Tide way ahead of the game

Last year at this time Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione and the Alabama players were starting from scratch. As excited as everyone was and as hard as they worked, beginnings are never easy. <br><br>But things definitely run smoother the second time around. "There really isn't a comparison," Franchione said. "We did a two-minute drill at the end of practice today, and we could hardly get in the huddle last year the first day."

Alabama began spring drills with one of three mandated shorts-and-helmets workouts. "We were able to do a lot more," Franchione said. "There is carryover from last fall. Just a little over two months ago we were playing a football game.

"The foundation of our offense and defense is still in place. We have some tweaking that we've done to both sides of the football to personnel and the people we're utilizing. But there's no comparison between last year and this year."

Spencer Pennington finished the day's practice by throwing a touchdown pass to Dre Fulgham in the two-minute drill.

The Tide will practice again tomorrow without pads at 3:30. Spring practices are open to the public, but visitors must call ahead and put their name on a list. Saturday will mark the first day in full pads. That session will begin at 10:30 am.

With a full season of practices and games under their belts, the older Tide players can now actually help out their coaches. Franchione explained; "One of the things I noticed from day one is our players are coaching each other. They know the offense and defense, and you can hear them telling the young guys out there and in the meetings.

"Last year they couldn't coach themselves, let alone the guy next to them. Now they're coaching each other and reminding each other of things and communicating better. Having experience beside you is valuable."

Taking up where they left off last December, the Alabama squad is also ahead of the game learning their schemes. But there is some new material involved. Franchione explained; "I'd say five percent of what we're doing would be new. (As a staff) we've taken a couple of visits and visited with some new people about some things. And we do quality control on ourselves as to what we were good at and adjust some of those things. There will be a little bit new to try and fit the Brodie Croyles, the Spencer Penningtons and the Shaud Williams's and the different guys on defense that we'll play."

Speaking of redshirt freshmen Croyle and Pennington, it wouldn't be a Bama press conference without at least one question about the quarterbacks. "They were really pretty good," Franchione said. "Without pads and nobody getting hit the first day you can't tell that much, but they threw the ball pretty well for the first day. Timing is not as good as you want it to be between quarterback and receiver. But as far as drops, footwork, understanding where to throw the football, reads--for a first day I was satisfied."

As a returning starter, Cornelius Wortham began spring practice comfortable in his role at strongside linebacker.

With the recent distractions involving the NCAA investigation and its outcome, Franchione was frankly pleased to get back on the practice field. "It feels really good," he said. "This is what you enjoy. The other things you do day to day are part of the job. But getting back out and teaching. Doing what we did today is the fun part of the job. It's what you live for as a coach."

Without pads and full contact, it's hard for individual defensive players to show much. But the Tide defensive backs made some plays that Franchione noticed. "Some of your secondary guys can stand out," he said. "Roman Harper and Gerald Dixon both had nice interceptions today. We had some good breaks on the ball. The defense and the offensive line need pads to completely stand out. And I thought (linebackers) Brooks Daniels and Cornelius Wortham were right in a rhythm and were very comfortable out there. But it basically takes a defensive skill guy to impact without pads on.

A few players sat out today's practice due to recent surgeries, including Hirchel Bolden and Sam Collins. But no athlete was held out due to academic concerns. "There are none right now," Franchione said. "We're going to hold Dante (Ellington) from the weight room on lifting days to get him some extra time studying. But we feel like him being with the team is beneficial."

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