The Job At Hand

Alabama Coach Mike Shula is preparing his Crimson Tide football team for a Cotton Bowl game against Texas Tech. So why was he talking about spring training and 2006 plans? Because over-anxious sportswriters wanted to look ahead.

Following Monday's two-hour work in full gear, Alabama Coach Mike Shula said, "Practice went well. I think the day off Sunday helped some of the guys. We got a lot of [watching] tape in. We're in the thick of our preparation."

That preparation is for Texas Tech. Bama, 9-2, and the Red Raiders, also 9-2, will play in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on January 2. The game, televised by Fox, kicks off at 10 a.m. CST.

Bama will have another brisk practice Tuesday, then have a day for meetings and lifting Wednesday before another practice Thursday and a light workout Friday before the team gets a short break for Christmas. Bama will resume preparation in Dallas beginning Tuesday, December 27.

Shula was asked about the grayshirts, players who signed with Bama last year but sat out the fall semester and will re-sign as true freshmen in 2006. Safeties Sam Burnthall and Travis Sikes and offensive lineman Cole Harvey are allowed to practice with the Tide in the bowl preparation work in Tuscaloosa. "They look rusty, but this will help them," Shula said, adding, "just like it did last year with John Parker Wilson and Drew Davis."

That may have led to the question about John Parker Wilson being the heir apparent to Brodie Croyle, who will quarterback Bama for the final time in the Cotton Bowl. Shula said, "We feel real good if something happened to Brodie, John Parker could come in and help us win the game. Think about how far he's come in the last year. He's been here a year now. He's had a lot of good reps. It has been tough. I think he could come in and help us. If he's the starter next year I think he can help us win. He's only going to get better with every rep.

"He has a good feel in the pocket, moving around. He can make plays when things don't go the way you've drawn them up. He showed that last spring, and showed it a little in the games he's played That can be very useful."

When Shula next got a question regarding middle linebacker in 2006 (after the graduation of Freddie Roach, the coach said he hoped the players weren't looking ahead like the writers seemed to be. But, he said, "Prince Hall is going to have a chance to be on the field a lot next year if he continues to improve like he has. Zach Schreiber is another one who has done a good job since taking his hand off the ground. He was a defensive end in high school. Both those guys will be contributors next year. Matt Collins played a lot this year and he will be in the mix."

Shula said that wide receiver Keith Brown was limited Monday with a sore hamsgtring. He said that Brown might get work starting Tuesday, but regardless the sophomore should be back by the end of the week.

There is interest in the center position. J.B. Closner was lost for the remainder of the year with a broken leg against Mississippi State. Taylor Britt finished that game and started against LSU and Auburn. Antoine Caldwell, who started at left guard this season, has also been working at center during bowl preparation. "We're still experimenting," Shula said. "We're doing okay. Antoine and Taylor are getting all the reps."

Shula was asked about recruiting players from strong high school programs in the state of Alabama. He didn't limit his thoughts to the powerhouse programs. He said, "What I learned when I got here (as a player) from Florida is the intensity in the way these guys are coached in the state of Alabama. The high school coaches in this state take a lot of pride in putting a very good product on the field and getting the most out of their kids. They spend a lot of time in clinics and talking with coaches. We spend a lot of time talking with them and we learn from each other. It's very helpful for us to keep the good players in the state here. There are a lot of good schools in the South these guys could play at, but hopefully they will think enough about our program that they will want to play in front of family and friends and play for a national championship."

A limited number of tickets still remain to the Cotton Bowl. Fans can purchase tickets by calling 205.348.BAMA (2242) or they can go online at

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