Shula Eyes Finish

With Alabama past the halfway point of spring practice, Crimson Tide Head Coach Mike Shula was sharing a sense of urgency about the finish. Bama completed its ninth of 15 practices in brisk weather Tuesday.

Alabama will practice again Thursday and Friday, then go to Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday for the second scrimmage of the spring. Bama concludes spring football practice with the A-Day Game, which begins at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 19, at Bryant-Denny.

"We really have to focus on these last few practices," Mike Shula said. "This means refining for some of the older guys and pushing the younger ones to get better. We're not there yet. We have to come together as a team."

He said that Tuesday's work was not as good as some practices have been. "We weren't as productive," he said. "We spent some time fighting, which is a waste of time and which is a penalty in a game. We had a talk about that after practice. But overall, there were some good things."

Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines has more of those older guys to work with. He said his players must continue to push forward. "You don't stay the same," he said. "You either go up or you go down."

Kines said, "The best thing we're doing right now is bearing down on our assignments and techniques. Our concentration is as good as it has been. We're doing the right thing and running to the ball. In Saturday's scrimmage we made plays when we had to. We had the fewest busted assignments we've had in a long time. And we played hard. The challenge is to keep doing it."

Offensive Coordinator Dave Rader has a different challenge with a number of starters out with injuries and some rebuilding going on, notably in the offensive line. He indicated he was somewhat disappointed in Saturday's scrimmage. "We were better throughout last week than we were Saturday," he said. "I had been pleased with our earlier work because we weren't jumping offsides and having those kinds of mental errors. They were primarily by guys who haven't played a lot. We obviously have things we need to be better at."

Regarding the offensive line, which returns only two starters and which has also had some injuries in the spring, Rader said, "We're going to be okay. This is not instant pudding. It's more like preparing a gourmet meal. It's going to take time and it's not always going to be pretty in the process. We're going against a good defensive unit, and that's good. It makes us work, and that's how you improve."

Shula named some players who were productive in Saturday's scrimmage. On defense he cited linebacker Juwan Garth for playing "really well" and said "all the defensive ends," were productive, naming Mark Anderson, Keith Saunders and Chris Harris. Also on the defensive front he complimented tackle Rudy Griffin. Simeon Castille was noted for his play in the secondary. Shula said, "We consider Simeon almost a first teamer. We need him to keep pushing and Eric Gray to keep pushing so that they get better and Ramzee Robinson and Anthony Madison get better. Lionel Mitchell isn't there yet, but he's moving in the right direction." He also cited the play of linebacker Marcel Stamps, who started out last year as a freshman wide receiver. "He's starting to be more comfortable and more physical," Shula said.

On offense he noted that wide receivers Matt Caddell and Tyrone Prothro had played well in Saturday's scrimmage. He said that Alabama needs to get the ball into Prothro's hands and part of the responsibility for that lies with Prothro running better routes. Also among the wide receivers Shula complimented the play of Zeke Knight in Saturday's scrimmage and Tuesday's practice.

Regarding the quarterback battle, he said that Marc Guillon, who had the better day, also "had better protection" than John Parker Wilson. Shula continues to be impressed with Wilson. He noted that Wilson "doesn't get rattled when he has a bad play. He starts thinking about the next play. He's developing things you like to see in a quarterback."

Shula also noted that the offense "is without a lot of guys who will be starters."

He said "There were no big changes in the depth chart" based on Saturday's scrimmage. In the offensive line, he said that Mark Sanders had moved in front of Justin Moon at right guard and that Sanders also got some work at right tackle.

Shula said he doesn't expect either kicking position to be settled "until midway through pre-season camp next August," but said Jamie Christensen had done better at placekicker and that he and punter Jeremy Schatz would be the men "if we had to go today."

Two players out of practice Tuesday were defensive tackle Dominic Lee, who was on crutches and in street clothes, and tight end Nick Walker, who was in the orange jersey, signifying non-combatant. Lee said that he had surgery last Friday at HealthSouth in Birmingham with Dr. Lyle Cain "shaving some bone spurs" off his right foot. He had previously had surgery on the foot. Walker, who took a hard hit in last Saturday's scrimmage, said he had suffered a bad bruise on his right calf, but that he is expected to return to drills Thursday.

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