Practice Begins

There was some good and some bad as Alabama's football team got pre-season practice underway Tuesday. Most of the 105 took part in the two-and-a-half hour workout, which was in helmets and shorts. A few are held out or limited for medical reasons.

With some good and some bad, it was no surprise that Alabama Coach Mike Shula called it "for the first day, average, with some signs of good individual work. We are in decent shape, but we got a little sloppy at the end of practice. This has to serve as a constant reminder to do everything right. We have to finish plays, run to the ball, not drop balls.

"Overall, though," Shula said, "we're much further ahead mentally in all three phases. Schemewise, we can call more."

Bama will continue in shorts and helmets Wednesday, add shoulder pads Thursday and Friday, and be in full gear Saturday. The Tide is working towards the September 3 season-opener when Alabama hosts Middle Tennessee State University at 6 p.m. CDT in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game is sold out.

The first half of the workout was outdoors, but a lightning storm forced the team into the indoor practice facility for the balance of the practice.

Pre-season talk has centered on the return of three injured offensive backfield stars. Quarterback Brodie Croyle and fullback/halfback Tim Castille are coming back from knee surgery and halfback Kenneth Darby is on the mend from surgery for a sports hernia.

Shula said, "Brodie seems to be fine. Kenneth Darby did more than I thought he could do, and the same thing for Tim Castille. I was pretty impressed with what Darby was doing; and a little surprised, although (Strength Coach) Kent Johnston had told me he was ahead."

Nevertheless, much of the running work went to newcomers Roy Upchurch and Glen Coffee. "The young guys were a little lost," Shula said. "Upchurch and Coffee got a lot of reps, but they still don't know what they are doing in some cases."

Coffee put the ball on the ground a few times. Shula said, "We threw a lot at them early, and we take that into consideration. Still, we have to protect the ball."

The coach noted that the third freshman halfback, Ali Sharrief, "didn't get as many reps today. But in all three of them you had a feel of what you saw them do in high school."

Another youngster drawing mention was safety Chris Keys, who "had a nice interception."

Shula said he hadn't seen much of the offensive and defensive line work, but said "I think we're going to be pleased with some young linemen."

The tight ends group caught the eye of the head coach with him mentioning freshmen Charles Hoke for some nice catches and Travis McCall, who "looked good lining up." He also complimented Nick Walker as having "picked up right where he left off" and said "I probably don't mention Greg McLain enough, but he's giving us great leadership."

In addition to the expected absences of defensive end Mark Anderson, who is expected to return to practice next week after having had arthroscopic knee surgery, and tight end Trent Davidson, who won't report with the 105 since he is out for about five more weeks after having surgery to repair a foot fracture, freshman quarterback Jimmy Barnes was limited. He has mononucleosis (in a non-contagious stage). "We're just going to kind of watch him for the rest of the week," Shula said.

Most of the incoming freshmen have been in summer school for at least a few weeks and going through the summer conditioning program, and Shula said it was apparent which freshmen had participated. But he said "for the most part" all the freshmen kept up.

Shula said again that the freshman class "is a good-looking group. We'll pick up the pace each day."

The attention is on the players, newcomers and returning players, but Shula said it was a good time for the coaches as they "get our cobwebs off, too. It's been a long time since we were able to coach."

Shula said that he knows expectations are higher for his team than they have been for the past couple of years. And he said he sees that in the team. "It's not so much what they say to me, because that would be just lip service to the head coach. B ut I hear them talking to their teammates in the lockerroom and between drills. They take a lot of pride in wearing the crimson jersey and being here at Alabama. I think the leadership is much better from the older guys."

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