A Healthier Tide

By this time last year, Alabama's football team was numb to injuries. In earlier games the Crimson Tide had lost starting quarterback Brodie Croyle, starting halfback Ray Hudson, and starting fullback Tim Castille. The tight end corps was walking wounded, if walking at all. There are losses this year, but LSU will face a stronger and healthier Bama.

Even with all the injuries a year ago, it took extraordinarily bad officiating–horrible even by Southeastern Conference standards–to take Alabama out of the game at LSU.

This year things are much better at Bama. "You hate to have injuries," Alabama Coach Mike Shula said following the Crimson Tide's Wednesday practice. "We've lost two major contributors to our offense this year (wide receiver Tyrone Prothro and center J.B. Closner, both to broken legs). But we have Brodie (quarterback Brodie Croyle), Ken (halfback Kenneth Darby), and Tim (fullback Tim Castille)."

There had been some question about Castille, who did not play last week against Mississippi State after suffering a sprained ankle against Utah State. "Tim has worked all three days this week," Shula said. "Tim had been doing a good job. Because he was coming off surgery from last year, we didn't want to push him too much early. But he had been coming along and was really just getting back into it when he got hurt. He is very valuable to us because he plays two positions."

Castille, a junior, is listed as a fullback where he shares time with Le'Ron McClain, but he is the halfback behind McClain when Alabama is in short yardage or goalline situations. He has rushed only 36 times for 81 yards with a long run of six yards, but has six touchdowns running where the going is tough. He also has seven pass receptions for 45 yards.

The loss of Closner, Bama's senior center, came last week. Taylor Britt finished the game at center and following Wednesday's practice Shula said, "Taylor has done a nice job this week." The Tide coach also said that freshman Evan Cardwell, who has not played this year and seemed ticketed for a redshirt season, is ready to play as the back-up center.

Starting left guard Antoine Caldwell missed the last half of the Mississippi State game with a foot injury and did not practice Sunday or Tuesday. But Caldwell was back in practice Wednesday.

Alabama, 9-0 overall and 6-0 in SEC games, is ranked third in the nation. LSU is 7-1 overall and 4-1 in league games and ranked fifth in the nation. The Tide and Tigers will kick off at 2:30 p.m. CST Saturday with national television coverage by CBS.

Alabama worked out for just over an hour and a half in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts Wednesday. Afterwards, Shula said, "We've had two good practices. "I think the guys are really getting zeroed in and they're going to have to because LSU is really good."

Shula was asked if he could see a difference in Croyle's work in practice this week. The coach said, "Brodie has had a good week. He's practiced well all year. He knows that in this game he has to be at his best. All of our players do. We've talked to them about not leaving any question they have unanswered and about being completely focused. That's true every week, but especially this week."

Alabama had problems with Mississippi State's outside pass rush last week. Shula was asked if the Tide's protection problem had been corrected. He said, "Every guy up front has to do a better job on technique. There are some things we can do scheme-wise if we need to or if we want to. We want to be able to mix things up and we don't want to be predictable. We have got to be better."

Shula said that LSU's talent was "at least" as good as Tennessee's. He said the Tigers do a lot of different things on defense, but said the schemes were "not things we haven't seen."

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