Alabama football players added a bit to the practice ensemble Thursday, putting on shoulder pads for the first time in fall camp workouts. Although that's still not quite a full uniform, players in helmets and shoulder pads can do a lot more than could be done in the first two days of practice in just shorts and helmets.

The two-and-a-half hour practice started a little later than usual because of final examinations for some players in this last week of Alabama summer school and it was a bit cooler towards the end. But it was hot to begin with and there were some hot tempers as well.

"We had a couple of skirmishes," Alabama Coach Mike Shula said. "You want the players to be competitive, but you don't want them to get a penalty in a game and we talked about that."

The competition is something that Shula has talked about almost since his first day on the job, and he's pleased to see more of it.

"It was good to see the guys in pads for the first time," he said. "It was hot, and it's even hotter in pads, but they pushed through it. We were sloppy in some areas.

"But the thing I liked was guys competing.

"We're not near where we need to be, but I like that we are competing for positions.

"The guys wanted to compete. And I think we can be a physical football team."

Alabama will continue in helmets and shoulder pads Friday, then go into full gear Saturday. On Sunday Bama will have its first of five two-a-day practices. The first scrimmage will be at 2 p.m. Monday at Bryant-Denny Stadium and unlike most practices will be open to the public.

Alabama is preparing for its season-opener, just over three weeks away, when the Crimson Tide hosts Hawaii at 6 p.m. CDT on Saturday, September 2.

Shula said, "Based on today's practice, the toughness of the whole group of defensive backs is the best it has been. And we're going to need that."

On the minus side, Shula said, "There were a lot of things. Pre-snap mistakes were the most disappointing."

For the third consecutive day, Shula had praise for freshman safety Justin Woodall. "I had said he had looked good the first two days in shorts, and he looked good in pads, too," the coach said. Some of our young players are going to help in special teams, and I think he's going to be one of them."

He also mentioned freshman offensive tackle Andre Smith. "He did some things in the middle drill," Shula said. "He might not block the right guy, but he blocks someone."

Shula said freshman running back Terry Grant caught his eye. "He looked good," the coch said. "He's fast, he's smooth, and he's in great shape. I can see him helping at running back and in returning kicks."

Shula said it is a "good problem" to have a large number of running backs. "It's a lot different than it was a few years ago, and I like that." While Kenneth Darby is the almost certain 2006 starter and workhorse at the position, Shula said that Assistant Coach Sparky Woods "does a good job of getting them all work. He balances is. One (back-up) may get more work one day, then another more work another day."

There were a few changes on the offensive line with Justin Britt moving from right guard to left guard and B.J. Stabler going from left guard to right guard. Stabler started at right guard last year, while Britt was on the defensive line in 2005. Two offensive linemen missed the practice "for personal reasons," Shula said. For right tackle Trent Davidson it was the second straight missed day. Marlon Davis, who has been working at left guard, was also absent.

Shula said that quarterback play Thursday was not as good as it has been.

Shula said the tight ends "are getting better. They got bigger in the summer and they are in better shape. It was a little sloppy today because we dropped a couple of passes, and that will make it look sloppy. But we're getting better. We need them to do well in the running game, but we also want to involve them more in the passing game."

Travis McCall continues to run with the first unit, backed by Nick Walker, Charles Hoke, Cole Harvey, Reyn Willis, and freshman Preston Dial.

The coach said that wide receiver D.J. Hall, who had a well-publicized absence from on-campus summer work, appears to be getting into better shape. He added, "We have some others who need to get in shape, some of those young offensive linemen."

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