Mike Shula met with the media Monday afternoon to discuss practice plans and his third Crimson Tide football team. Bama has a reporting squad of 105, which does not include sophomore tight end Trent Davidson. Davidson had foot surgery and will be out for about six weeks.
The reporting class includes 21 seniors, 20 juniors, and 22 sophomores. There are 30 true freshmen and 12 redshirt freshmen, so the 42 freshmen make up 40 per cent of the roster.
Bama will begin practice Tuesday. The first two practices will be in shorts and helmets. Shoulder pads will be added for the next two practices on Thursday and Friday. And on Saturday the team will be in full gear. Alternate day two-a-day practices will be held beginning Sunday, August 14. Classes (and return to one-a-day practices) begin August 24.
Alabama opens the 2005 season hosting Middle Tennessee State University at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday, September 3, in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game is sold out.
"In recent history, it's a big step to have 25 new guys here," Shula said. "And most of them had the opportunity to come in earlier this summer and now they feel more comfortable. It also helps them get a jump-start in their school work, which is so important."
Shula believes this can be a very special freshman class, but he is also mindful that they are freshmen. "They haven't practiced yet," he said. "But I think it is a good group. Last year we were really excited about our group. I think this year it's very similar plus the fact that we've signed six more guys."
He said, "The guys are going to have to compete to get into the two-deep, but it's definitely a good-looking class. They could be the nucleus of a good team.
"I think these guys can be champions.
"I hope these guys make us have to make tough decisions (on whether to redshirt them).
"But they are freshmen."
Shula said, "I feel better about the team and the depth this year than the last couple of years. And I hope I feel even better next year. I think we'll be playing guys this year because we want to, not because we have to. We had injuries last year. If we have them again this year we might have to play some guys that we'd prefer to redshirt.
"We want them to come in with the attitude that they are going to be able to play. None of them, however, is yet aware of what that's going to take."
The coach said, "The best thing they can do is come in and watch the upperclassmen, get in the hip pockets of the seniors. They can learn a lot by watching guys like Ramzee Robinson, Anthony Madison, Roman Harper, DeMeco Ryans, Freddie Roach, J.B. Closner, guys like that. That can be a big help."
Shula said, "We have 77 on scholarship. We could have 85, meaning we have eight scholarships we could give to men who have been at Alabama two or more years. Will we give eight? I'd like to, but they'll have to earn them."
Shula said the freshmen would be closely monitored in practice to make sure they are in condition.
He has said a minimum of eight freshmen are expected to play and said Monday that it could be as many as last year when 11 true freshmen played. He said defensive line, running back, and tight end are areas where freshmen could be expected to compete. And, he added, a player who can play on special teams and help the team win can be utilized.
Shula said the team had general offensive, defensive, and special teams goals.
He said the goal on defense is "to build on the things we did well last year." He also said young players would have an opportunity to play "on the defensive line and in the secondary."
The obvious special teams goal is to find a placekicker and punter. There are five kickers in camp. There are also two snappers. And Shula said another special teams goal would be to work to have more effective punt returns, something he said was an area of progress in the spring. And, generally, he said, "to find speed."
Offensively, he said, replacements must be found for graduated linemen Wesley Britt, Evan Mathis, and Danny Martz. He said the Tide would monitor halfback Kenneth Darby, who is coming off surgery for a sports hernia, and that depth was needed at halfback. He said the Tide "needs to get (fullback) Tim Castille back and find out where he is." Finally, he said, quarterback Brodie Croyle, who has missed much of the past two seasons and spring training sessions with injuries, must get "back into a groove..., getting the timing down with our receivers."
An area of particular interest is whether Tim Castille, who had knee surgery in the middle of last season, would be able to return or whether he might be held out this year.
Shula said, "We're not ruling anything out." He said Castille would be closely monitored and that one good thing is that the junior fullback does not need a lot of repetitions to be game-ready. He added, "The most important thing for all of us is to do what's best for Tim."
With Darby perhaps limited, three freshmen running backs–Roy Upchurch, Glen Coffee, and Ali Sharrief–will get looks. Shula said, "All have been here and worked hard. All have a chance. All will get more reps than they might have expected (because Darby is not expected to get as many). It's an exciting group. If they do the work in practice, they'll be able to play early. They know we involve our backs in pass protection, so they'll have to be ready to pick up DeMeco Ryans and Freddie Roach."
Shula added that soph Aaron Johns "is in the mix. He didn't finish spring as well as he would have liked or we would have liked."
The coach said, "Chris Keys will start off working at safety. He hasn't played in a while and we know he's anxious and excited. We need to get him off on the right foot and he has a chanc e to work into the rotation." He said fullback "LeRon McClain looks good. He's big enough to lead block, he has good hands and catches the ball well, and he can run with it. But his first job is to lead block."
With tight end Trent Davidson out for about six weeks with a broken foot, Shula said, "Nick Walker has a real good attitude. And Greg McLain is healthy now and will provide senior leadership. We use the tight end more than some other teams. It's very important in the running game, but we want a guy who can do both. We've had some injuries that have kept us from utilizing the tight end. We think Nick has the ability to do both (block and catch). Nick is probably one of our most improved players."
Nearly the entire squad has been in summer school. Shula said, "The players will start final exams (for the second semester of summer school) Tuesday and most will be finished by Thursday. All reports are that they have done well."