Classes at The University begin Wednesday. That means all practices are one-a-day and time restraints now in place. It also means that additional players over the NCAA-mandated 105 reporting group can join the squad.
Alabama will begin installing its game plan for the season-opening game Wednesday. After practices on Thursday and Friday, Bama will enjoy its "open date" Saturday with no practice, then get into regular game-week routine with Sunday's workout. The Crimson Tide will have its normal off-day Monday.
Alabama opens the 2005 season, the Tide's third under Mike Shula, at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday, September 3, hosting Middle Tennessee State at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game is sold out, but will be available on a Pay-Per-View basis on Alabama cable systems and to satellite receivers.
Shula said, "The message we gave to our players was that this is the end of fall camp, but we're not ready yet. Now we've got to get prepared for Middle Tennessee. We stop playing against ourselves now and get ready for the first game."
Shula said, "I think our goals have been accomplished to a degree, but we won't know for sure until we start playing games."
He said leadership from the players has made this a "closer" team.
He said if he could change anything it would be things like having important players not get injured. He noted that three redshirt freshmen offensive linemen who would figure into the rotation have been out with injuries, including guards Antoine Caldwell and B.J. Stabler currently missing and tackle Cody Davis who just began practice this week. "On the other hand," Shula said, "that has meant a lot more work for (true freshman guard) Marlon Davis, who will be playing in the first game."
Shula was pleased with Alabama's fast start on offense Tuesday. "I think in all sports it helps to get off to a good start," Shula said. In a scripted situation with the offense backed up to its goalline, the Tide got a nice run from fullback Tim Castille and then a big third down completion from Brodie Croyle to tight end Nick Walker. The drive ended with Croyle hitting another pass to Walker.
Shula said the drive was the result of doing "some little things right." That was in contrast to Saturday's scrimmage when the coach noted that some things that were almost good turned out bad because some little things were not done correctly.
Offensively, Shula said that there were some missed assignments late in the practice, some mental mistakes and some physical. "We can't play in second-and-long or third-and-long and be a good offense."
On the other hand, Shula said the defense has continued its good play and that it is "doing a good job of putting the offense into those second- and third-and-longs, which gives you a lot more options on what you can call. We did that last year. Coach Kines (Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines) does a good job with that."
One good thing for the defense was the play of defensive end Mark Anderson, who returned to the practice field this week after having undergone summer arthroscopic knee surgery. "(Trainer) Rodney Brown and our doctors have done a good job of getting our guys back," Shula said. "Mark Anderson did a good job. We want our guys competing and he is making (offensive tackle) Chris Capps compete. Chris won't play against many defensive ends as good as Mark."
Another defensive player making his biggest splash of pre-season camp was true freshman safety Chris Keys. Keys, who did not play football his senior season, was the leading tackler Tuesday. "If I was a betting man, I'd say he's going to play this year," Shula said. "He's very talented. He has a chance to be very good. But he has to do everything better. I would say that about a lot of freshmen. He is a freshman with a lot of ability who has been out of football a year."
The good Tuesday work offensively was a continuation of Monday night's practice, which was the final work of two-a-days. "Monday night was one of our better practices offensively," Shula said. "We have good receivers and we have Brodie to get the ball to them."
An area of concern in pre-season was running back, where halfback Kenneth Darby and fullback Tim Castille were coming off surgeries. Shula said, "It's good to see Darby back, and Tim is getting more and more work. And with the freshmen (Glen Coffee, Roy Upchurch and Jimmy Johns) the situation has been improving."
The coach said, "We're better in the offensive line than we were two weeks ago, although it is frustrating that we have had so many injuries." While Stabler is out for another few weeks, he said Caldwell (who was first team at left guard when he sprained an ankle) would be back later this week or early next week.
Shula said it is important that the offensive line get better consistency.
Tight end was a big part of Tuesday's work. Shula said it is his hope to be able to make the tight end a major part of the offense. "But you have to play with your talents," he said. "We haven't been able to run the offense like we want to run it. Eventually we'll be able to get into a a two tight end offense more frequently."
Shula said no decision has been made on whether true freshman John Parker Wilson or junior Marc Guillon (who had a good day Tuesday) would be the back-up quarterback. "Both have gotten better," he said.
Shula said that it has been decided that tight end Greg McLain will not have to have surgery on a shoulder he injured in Saturday's scrimmage, and that McLain will return in about four weeks. The Tide head coach refused to address rumors that sophomore placekicker Jamie Christensen had been suspended for the first game, noting that it is not Shula's practice to respond to queries regarding discipline.