And when Mike Shula started Alabama's practice over, it started from the beginning, including stretching exercises. That turned it into a little longer day than had been planned, but it was a nice day for football practice. And, Shula said, "After a slow start, we really had a decent practice. I think after having had two long practices Monday we were a little slow starting, but we had a better practice."
And Shula knows that his players can be distracted at this time of year. "The guys are excited about Christmas," he said. "I'm excited, too. But anytime you have a schedule change, there is a challenge to stay focused. This is really an important time for our upperclassmen to show leadership. We've got to focus on Minnesota for the next few days. Then we'll have a few days off and we'll have to get that mindset back when we get back to it up there."
Alabama is preparing to meet Minnesota in the Music City Bowl in Nashville on December 31. Kickoff for the game at the Coliseum will be at 11 a.m. CST with television coverage by ESPN. Both Alabama and Minnesota were 6-5 in regular season play. Minnesota represents the Big 10. Alabama, which is designated the visiting team, is the Southeastern Conference representative. Both teams were 3-5 in league play.
Shula said he is very impressed with Minnesota, citing their size on offense, their athleticism and speed on defense. "They really get after the passer, They are talented, athletic, and well-coached."
Shula said that while many are not familiar with Minnesota, or even with the teams Minnesota played, that the coaches had been very impressed with the Golden Gophers.
Alabama continues to spend practice time getting players ready to play against Minnesota, and also giving special attention to the young players. "The best thing about this time has been the work we have been able to give the younger players while getting the older guys ready for Minnesota," Shula said. He added that this practice time is helping them get ahead for spring practice, which will begin February 22.
Shula said that a win in the Music City Bowl is important to Alabama. "For the seniors, it's an opportunity to go out on a winning note," he said. "Alabama has a great tradition not of just being in bowl games, but of winning bowl games. For the younger guys, it helps set the tone for the off-season."
The big story of practice has been the injury situation. Tight end Clint Johnston has been officially ruled out of the game. Shula said it is not yet possible to speculate on Johnston's football future. "It's tough for him, because he wants to play," Shula said.
On the other side of the injury coin, Shula said tight end David Cavan, who missed the end of the season with broken vertebrae, "is getting a little more work and we're thinking positively about him." Though Cavan will not play unless given the go-ahead by team doctors, Shula noted that Cavan "is a tough guy. Unfortunately, since I have known him he has almost always had a significant injury. He has played with injuries when others wouldn't have."
Shula said, "Aaron Johns is doing a pretty good job. He's a much better back than he was when he came here (last August), and a better back than he was a few weeks ago. And it's because of practice, because he doesn't have much game experience."
Shula said, "I don't know yet if Kenneth is going to be ready. If he is, we have one thought process. If he is not, Aaron is our only guy and if something happens to him we have to have a plan."
Punter Bo Freelend, who strained his right knee last week, continues to be on the questionable list.
Others seeing time in the training room, but not expected to be unable to play in the Music City Bowl, are offensive tackle Wesley Britt and wide receiver Keith Brown, both of whom got head "dings," cornerback Simeon Castille nursing a sore hamstring, and defensive end Wallace Gilberry with what Shula said he thought was a turned ankle.