"I'm the same (as the fans) as far as feelings about the start of this season," Alabama Coach Mike Shula said. "I had some of the same feelings for our first game two years ago, but now we are going into our third season. We have a lot of defensive people back who earned a reputation last year. We have a healthy Brodie Croyle at quarterback, and John Parker Wilson is ready to be number two."
There are also anxious feelings. "You are always nervous about young people playing, and we'll have three men starting for the first time on the offensive line," Shula said. "But I think (Assistant Coach) Bob Connelly has done a great job with them. I feel a lot better about the offensive line after the past seven or 10 days.
"There are also questions in the kicking game. Can our place-kickers, Jamie Christensen and Ryan Saxby do the job that Brian Bostick did? Both have days where they do well and both have had days where they didn't do so well. Can Jeff Aul do the job as punter?"
Shula said, "I feel more comfortable with some thing than I did two years ago. Now I know what I can expect from Tyrone Prothro. Now I know what a healthy Brodie Croyle can do. We've had some success with guys who are playing on defense.
"Of course, it's a new year for the defense. They have a reputation from last year, but now they've got to do it again."
Shula called the return of halfback Kenneth Darby "a wonderful surprise…because I went in with low expectations…I think our doctors and our trainers and our strength coach did a great job, as well as did KD as far as his rehab…We gave him I think every bit of work he needed and yet not a snap more where it wouldn't overwork him. I think he's going to be feeling real fresh.
Shula said, "Our football team is ready to go. We've had a real good training camp. We've had a lot of good things happen. We're getting back healthy. We're probably as healthy as we've ever been. We've got a few nicks and bumps but our team is excited to go play against somebody else.
"We've had some scrimmages against each other, so a lot of hard work, a lot of conditioning. And yet we've still got a couple of good days left to prepare. So we want to take full advantage of it."
Shula said a handful of freshmen are "bubble guys" insofar as being redshirted. Although no determination has to be made, Shula will be careful about using freshmen in the early going. He remembers playing 19 plays in the second game of his freshman season, the only snaps he had that year.
"I still get mad at Coach (David) Rader," Shula said of his offensive coordinator. Rader was Alabama's quarterbacks coach in Shula's playing days. Shula added, "At the time, I was glad, because it meant I wasn't going to be redshirted. But after my senior year, I would have loved to have had that additional year to play."
He also noted that he came close to playing Nick Walker last year, and instead Nick Walker is a redshirt freshman as Alabama's starting tight end.
Shula said that freshmen who would definitely play include defensive end Bobby Greenwood, back-up halfbacks Glen Coffee and Jimmy Johns, back-up tight ends Travis McCall and Charles Hoke, offensive guard Marlon Davis.
"We've got thoughts on others, but we have to be flexible," Shula said. He noted that some guys are ready to play, but that if depth in front of them is good, they might be held out. Among those he mentioned as "on the bubble" are defensive backs Chris Keys and Cory Reamer, halfbacks Roy Upchurch and Ali Sharrief, and defensive linemen Brandon Fanney and Lorenzo Washington.
He said that Prothro would be the deep man on punt returns and that Prothro and D.J. Hall would be the deep men on kickoff returns. (He noted that some freshmen might play on special teams and pointed out that Jimmy Johns would be on at least three–kickoff returns and kickoff and punt coverage.)
Once again, Shula said that he believes freshman quarterback John Parker Wilson is ready to play, but said he didn't want "to get off the fence" on having a pre-game decision. "It will depend how the game goes," Shula said.
Shula had nothing but good things to say about Saturday's opponent, MTSU, saying the Blue Raiders would present a challenge with "one of their best teams." He particularly noted MTSU quarterback Clint Marks as having been one of the most efficient and accurate quarterbacks in the nation last year. He noted MTSU's big offensive line and a number of offensive skill position players. He also noted that MTSU's no-huddle offense presents some problems in preparation.
Defensively, Shula said, MTSU has a big defensive line, experienced linebackers, good cover corners in the secondary, "and a new defensive coordinator, so we've got to be ready for everything."
Before Shula started his regular Tuesday press meeting, he said addressed the victims of Hurricane Katrina. "Our thoughts are with all the people who have been affected by the hurricane, especially those who have been hit hard. There were some lives lost and a lot of injuries and of course a lot of property damage, and, for the second year in a row, such a devastating disaster. We want to keep those people in our thoughts and prayers and hopefully for a speedy recovery and everybody get back on track as fast as we can."
The University did not have classes Monday or Tuesday because of the storm damage, including loss of power. But the athletics department suffered loss of power for only a couple of hours, and because of the cancellation of classes the football team was able to get in an additional walk-through Tuesday morning.