Bama Improved

Alabama finished spring football practice Saturday with the annual A-Day Game, and Crimson Tide Head Coach Mike Shula said the team is better now than it was before the 15 practices. The next practices will not be until August, but Shula said his players know they have to use the off-season to get stronger and to be in good condition for fall camp. One plus of the spring was that there were no serious injuries.

Mike Shula walked into the interview room at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday following the Crimson Tide's spring football game and noticed something. "I saw a lot of young guys being interviewed," he said. "That's exciting. But for the head coach, it's also something to be a little nervous about."

Shula said, "The offense was good at times. It was the best our offense has showed against our defense. We hit a few plays."

He said, "The game was a little sloppy in the middle. Our tackling was poor early in the game. On offense, we had to settle for field goals sometimes when we'd like to have touchdowns."

John Parker Wilson, who entered Alabama as a full-time student in the spring semester, was winner of the Dixie Howell Memorial Award as the most valuable player in the game. Wilson hit 14 of 31 passes for 168 yards and one touchdown and suffered two interceptions. He was also sacked three times. Shula said, "Now he's got all this experience and he will be a true freshman in the fall. He's done a nice job. He's not ready to be the starter, but he's much better than he was a month ago. He makes plays, he has a strong arm, and the guys respect him. One of his best qualities is leadership. He has a much better foundation."

One reason Wilson doesn't have a lock on even second team is because Marc Guillon, who threw the winning touchdown pass Saturday, "has had a real good spring," Shula said. "He's still not 100 per cent (healed from his back injury)."

And, the coach added, he's looking forward to some freshmen quarterbacks coming in to challenge for playing time in the fall. "We want guys to come in and compete," Shula said.

More young players will join the Crimson Tide for fall work. "We're still not a deep team," Shula said. "I'll feel more comfortable about the depth situation in the fall when the freshmen come in. We won't be able to get to (the NCAA overall scholarship limit of) 85 this year. We'll struggle to be at 80. It will take another year or so to get to 85."

He said the spring had been good for the defense. "These guys have been in the same system for three springs and have grown," he said.

The offense, on the other hand, has had just two springs in the same offense and there have been key areas to be rebuilt. And in both years the Tide was working with first team quarterback Brodie Croyle recovering from surgery and not taking part in scrimmage situations. Croyle was held out of the A-Day game with Wilson and Guillon handling quarterback duties. "Hopefully this time we'll have a lot to build on," Shula said. "The last two springs we've been having to teach so much because we had so many new people at various positions."

Shula noted that while Croyle was probably healthy enough to participate in the A-Day Game, "We need him for the fall. We didn't need him today." Still, he said, Croyle had benefitted from the spring, working on timing with the receivers and in other non-scrimmage situations. "He feels much more comfortable with our system," Shula said. "The ball is coming out quicker. He know what he needs to do."

Following Saturday's A-Day game, Shula named strong safety Marcus Carter, safety Jeffrey Dukes, cornerback Simeon Castille, and defensive tackles Rudy Griffin and Justin Britt as defenders who caught his eye. "Offensively, some receivers made some plays. That's going to be a strength for us."

He also praised the work of tight end Nick Walker. "He made some nice catches," Shula said. "He's a big target with good hands who can move. He needs to get a little better in his blocking." The Tide coach noted that Bama has shown a good running game and effective passing to the wide receivers and now needs to make the tight end "an offensive weapon."

Shula said that center JB Closner, who was named winner of the Dwight Stephenson Award as the outstanding lineman in the game, "has been our best leader on the offensive line."

He said offensive line play in the A-Day Game "was better. Our pass protection could have been better, though. We're allowing too much penetration at times."

Shula said, "Some of our young running backs made some good runs. They ran hard, they ran tough, and they made some plays. They game themselves a chance to get on the field in the fall." For the most part the running was done by players who would not be expected to be big in fall plans with Kenneth Darby and Tim Castille both out for the spring with injuries and the only scholarshipped halfback, Aaron Johns, going out of the A-Day Game early with a turned ankle.

Shula said that Castille has a target date of "late May or early June" to be ready, while Darby is about "a week and a half away from starting rehab," which is expected to take a month or more. "We've been told he'll be ready to go in the fall," Shula said.

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