The Return Of Darby

It was about halfway into his post-practice summary Monday morning before Alabama Head Football Coach Mike Shula got a question about Kenneth Darby. Everyone had seen Darby was back after having been excused for family reasons late last week. And everyone saw the all-star halfback go down after being tackled around the knee.

"Kenneth Darby is back," Alabama Coach Mike Shula said to sportswriters covering the practice. "I'm sure you all saw him go down. He got a helmet on the knee. He should be okay."

That wasn't quite the end of it. Shula admitted that it concerned him to see Darby go down with the injury, which occurred on one of Alabama's situation drills. The first offense was backed up to its goalline and trying to work out against the second defense. Cornerback Chris Rogers made a clean tackle on Darby and the senior halfback stayed down, obviously with pain in his right knee.

Fortunately, Darby's foot was not planted when he took the hit. Not long after being taken away, he returned with ice on the knee. As he stood with his teammates in the post-practice huddle, it seemed obvious he was in some discomfort, but did not appear to be injured.

"Everyone got quiet when K.D. went down," Shula said. "It's an unfortunate part of football. It was great to see him pop up."

Shula said, "There's a delicate balance (on how much to practice star players)." He said the older guys who have proven themselves still have to prove it in practice, but not to the same extent. He said that a Kenneth Darby doesn't need to get as many repetitions as a younger player.

Alabama was out in full gear on the Thomas Field practice fields Monday morning for about two hours. The Tide will return to Bryant-Denny Stadium tonight to get some work under the lights, including field goal work. The final scrimmage of pre-season camp will be Tuesday, a practice at Thomas Field that is not open to the public. Shula said it would probably consist of fewer plays than the two previous scrimmages. And he said it likely would include the offense having poor field position, something that has not been the case in the first two game-type practices. He said it would continue to be balanced insofar as run and pass plays.

Classes and one-a-day practices begin Wednesday. That is also when Shula and his staff will begin to prepare for the season-opening game. Bama begins the 2006 season hosting Hawaii at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday, September 2, at Bryant-Denny.

The start of classes at The University means that Alabama can expand its roster from the 105 who have been permitted in camp. Bama is expected to have 11 players who were in spring practice and 14 newcomers added, making for a squad of 130.

One final special situation before the team reaches game week is a "mock game" that will be held at Bryant-Denny Stadium Friday.

Shula said he thought the Monday morning practice was a good one. The Tide worked on special situations, such as the one in which Darby was injured with the offense backed up against its goalline. There was also plus territory work with the offense going into the end zone and practice with the offense trying to run clock against a defense trying to get the ball back.

Shula said, "I thought the offensive line may have had its best practice. They did a good job on protection.

"(Quarterback) John Parker Wilson really looked good throwing the ball. He's got a strong arm. He's been doing a good job running around in the pocket and I hope he'll continue to do that."

Shula did say, "We were still a little sloppy in some areas."

In addition to Darby, Shula noted that defensive tackle Dominic Lee had suffered what appeared to be a thigh bruise. Lee, too, is expected to return soon, perhaps for the night practice. Offensive guards B.J. Stabler and Marlon Davis were kept out, but Shula said "Nothing that will keep them out."

The coach said placekicker Jamie Christensen, who has a groin injury, is still not ready to practice, but that he should be ready by the end of the week.

In reviewing last Saturday's scrimmage, Shula said, "I thought the defense did a good job of getting to the ball faster. They didn't allow any long plays. John Parker did a good job. We had one stretch of 13 straight pass plays. I thought the offense did a good job in plus territory.

"We got better. We made strides."

Shula said that freshmen often have a chance to get early playing time as members of special teams and said he expected that to be the case this season. Two freshmen who might be in high profile situations are Javier Arenas and Terry Grant. Arenas is battling Simeon Castille for the job of punt return man, while Grant and Arenas are among a group (D.J. Hall, Ramzee Robinson, Matt Caddell among them) working on kickoff returns.

Shula said the Tide is also searching for at least one more man to be in the defensive tackle rotation. He said at least four are needed and he hopes to have five or six. The three who are in the rotation are Jeremy Clark, Dominic Lee, and J.P. Adams. Shula hopes that Lorenzo Washington, Brandon Fanney, and Byron Walton will provide help.


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