo Freelend had suffered a knee injury during Friday's opening work for the Music City Bowl. Shula said that Freelend is "questionable for the December 31 game." "It just buckled over on me," Freelend said Saturday. "I don't know when I'll be able to practice. I just know I'll be ready for the game. It was just a little sprain."

Freelend said the fact that the injury was to his right leg–he's a right-footed punter–was a good thing. "If it was the plant (the knee on his left leg, which he plants on when he punts) it would be worse because of all the pressure and strain you put on it."

Dave Ungerer, who coaches special team players, agreed that Freelend should be ready to go by the bowl game.

Shula said if Freelend could not punt that the duty would fall to junior Jeremy Schatz, who punted one time for 40 yards.

Freelend, 6-4, 254, from Eutaw, had an excellent year with 57 punts for a 40.5 average. He punted inside the opponents' 20-yard line 15 times and was fair caught 17 times. But perhaps his most memorable play of 2004 was when he didn't punt. In Lexington, with Kentucky mounting a comeback against Bama, the Wildcats appeared to be in position to block a punt. But Freelend pulled the ball down and ran for 24 yards and a first down, keeping alive a touchdown drive, and Bama went on to a 45-17 win.

It has been an injury-plagued year for Alabama, with the notable losses starting quarterback Brodie Croyle, starting halfback Ray Hudson, and starting fullback Tim Castille.

"We are going to have injuries, but hopefully we will not go through a year like this again and have this many injuries," Shula said. "To me, that puts a premium on what have been doing the last couple of weeks with recruiting and how important it is to recruit guys that can come in and give you depth and play winning football. We don't quite have that depth right now, but we are getting there. We were young this year and will probably be young again next and the next year, but we feel like we are getting guys that are going to be quality guys."

For the past few weeks the emphasis by Shula and his assistants has been on recruiting. But now the focus shifts to preparation for the Music City Bowl.

Alabama will play Minnesota at the Coliseum in Nashville at 11 a.m. CST Friday, December 31, in the Music City Bowl. Both Bama, which will represent the Southeastern Conference, and Minnesota, representing the Big Ten, were 6-5 overall anjd 3-5 in conference play in 2004. ESPN will telecast the game.

While the injury to Freelend was a new concern, Alabama also has some regulars who are healing.

Although there was limited contact in Saturday's work–"They were getting bumped around a little," Shula said–it is not known if two tight ends will be able to play. Senior David Cavan is practicing on a limited basis as he recovers from broken vertebra, but junior Clint Johnston, who suffered concussions during the year, was not at practice Friday or Saturday.

Shula said that halfback Kenneth Darby, who was limited in Bama's final game because of an abdominal strain, "took it easy."

Shula said as part of the plan to get ready for Minnesota that the Tide would have its first offense working against the first defense for much of the first few days of practice.

Alabama quarterback Spencer Pennington is getting most of the work with the first offense. "But," Shula said, "not as much as he would get in a game week. He'll get more as we get closer."

Shula said that Bama's last offensive drive of the regular season, resulting in a touchdeown pass by Pennington, showed improvement. Indeed, Shula said, Pennington–who started the year as Bama's third quarterback–showed improvement as the season went along.

There were some additions in Alabama's 90-minute Saturday morning workout in helmets, shoulder pads and sweatpants. Quarterback John Parker Wilson and offensive tackle Drew Davis, 2004 signees who elected to delay entry into The University until the 2005 spring semester, and new signee defensive back Lionel Mitchell of Hargrave Academy, were able to practice Saturday since the fall semester has now ended. They will practice through Thursday in Bama work in Tuscaloosa.

The team will be excused for a short break after Thursday's practice, then reassemble in Nashville on December 26 to complete preparation for the bowl game.

Shula said "it was exciting to see some new faces" at practice. He said that Wilson "threw the ball well in individual work, although he has a long way to go in team work." He called Mitchell "real fluid."

Alabama's early practice includes a great deal of work for younger players who played little or not at all in 2004. Shula particularly mentioned offensive linemen Antoine Caldwell and Cody Davis, defensive tackle Curtis Dawson, and linebacker Dearcus Waldrop.

"Antoine Caldwell looks like he is going to be a good player.  Cody Davis is getting reps again now with what we do offensively.  Curtis Dawson, on the defensive side, looks good with his new position.  There are a lot of good things that we see out there, and yet practice does not go as well because these guys have been on the scout team.  We have to get our upperclassmen ready.  We are getting some good quality reps with the ones against the ones.  We will do that probably the next four or five practices."

The Crimson Tide will also practice twice on Monday in its only other two-a-day session of the pre-bowl camp. Bama's next practice is Sunday afternoon. All practices in Tuscaloosa and Nashville are closed.

It is on Monday that the Crimson Tide coach expects to begin working on the gameplan for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. "We will probably start (working on the Minnesota gameplan) on Monday and increase it daily from there," Shula said.  " We are spending time watching them on film now. "

BamaMag Top Stories