Young Runners

There are a number of positions on Alabama's football team where freshmen have a chance to work their way into the depth chart. And there are a couple of positions where it is practically a necessity that freshmen contribute. One such position is tailback.

Alabama Coach Mike Shula can't help but notice the performances of freshmen like halfbacks Glen Coffee and Roy Upchurch. The Floridians–both of whom are listed at 6-0, 207–have showcased their running talents.

That should not be a surprise.

Coffee rushed for 1,886 yards last year at Fort Walton Beach High school. He also had 350 yards receiving and 29 total touchdowns.

Upchurch, a Parade All-America, rushed for 2548 yards with 27 touchdowns on 305 carries for an 8.4 yards-per-carry average.

And like most of the freshmen, they were in Tuscaloosa early, working out to be in shape for the start of pre-season camp.

As Alabama prepares for its first day in full gear on Saturday, Shula said that the freshmen had reported in good shape, but that they were still working into "football shape." It was noted that the practice performances of Coffee and Upchurch have been tempered by that No. 1 No-No–the fumble.

"The young ones sometimes get tired and that's when the ball comes out," Shula said. "You notice it happened late in the practice."

Meanwhile, the main man at tailback is not giving way to the young ones. Kenneth Darby shows no ill effects of his sports hernia or the surgery to repair it. Darby had the most explosive runs of the day.

Alabama will be in full gear for the first time Saturday. The first two practices were in shorts and helmets with shoulder pads added to the mix Thursday and Friday. Shula said that full-speed tackling would be limited. In discussion of players who have been injured, the Tide coach noted that quarterbacks–notably Brodie Croyle, who is coming off knee surgery–would be protected. And he said the staff would monitor Darby and limit the amount of contact he might get.

One of the best things about Friday's work was that there were no serious injuries to report. Freshman defensive tackle Byron Walton "tweaked a hamstring." Some others continue to rest and rehabilitate injuries–offensive lineman B.J. Stabler a knee, fullback Tim Castille a knee, defensive end Mark Anderson a knee, cornerback Ramzee Robinson his back, and quarterback Jimmy Barnes with illness, mononucleosis.

Shula said that the Friday practice had "better effort" after a slow start. "It was hot," Shula said. "The upperclassmen did a great job of pushing the young ones."

Shula said execution in the two-and-a-half hour practice "could have been better." But, he said, "We're doing some good things in the seven-on-seven work. They're running around pretty good."

Shula said there continues to be good competition for a number of positions, noting particularly that Simeon Castille is challenging both left cornerback Ramzee Robinson and right cornerback Anthony Madison. Most offensive line spots are being competed.

The Tide coach said he was encouraged about depth at defensive tackle with the work of Justin Britt and J.P. Adams. In answer to questions, he also had good things to say about freshman linebacker Prince Hall and freshman tight end Travis McCall.

Shula did not appear to be pleased with the place-kicking performance. Jamie Christensen hit one of two, while C.J. Rhody and Ryan Saxby both missed their attempts. Freshman walk-on Andrew Friedman did not get to participate in the competitive place-kicking.

Bama pre-season practices go to another level Sunday when the first of five two-a-day practices is held. A team cannot have consecutive two-a-day practices, so the practices will be Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Monday, August 22.

Alabama is working towards the season-opener when the Crimson Tide hosts Middle Tennessee State at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 3, in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game is sold out, but will be available on a Pay-Per-View basis through most cable outlets in Alabama and satellite systems.

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