Two weeks before Alabama opens the season hosting Middle Tennessee State, the Crimson Tide went to Bryant-Denny Stadium for a controlled scrimmage. The two-and-a-half hour practice included about two hours of scrimmage work, mostly the first offense against the second defense and the second offense against the first defense.
The defense controlled almost the entire day.
Coach Mike Shula said, "I thought for the second scrimmage the effort was real good. We looked good on defense. We had said we wanted the defense to finish plays and to get to the ball faster, and both the first and second defense did that."
The story was not as good for the offense. "Offensively, whenever the ball is on the ground, whether it's a dropped ball, or a fumbled snap, we had a couple drops there that could have been big plays, it just kind of takes the wind out of everybody's sails," said Shula. "I think that's what happened offensively is that we had a chance to make big plays, which we did last week, and we didn't do it. Guys got a little frustrated and we missed a couple other assignments up front and it just looked ugly that way from that point of view, especially in the first part of the scrimmage."
A big question on offense is which quarterback will be the back-up to starter Brodie Croyle. With the move of Jimmy Johns to running back and Jimmy Barnes just now beginning to participate after a bout of mononucleosis, the race for number two is between freshman John Parker Wilson and junior Marc Guillon, who opened the 2004 season as number two. Shula said, "We're still letting those guys compete. Both guys have done a pretty good job."
The coach said, "All of the quarterbacks made too many mistakes today, including Brodie."
He said one area in which the offense had success was in plus territory. "We wanted to get some snaps in there because that is such an important area," Shula said.
Shula said that Saturday's practice is the exception to what has been a positive pre-season practice. "That could be good for us," Shula said. "Sometimes when things go well at practice you lose your intensity. It could be a good wake-up for us all."
Fullback/halfback Tim Castille took part in the scrimmage. Castille, who had knee surgery midway through last season, had begun workouts earlier in the week. "Tim needs to continue to work," Shula said, "but the best thing is that he made it through."
He noted that Bama continues to be "pretty thin in the offensive line." He added, "And the teams we play don't care."
Several thousand spectators were on hand for the scrimmage. Shula said, "It was good to have so many turn out, probably twice as many who came last Monday (for the Tide's first scrimmage)."
"We've got to continue to improve," Shula said. He said the players and staff would take both the good and the bad from the scrimmage, working to stay good where things are good and to repair the things that are not good.
"Sometimes things go bad and you have to react," Shula said. "That was probably the worst thing we did on offense is not react properly when things went bad. We need a lot of improvement, and we can get there."
Players will have a full day of meetings Sunday, then have a light practice Sunday night. The Tide will have its final "two-a-day" practices Monday, then a final pre-season scrimmage Tuesday. "We won't have as many snaps in Tuesday's scrimmage as we did today," Shula said.
Classes begin Wednesday. and Shula said the Tide would begin putting in the game plan for MTSU then.
Bama got one bad piece of news on the injury front as tight end Greg McLain separated his shoulder while diving into the end zone. Shula said the initial prognosis is that McLain, a senior who has been injured much of his career, would be out about four weeks. "And he's our most experienced guy at that position, so we're real young there."
The Tide got a pre-scrimmage talk from all-time Crimson Tide great Harry Gilmer, who twice finished fifth in Heisman Trophy balloting and led Bama to an undefeated season and Rose Bowl victory over Southern Cal in 1945. Ten members of the 1945 team had a reunion in celebration of their 60th anniversary in Tuscaloosa this weekend.