"It's a highly specialized position. You want to give them as much protection as you can. But now this is what we needed to do."
Should senior quarterback Tyler Watts play, he will wear the black jersey. But Brodie Croyle and Spencer Pennington will be "live" for the entire game. "We need to put those young ones in as many game situations as we can," Franchione said. "We understand there is a chance of injury, and that makes us nervous. But they need to be in that situation. They're both at times a little quick to flush out of the pocket. They need to be more comfortable with getting hit.
"Brodie hasn't been hit in two years. And Spencer hasn't been hit in a while either. They both need to take a good hit. It's just trying to get them as game ready as we can."
A-Day activities, including an autograph session at Coleman Coliseum (9-11) and a team reunion for the 1992 national championship squad on the Quad (12-1:30), will precede the game, which will kickoff at 2:30. Prior to kickoff every member of the spring roster will be introduced to the crowd. And in a change of pace from recent years, the Walk of Fame Ceremony, honoring last year's team captains, will take place in front of the Bryant-Denny crowd.
Unlike the practice at many other SEC schools, there will be no admission charge for entrance to A-Day. "I think we want to make it as easy as possible for our fans to be here," Franchione said. "We don't want anybody to have any reason to not come. We know that there are a lot of fans that can't get a ticket to games, and we want them to be able to attend."
Last season the Tide coaches divided up the squads into the respective Crimson and White teams, but this time around members of the Leadership Council drafted their teams from the master roster. Franchione explained, "I am glad that we did it. Last year it wasn't the right thing to do. We needed to work cohesively as a unit as many days as we could get last year, so I didn't do it. But right now I think it's a positive. The kids are excited about it.
"They're going to verbally spar with each other and gig each other a little bit. And that's good. They're having fun with it. They had a great time at the draft yesterday. The whole buzz from that moment on was which team am I on?"
There will sometimes be inequities in the talent level, but Franchione doesn't think that's all bad. "You'll have a first teamer across from a third teamer sometimes. And there will be some things we wouldn't show in a game. But it'll be a competitive game. The coaches will put people in good situations as much as they can."
As "commissioner" of A-Day, Franchione presided over the draft. "You're always surprised by the choices," he said. "And as a coach you learn from it. You learn a respect level that the team has for other players. It's interesting to listen to their comments. It's an interesting hour or so."
Looking back on the 2002 spring drills, Franchione was generally satisfied. "We're much farther along that we were last year at this time," he said. "We're certainly not game-ready, by any stretch. But our knowledge and understanding of our schemes is much deeper. We have an idea of personnel."
And on the flip side, Franchione pointed out several areas in which he had hoped for more progress. "I don't know if we've identified our kicker yet, and we would have liked to have been able to do that. I would have liked for our receivers to have eliminated drops better. I think we're a little behind in our power-run game right now. I'm not worried about it. We know we've got good tailbacks, and we need to get back to that a little bit. But we wanted to put these young quarterbacks in a lot of pass situations."
No less than six kickers will participate in Saturday's game, and the Tide coaches will utilize some unique rules to maximize their exposure. Franchione explained, "There are three kickers on each side, and when we score a touchdown all three will kick. They all three have to make it to get a point. If we kick a field goal, they all three will kick and for each one that makes it they get a point. If three make it, they get three points. We want to make sure they get work and we get to evaluate them."
"There's not much that separates three or four of them," Franchione continued. "We just need to continue charting them and putting them in pressure situations. It's difficult to evaluate when you're dealing with inexperienced people that haven't been out there in a game."
Even though it was a nice day in Tuscaloosa, Thursday's practice was conducted in the Crisp Indoor Facility, marking the first time the squad had worked on the recently installed Field Turf surface. "I didn't want next fall to be the first time that we went inside," Franchione said. "So I felt like we'd just go ahead and come in today. We thought we'd go in whenever we got some weather, but fortunately we didn't get any weather.
"The kids can speak to it better than I, but I know it's a lot better than last year's surface. It's closer to grass. I don't think the kids play any differently on it that it was if it were grass."
In this morning's edition, The Tuscaloosa News reported that sophomore linebacker Jason Rawls had been arrested earlier this week and charged with passing bad checks and failure to appear on a misdemeanor assault charge. The Alabama Sports Information Department announced that the matter would be handled "within the confines of the team," and Rawls will participate in Saturday's game. Franchione commented, "His status hasn't changed, and that case still has some investigative things that need to happen before I can make a final decision. There are things to be sorted out before we have all the answers to what has happened."
Both junior defensive tackle Anthony Bryant and senior tight end Theo Sanders went down with minor injuries. Bryant returned to action quickly, but Sanders has a sprained knee that could possibly keep him out of Saturday's game.