Alabama is going to have to defend against the defending national champion in Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan. He ended last season as major college football's top performer in five statistical categories, including total offense (371.2 yards per game), passing touchdowns (35), passing yards (4,301), passing yards per game (358.42), and points responsible for per game (19.17).
In his regular Tuesday meeting with sportswriters, Shula said, "I think he's a dangerous quarterback for a team to have to defend. He's got a strong arm, he's accurate and he's not going to go down easy. And he can create on his own. Combine that with the fact they have some receivers that can go downfield, it makes it dangerous for a defense."
Shula said the Hawaii team coming to Tuscaloosa "is probably one of the best they've had since June Jones has been there." And, he said, "Hawaii is, by far, our toughest opponent for a season-opener."
Jones, Hawaii's head coach, has a background in the NFL, as does Shula, and as does Hawaii's defensive coordinator, Jerry Glanville. Shula was asked when he last had contact with the two Warriors' coaches. Shula said, "The last time with Coach Jones was probably when we played out there (in Shula's first season, 2003), and with Coach Glanville when he was doing television. They probably know me more as Don's son than as Mike. They are good people. I've always had a lot of respect for them."
Brennan isn't the only concern for Shula and the Alabama team. Bama's head coach said, "Defensively they like to blitz. They are very opportunistic. They feed on turnovers."
While Shula emphasizes the challenge, he said, "Our football team is excited about the season starting. The men have worked hard to come together as a football team."
He said if there is one thing that has pleased him most it has been the steady improvement of the squad. "You go back to the first day of spring practice and see where we were when we ended in the srping, and then again when we came back for pre-season camp, the improvement we've had. It has been a matter of not just getting better individually, but learning to play as a unit. Now, everyone is anxious to see where we are."
Shula said that Alabama would dress a large number of players, probably the entire 105 who were on the pre-season camp reporting roster and perhaps some who have joined the squad since classes began a week ago. "It's not a conference game and it's a home game, so we can dress a lot of guys," Shula said.
He said, "We are going to have a lot of new guys on the field, but they are excited."
Early, Shula said he expected perhaps five or six true freshmen to contribute to this year's team. Now he sees the possibility for more, particularly if placekicker Jamie Christensen is not ready to play Saturday. Christensen suffered a groin injury. If he is unable to kick the job will go to Leigh Tiffin.
The number one true freshman in camp is left tackle Andre Smith, who has earned the starting job. "He's done a lot of good things," Shula said. "He's untested, but we think physically he's pretty good. Otherwise he wouldn't be listed number one. Coach (Bob) Connelly's done a good job with him. Hopeflly he's got a good feel for what he's doing now and he's got some confidence."
Some other true freshmen expected to participate include cornerbacks Marquis Johnson and Javier Arenas, strong safety Justin Woodall, safety Sam Burnthall, running back Terry Grant, and wide receivers Earl Alexander and Mike McCoy. Some may be on special teams, including Arenas and Grant as possible punt and kickoff return men.
Shula pointed out some experimentation in an attempt to add some depth on the defensive line. He said that Brandon Deaderick (6-4, 271), who came to Bama as a defensive end, is now working at defensive tackle. He noted there is more expereinced depth on the defensive line at end with Keith Saunders and Bobby Greenwood at right end and Wallace Gilberry and Chris Harris at left end. Former wide receiver Ezekial Knight is also working at right end. The only experienced tackles are Jeremy Clark, Dominic Lee, and J.P. Adams.
There has also been some movement on the offensive line, but Shula said he is not concerned about continuity. "We have been moving guys around a little," Shula said. "If they hadn't played it might make you nervous, but most of them have experience."
For example, Chris Capps is listed as the starter at right tackle after having started at left tackle last year. Capps will back up Smith at left tackle and 2004-05 starter Kyle Tatum will back up Capps at left tackle. "They created competition and it made us better," Shula said.
Justin Britt moved from defensive line to left guard. "We had a good feeling about him," Shula said. "I'm sorry he missed spring practice. He still has a ways to go, but he's one of our top 11."
B.J. Stabler, who started at right guard last year, and Marlon Davis, the back-up this year and last year, have both had some injury time this year. Both were expected back mid-week. Shula said in their absence that Michael Johnson had gotten a lot of reps and done well.
One question that won't be answered until Saturday evening is whether weakside linebacker Juwan Simpson is suspended for his off-the-field problems this summer. Shula does not announce punishments. Simpson is backed by Demarcus Waldrop and Marcel Stamps. Shula noted that Stamps has been a good special teams player in the past and would also play in the kicking game this year, but said he also could expect to play on defense.