A Sign

Hopes and expectations are that Alabama's football team will be stronger this year than it has been the past few seasons. It could be a good sign that the Crimson Tide scout teams have showed improvement.

"Our scout teams are the best they've been," Alabama Coach Mike Shula said following Wednesday's practice in shorts. "That should say something, I hope."

He said the scout defense had done a particularly good job in Wednesday's practice. "The offense had a good day earlier in the week, but wasn't as good today," Shula said.

Freshman quarterback Jimmy Barnes is running the scout offense this week.

Alabama is preparing for its season-opening game at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday. The Crimson Tide will host Middle Tennessee State University in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

"I think we've had two really good days," said Shula. "We've been off the field earlier both days than we had scheduled. We're getting a lot of reps in in a short amount of time. I think our guys are getting their legs back."

The Crimson Tide will have one final day of preparation this week before Saturday's game. "We'll do some move the ball things, a typical Thursday for us. We'll get a lot of different situations; have a thorough kicking game practice also. From that point on it's just going over our stuff getting ourselves some rest and ready to go for the kickoff."

Bama will have a normal Friday "walk-through."

The Tide coach said he is anxious to see his team in action. "We're ready to see how some new guys are going to react, whether they are freshmen or juniors or seniors who are starting for the first time."

He said, "We have talked about playing as a team, running to the football, playing the way we have been coached, and to have fun. It's going to be good to play in front of a home crowd and to be able to hit someone else."

In answer to a question Shula said that he thinks quarterback Brodie Croyle, coming back for his final season after suffering a season-ending knee injury last year, "is excited. He has to make good decisions and good throws. He's an accurate quarterback." Asked if he suspected the knee is on Croyle's mind, Shula was succinct: "No," he said.

He said that in addition to Tim Castille, who is also coming off knee surgery, that Le'Ron McClain and walk-on Will Denniston (who is also a tight end) would be available to play fullback. He said that Victor Horn and Kyle Bennett would both be in the mix, but that both are nursing injuries.

Shula isn't tipping his hand on the place-kicker for Alabama Saturday. There had been reports earlier that soph Jamie Christensen might be suspended for the opening game, but Shula has continued to work both Christensen and senior Ryan Saxby and said Wednesday he would not likely announce the kicker. He said Bama had worked on kickoffs Wednesday. "They both kicked off pretty well," Shula said. Christensen was Alabama's kickoff man in 2004.

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