The weather was already part of the story of Saturday's workout, Alabama's fifth practice of the pre-season and the first day in full gear. That's because the heat index was at 109. About two hours into the practice, Coach Mike Shula took his team indoors because of lightning in the area. The squad was barely in the indoor facility before a violent thunderstorm with drenching rain hit the area. The power went out during the conditioning period causing the team to finish its running in the dark. And following practice the players and coaches stayed in the indoor facility for awhile, waiting for a break.
The indoor work included the only full speed tackling work when the Tide had goalline drills with the first offense going against the second defense and the second offense against the first defense. "The first offense scored all three times and the second offense scored only once, so both first groups did what they were supposed to do," Shula said.
One of those scores was a short pass to Vic Horn, who was playing at fullback. Shula said, "He's shown some toughness. It's a new position for him. the next few days will be important for him." Horn, a 6-1, 233-pound senior, originally signed as a tailback at Auburn, but transferred to Bama.
Shula said, "I think our effort overall was better. Our defense, I thought, looked really good. We did a little bit of everything. We had a two-minute drill and I thought our secondary did a great job with a couple of interceptions and a couple of knockdowns. We had a little blitz period. And we had goalline."
He said the goalline is spirited work because both sides "know it is an important part of the field."
Shula said that fullback/halfback Tim Castille (recovering from knee surgery) is making enough progress that the coaching staff considered using him in the goalline work in the so-called "jumbo package" when he plays tailback with LeRon McClain at fullback. But, Shula said, they elected to continue to monitor him and bring him along slowly. He said that when Castille returns he will do the same things he did last year, playing both running back positions.
Shula said, "The receivers did not have a good enough day. We had too many drops. We had a couple of drops the other day, but also had some great catches. But we can't have a day like today. We can't afford to have one guy have a bad day. We can't have a day with no focus. Those guys know they have to catch the ball if they are going to be on the field."
Shula seemed satisfied with the work on the offense in the blitz drills, although the defense had the better of it. Shula said "The offensive line did some good things." He noted that young running backs Glen Coffee and Roy Upchurch have shown they have running ability and in Saturday's work showed they were pretty good on blitz pick-up. They have two problems to overcome, Shula said. They first have to recognize the man they are supposed to pick up, and then they have to pick him up."
He said in the blitz period, "The offense knows it's coming, the defense knows it's coming, and they have to get into that mentality."
Shula said, "Thee have been times we've done some good things in blitz protection, but we need to get better, and we will get better. We're working against a fast defense."
The Tide appeared to suffer one serious injury with back-up cornerback Eric Gray being treated for what was tentatively diagnosed as a hamstring pull. On the good side, right guard B.J. Stabler was back at work "and everyone else is on the mend," Shula said of the handful of players missing work.
He said the injuries have affected the offensive line because of time Stabler missed while competing against Mark Sanders and the time that Cody Davis is missing in his competition against Chris Capps at left tackle.
Shula addressed Sunday's schedule, the first session of two-a-days this year. He said, "Tomorrow we'll have our first day of two-a-days. We'll be throwing a lot of stuff at them tonight and tomorrow, more situational stuff. We'll practice in pads in the morning and shorts and shoulder pads in the afternoon."
On Monday Bama will have its first scrimmage of the year and the first practice open to the public. The Tide will go to Bryant-Denny Stadium for a practice that will begin at 2 p.m.
Alabama is preparing for the 2005 season-opener against Middle Tennessee State at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 3, at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game is sold out, but will be available on a Pay-Per-View basis.