Following Alabama's final practice before spring break, Crimson Tide Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines was trying to keep hold of his grandson, who had come out to Bryant-Denny Stadium to watch the scrimmage. Joe was having only moderate success holding on to the youngster as he chatted with sports reporters.
It was nice to see Joe relaxed. Most of the time I see him he's wound pretty tight. His is the voice that thunders over all others on the practice field. He's a hands-on coach, rushing to his players to give correction or a congratulatory pat on the helmet.
And he is a hard worker, one of those early in-late out coaches. He's spent a lot of time watching film (in his early years) and tape and drawing up the Xs and Os of his profession.
One of the sportswriters asked Joe if he would be doing any work over the spring break, which ends when Crimson Tide players report back for physicals Monday.
"No, Coach (he calls just about everyone Coach, which saves his memory for things more important than names)," he said. "I'm going to try to catch me a big bass."
As I watched the boat go around a bend headed for the less-trolled areas of Yellow Creek I wondered if Joe had been able to go after that big bass, and if he had gone fishing if he had been successful. My bet is that he could will a lunker into his boat.
And I would also bet that fishing doesn't take much of his brain power, and that even when he's trying to get away from it that Alabama defense is on his mind. That's probably why Kines has a reputation as one of the best in the nation, and why Alabama's defense has ranked second in the nation the past two years. Defense got most of the credit for Alabama's surprising 10-2 record and number eight national finish in 2005.
He noted following the scrimmage that spring practice is just about over. "That's the bad news," he said. He had said that Bama could use a month of practice. "They only give us 15 days, so we have to work twice as hard," he said.
He also said that the first 12 days had gone pretty well. "This is what we need," he said. "We need to put those linebackers and safeties into this type situation as much as we can." He said the players are doing well, but that experience is necessary, particularly for the communication work that is so vital.
Kines and the defensive staff seem to have done a pretty good job of finding replacements for the seven lost starters from last season.
Dominic Lee and J.P. Adams are in a spirited competition for the nosetackle spot manned last year by Rudy Griffin. Keith Saunders has been a surprise at the defensive end spot vacated by Mark Anderson. Saunders has held on to the first team jersey, ahead of Bobby Greenwood. Returning starters man the other two defensive end spots, Wallace Gilberry at end and Jeremy Clark at tackle.
Kines lost one of Alabama's all-time best at strongside linebacker in DeMeco Ryans. Terrence Jones has had a good spring as his replacement. Juwan Simpson is the returning starter at weakside linebacker, and he's backed by another pleasant surprise, Demarcus Waldrop.
One of the most competitive positions of the spring has been at middle linebacker, where former walk-on junior Matt Collins is trying to hold off promising redshirt freshman Prince Hall. Freddie Roach was the veteran at that position last year.
Only one startrer is back in the secondary, and left cornerback Ramzee Robinson isn't taking part in team drills (scrimmages) as he recovers from wrist and back injuries. Travis Robinson was expected to contend at cornerback, but he is out this spring recovering from surgery. But that doesn't mean cornerback hasn't had good play. Simeon Castille, who missed the Cotton Bowl game for academic reasons, has had the blue jersey of the second team on this spring, but he's looked like a first teamer. And he's in a battle with Eric Gray for the starting right cornerback position manned the past few years by Anthony Madison. Chris Rogers and Lionel Mitchell also look capable.
Safety and strong safety are very important defensive positions, leadership positions in every sense. Bama had excellent play there the past two years with Roman Harper and Charlie Peprah. And there have been nice surprises there this spring with Jeffrey Dukes and Marcus Carter working with the first team, Rashad Johnson and Travis Sikes backing up Dukes, Bryan Kilpatrick and Sam Burnthall behind Carter.
Alabama will work in shorts on Tuesday, have a full gear practice Thursday, then finish spring practice with the A-Day Game at 1:20 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
And then Joe Kines can go fishing again.