Runners Stand Out

It is the nature of practice that when a team is working against itself, it is difficult for all aspects of the team to look good. In a baseball intrasquad game, either the pitchers are pitching are getting outs or the hitters are getting on base. In a football scrimmage, it is hard for the runners and the tacklers to look good. In Alabama's Saturday football practice the day went to the runners.

Alabama Coach Mike Shula put the Tide through a two-hour practice in front of several hundred upcoming football prospects and their high school coaches and families at the Thomas Field practice facility. The Tide's sixth practice of the 15 allowed in spring practice included about a half hour of scrimmage work.

Shula said there was "good energy and good effort. We had a team period with live tackling (scrimmage)." The Tide head coach was not impressed, at least not with the tacklinjg part. He said, "We found we have a lot of work to do in tackling.  But I thought overall there were some real good things." 

He said, "Jimmy Johns and Roy Upchurch had good runs. That is the best thing we are doing. And the worst thing we are doing is tackling them."

Shula said that there would be "as much of this" scrimmage work as possible through the remainder of spring. Two public scrimmages, Saturday March 11 and Thursday March 16, are scheduled for Bryant-Denny Stadium. The final practice of the spring, the A-Day Game, will be at the stadium on April 1.

Shula said that the crowd at Saturday's practice "was good for the kids. They were more enthusiastic."

Almost everyone involved in Alabama's football program has been enthused by the play of redshirt freshman halfback Roy Upchurch. Upchurch missed all last fall after undergoing surgery on his ankle in August. He had been considered as a possibility for practice by about the mid-point of spring training, but he has been working since the first day…and performing well.

Still, Shula said, "Roy's got a lot of work to do. He has to learn to protect the ball better. And he has to understand and execute our pass protection schemes, because the backs are involved in that. But the last few days he has been the best he has ever been here. He has a chance for playing time."

Although running back is considered a deep position for the Crimson Tide, this spring Bama is without returning starter Kenneth Darby, who has been out with what was described as "tendonitis," and Glen Coffee, number two on the pre-season depth chart, who has a pelvic injury.

Shula said the the quarterbacks "were average." He added that for the remainder of the spring John Parker Wilson and Marc Guillon, who are listed one-two, would continue to get about an equal number of snaps with the first and second units. Shula pointed out there was no hurry to make a decision, that the coaching staff is "gathering the information the players provide."

Even though he was disappointed by the tackling by the defense, Shula did see a few good men. He pointed out that outside linebacker Juwan Simpson, defensive end Wallace Gilberry (who had a couple of sacks), and cornerback Simeon Castille had good days. He said that the pass rush was better than the run defense.

Shula said that defensive communication has to improve. He noted that a strength of Alabama's highly-ranked defenses the past three years has been that the team played together, knowing which players had which gaps, etc. "The first group has to play better as a unit," he said.

Two key newcomers on defense will be at the safety positions where Roman Harper and Charlie Peprah graduated. Jeffrey Dukes and Marcus Carter are working at those spots now, and both have come in for regular compliments. But, Shula said, the safeties "have to communicate. Roman and Pep were just so good at that."

Back-up center Evan Cardwell missed the practice with a leg injury. He is expected to return Tuesday, as is wide receiver Keith Brownh, who suffered an elbow injury late in the scrimmage. Defensive end Chris Harris missed for the second day with a "strained oblique."

Alabama returns to the practice field Tuesday.

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