Football in the Forecast

Mother Nature doesn't appear in a hurry for spring to arrive - with rain and temperatures in the low 40s in Tuscaloosa - but everyone else is, including Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula. Shula met with the Media on Monday to discuss spring training, which starts Friday [with forecasted temperatures in the more acceptable 60-degree range].

Shula confirmed that receiver Tyrone Prothro will have surgery on Tuesday performed by Dr. Les Fowler. It's been reported that Prothro will have a steel rod inserted into his leg. That will allow him to eventually put weight on the leg, which he has not been able to do since the injury on October 1 in the Florida game.

Will Prothro be healthy for the 2006 season, or ever again? Shula said Monday that early speculation on that question is unnecessary.

"I just want to address that for a second," Shula said. "You guys have asked about the surgeries. We're not going to know anything, from what I've learned, until June on whether Pro's going to be ready for next year.

"Our mindset is that we want him there and we want him ready and that needs to be his mindset. We feel real good about the way things have gone. Obviously, the injury was a very severe injury, a very serious one. He's got a great attitude. His leg continues to get better daily. The rehab, he comes in every day for that. The doctors have done a great job.

"It's going to take time. For us to speculate right now that he's going to be ready, it doesn't make any sense for me to do that right now, or any of us. The rehab, from what I've learned, will speed up from this point on because of some of the things that he'll have happen and go from there."

Shula hinted that a lack of leadership from the nine starters lost off last year's team needed to be addressed.

"Our guys are going through the winter workouts right now, and you can see a difference already in the leadership part of the winter workouts and how we've got to move on to next year," Shula said. "They've got to understand that those guys are gone, that they looked up to, that they waited for them to say something to the football team and take on those leadership characteristics.

"We've talked about it already with Rocky Colburn in our conditioning program and it's going to be an issue as we start practice Friday and through spring ball and as we continue to be a theme throughout the off-season as we head into training camp."

Replacing seven defensive starters, Shula said preparing mentally for new roles is as important as being ready physically.

"Overall mentality of toughness, being relentless, getting to the football. We had good team speed last year," he said. "We didn't have great team speed – there were some other teams out there around the country that had some very fast guys – but we found ways to get to the football. A lot of guys with discipline doing that, they knew their job, they knew where to go. That's what we've got to create with the guys that have to fill the shoes of the seniors that have left."

There was also contract talk for Shula to deal with. Athletics Director Mal Moore indicated that Shula would get a new deal and a raise from the current deal that pays $900,000 before bonuses and runs through 2010. That deal has yet to be finalized and Shula said there wasn't a timetable in place between Moore, UA President Robert Witt and himself.

"There's only one way not to ever let it get out," Shula said. "There's nothing to say. Do I have optimism? Yeah."

"Everything's going great," he said. "If there's anything that has delayed it, it was a 20 day old baby that delayed it for at least 10 days."

Shula's third daughter was born on February 1, national signing day.

The notable move of Zeke Knight from receiver to defensive end was big talk. Knight, who had the best spring of any receiver last spring, dropped balls all throughout the 2005 season. He approached the coaches in the off-season about moving over to defense.

"We had been looking at it as a staff," Shula said. "He's a physical guy that can run and helped us at the wide receiver position when we needed help, but I think we all feel like he's got a chance to be one of those pass rushers we need to identify. It's going to take a lot of work. We know that. He's going to have to start out with the right mindset and just learn every day."

On moving Knight to linebacker instead of defensive end, as many thought might happen, Shula said, "He's one of those guys a lot of [position] coaches would fight to have. We talked with him about his mindset and what he wanted to do and where he wanted to play. This could be a good fit for him, maybe similar to Mark Anderson."

Anderson, of course, had 18 tackles for loss and seven and a half sacks. He was a linebacker when Joe Kines took over the Alabama defense, but he had been a defensive end before that, and was moved to linebacker by Dennis Franchione.

With Prothro out, and Knight moving from receiver to defensive end, the Tide's three experienced wide receivers are Keith Brown, DJ Hall and Matt Caddell, leaving several repetitions for the less experienced players.

"Will Oakley will get a lot of reps this spring practice, and Nikita Stover being here is coming at the right time because he's going to get a great opportunity," Shula said.

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