The biggest news from Alabama football practice Saturday was almost an afterthought. Coach Mike Shula was down to a little more than chat session with sportswriters when he asked, "You do know about Justin Britt, don't you?" Shula saw blank stares, heads wagging side-to-side.
That was really the only bad news of the day. Shula said Britt has the surgery last Tuesday and that he will miss the bowl game. He said Britt had been suffering with a shoulder injury similar to what quarterback Brodie Croyle had last year, chronic subluxation of his left shoulder. Croyle was able to participate in some aspects of spring practice, but was not involved in contact work. And Shula predicted the situation would be the same for Britt. "He should be able to do some limited work, but I don't know about contact."
The surgery was performed by Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Lyle Cain at St. Vincent's hospital in Birmingham. The surgical procedure, call a Bankhart repair, was done to restore stability in the shoulder joint. After a four to six month rehabilitation period, he expected to resume full activity.
Britt played in 10 games this season and started about half of them.
Alabama is expected to learn its bowl destination and opponent (probably Cotton Bowl against Texas Tech) Sunday afternoon. Unlike last year, when Bama waited until mid-December to begin work for the Music City Bowl against Minnesota, Shula decided to have a couple of days of early work to help keep the playrs focused and knock off a little rust.
In addition to Saturday's two-hour practice in full gear, the team will "probably" work again next Saturday. The Tide will begin full preparation on December 15 or 16 at the end of fall semester final examinations.
"We compared things to last year, where we did not practice for three or four weeks, and we did not want to do that again," Shula said. "This is a way to keep up their skills. They are working out (in the weight room) during the week, while the (assistant) coaches are on the road. We did this today, so we don't get rusty."
Shula said the Tide worked primarily with the "older guys" in the early part of practice, then held "the younger guys" over for extra work. "And in some cases they were the same, young players such as Marlon Davis, Chris Keys, Jimmy Johns, Glen Coffee, and Bobby Greenwood.
The Tide coach called it "a really good day. The coaches did a good job. For the start of practice, it was really good."
Alabama, ranked 14th in the nation, will find out its bowl destination and opponent Sunday. "It doesn't matter," Shula said in answer to a question about any preferences. "Our team just wants to get to 10-2."
Shula and most of the assistant coaches have been on the road recruiting for the past week. "It has gone well," he said. "Even better than the first two years, and it was good then, too," he said. He also noted that while Bama will have a practice next weekend, it will also be a big recruiting weekend with prospects in for official visits.
"Both coordinators and the graduate assistants will start to work on our opponent and start gathering information this week, while the other coaches are on the road recruiting," Shula added. "We may do a little work on the opponent when we practice next Saturday. We will start earlier this year than we did last year. I think last year we did not get into the opponent until midweek before Christmas. This year, we will start right away."
Shula said he knew last year it would be difficult to get things done at the bowl site, and said this year before the Tide leaves Tuscaloosa "We'll have done everything twice." By that, he meant that Bama would have the equivalent of two normal Sunday practices, two normal Tuesday practices, etc.
He said Alabama would not have any two-a-day practices, but thought the team would get about the same amount of work done. And, he said, it would help the coaches who have been recruiting get caught up on practice work.
One area of concern in bowl practice is the offensive line, which did not perform well late in the year. Shula said, "We had a lot of young players there. We're looking at protections, communications, techniques, everything. We'll work it out on the practice field."
He said the goal of bowl practice "is for every player to get better."
The offensive line took a big hit when three-year starting center J.B. Closner suffered a broken leg in the Mississippi State game. Shula was asked about Closner being able to play i,n the bowl game. "That would be tough," Shula said. "But JB hasn't ruled it out, so I won't."
Shula was probably reminded of the Justin Britt situation when he was asked a question about freshman halfback Roy Upchurch, who had foot surgery prior to the start of the season. In early fall, Shula said the next update on Upchurch "will probably be in December." On Saturday the coach gave a very positive update. "He's doing well," Shula said. "He's jogging. He's on pace or ahead of schedule, but we don't know yet about what he'll be able to do in the spring."
On another subject, Shula was asked what, if anything, had been done on a new contract for Shula. "Zero," he said. Previously Athletics Director Mal Moore had said that he and Shula would talk contract after the bowl game and after recruiting.
It is anticipated that Shula will receive a substantial raise from his current $900,000 per year contract.
One thing that will keep Shula busy in upcoming weeks is attending all of the awards banquets where senior linebacker DeMeco Ryans is a candidate. Shula will be in New York for the National Football Foundation & Hall of Fame banquet in which former Tide linebacker (and Shula teammate) Cornelius Bennett will be introduced as an upcoming inducteed and Ryans will be introduced as a finalist for the Draddy Award, given to the nation's top student-athlete in football.