Spring Practice Around The Corner

Alabama's football team will begin spring practice Thursday and Crimson Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione has reasons for being excited. Bama is coming off a 7-5 season, which is nothing great, but which ended on an up note. Alabama finished the season with four straight victories, including an unlikely come-from-behind win over Iowa State in the Independence Bowl. In his first year at the helm of the Tide, Franchione more than doubled Bama's win total from the 2000 season.

"Year II is easier than Year I in a lot of ways," said Franchione. "The players and coaches are on the same page. The players have a knowledge of the offense, the defense, and the kicking game. The players are aware of the pace of practice. Things can go a lot faster in the second year than they could in the first."

Spring training will end with the annual A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium at 2:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday, April 13. Franchione is encouraging all Crimson Tide fans to show their support for the team by attending the game. There is no admission charge.

Alabama will be in shorts for mandatory non-contact work Thursday and Friday, then have its first work in pads Saturday. There will be scrimmages March 16 and April 6. Bama will have a total of 15 spring practices.

Franchione said that some things will be the same as they are every year in spring practice, notably the evaluation of personnel. "We're looking for the best 22, the best 44, the best 66 -- and to get them in the right positions," he said.

At the beginning, at least, there will be no quarterback controversy. Senior Tyler Watts, the only quarterback with any experience, will be number one going into spring. However, Franchione wouldn't speculate beyond the start of spring. He said he expected redshirt freshmen Brodie Croyle, who took part in spring practice last year, and Spencer Pennington, who won't miss any football work even though he is playing for Bama's baseball team this spring, to make things interesting. "They are capable of competing and I know they are going to be very competitive."

He said he is excited about a handful of players who were redshirted last year as freshmen. During bowl preparation, those players were given additional work, practice time on Alabama schemes. For the most part they had spent the year on Alabama's scout teams, working the plays and alignments of opposing teams. "It hasn't been that long since bowl preparation, so the carryover should be good," Franchione said.

Among those mentioned as impressive in their redshirt freshman work last fall are linebacker Freddie Roach; defensive backs Charlie Peprah, Roman Harper and Anthony Madison; linebacker Mark Anderson; offensive linemen Von Ewing and Mark Sanders; tight end Clint Johnston; and kick return specialist/wide receiver Brandon Brooks.

A handful of players will be absent from spring drills because of injuries. Cornerback Hirchel Bolden is recovering from shoulder surgery and tight end David Cavan from knee surgery and neither will participate. Offensive guard Justin Smiley had minor knee surgery and will miss a few days early in spring drills. Wide receiver Sam Collins is recovering from shoulder surgery and will be limited, perhaps held out of all contact work.

There will be some experimentation, particularly in trying to find depth at linebacker. Mark Anderson, a redshirt freshman defensive end, will get a look at outside linebacker this spring. Juke King, who was recruited as a strong safety, has also been moved to outside linebacker (and could see some work at inside linebacker). Marvin Brown, a former fullback who missed the Independence Bowl game for academic reasons, will be worked at middle linebacker. Bart Raulston, who has been a back-up offensive lineman, is going to get a look at defensive tackle.

Franchione had considered looking at offensive tackle Atlas Herrion on the defensive front, but if that experiment is made it will be in the second half of spring practice. There had also been some consideration of moving tailback Ray Hudson to wide receiver, but instead Hudson and transfer Shaud Williams will be used in an "A-Back" role to take advantage of their quickness and pass-catching skills.

At tailback, Franchione said Ahmaad Galloway and Santonio Beard "have played themselves into a position where we don't care which is out there." He said one spring goal would be to make Beard a better blocker and pass receiver.

Franchione said that place-kicker is "wide open" as Alabama attempts to find a replacement who can be as consistent as Neal Thomas, Bama's place-kicker the past two years. The coach said more time than usual would be spent on that phase this spring.

He said that he doesn't expect wide receiver to be a weak position, but agreed that with the graduation losses of Freddie Milons and Jason McAddley and the injury to Collins that it is something of an untested position. He said that Antonio Carter, who was held out of the bowl game for academic reasons, would be back this spring. Leslie Williams, a former defensive end who is returning to the team after a year's absence, will also get a look at wide receiver. Triandos Luke, Dre Fulgham, Tarry Givens and Brandon Greer, along with Brooks, are other wide receiver candidates.

Franchione expects better competition and better performance from Alabama's secondary this year. He said a goal of spring practice would be to find "the two best safeties and the two best cornerbacks. Just because someone has had the job doesn't mean he will keep it. The young guys seem to be on a mission, something like those young offensive linemen (Wesley Britt, Justin Smiley and Evan Mathis, redshirt freshmen who won starting jobs) were last year."

Franchione is looking forward to having Antwan Odom back at defensive end. Odom was held out last year with a shoulder injury and the 6-5 sophomore has increased his weight from 247 to 279.

The Tide coach said the off-season program has also improved in the second year. Franchione, who puts much stock in strength, said, "Now they know the drills." He added that he hopes by next August when the Tide reports that he will be able to say the team is where it should be from a strength standpoint. He said the players would continue to lift during spring practice, just as they did during the season.

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