Newcomers Impress Franchione

Alabama's newest football players took to the practice field Monday and there was as much interest in the one who wasn't there as there was in the 24 who were. Although a team can bring in up to 25 newcomers, The Crimson Tide was one short on the first day of practice.

That's because Derrick Pope, a 6-0, 223-pound linebacker who transferred from Garden City Community College in Kansas, is finishing up his junior college graduation requirements at Shelton State in Tuscaloosa. He has his final examination Tuesday and was given Monday off from practice for final study.

"It's a pretty important test," Bama Head Coach Dennis Franchione said. The coach said that Pope has done well in his class, but that he must pass the test. "His uncle has been keeping pretty close tabs on him," Franchione said. Pope is the nephew of Bama Assistant Head Coach Kenith Pope. Derrick will be able to practice Wednesday whether he has received his final grade or not.

Franchione was generally pleased with the two sessions, each lasting just over an hour, Monday. The afternoon session was in the rain. "It was a good first day," the coach said. "It was good to get them out there and see them move around. We can evaluate them and we can teach them."

The coach said he was pleased that 18 of the newcomers were able to vertical jump at least 30 inches. "That's pretty impressive," Franchione said. "A good vertical jump is a good sign of speed and quickness. And they have good strength," he added.

Alabama will not practice Tuesday. The Tide newcomers will convene for two more workouts in shorts on Wednesday, the day returning players officially report, bringing the early fall roster to no more than 105. There will be no practice Thursday and then the entire squad will participate in two-a-day practices beginning Friday. The first workout in full gear is set for next Tuesday, August 13. Classes and one-a-day practices begin August 31.

Alabama opens the season in Birmingham's Legion Field on Saturday, August 31, against Middle Tennessee State. Kickoff will be at 11:30 a.m. CDT with regional television coverage by Jefferson Pilot.

Even without Pope, Franchione said, "The defensive guys looked good. That's an impressive defensive front." He noted that Bama has only three defensive backs.

The coach said the players ran very well, particularly in the evening session, which was held in the indoor practice facility.

Although there are not many defensive backs in the reporting class, one of those impressed Franchione. Junior college transfer David Scott "has good hands, good moves, and breaks on the ball well," the coach said. He said that Scott had also done very well in catching kickoffs from the Jugs machine prior to practice.

The Bama coach also had praise for two other junior college transfers. He said that defensive tackle Ahmad Childress, who came from Garden City Community College, had done a good job of getting ready for fall camp. Although Childress was listed at 6-7, 345, he actually reported in 22 pounds under that weight, at 323. "He moves well," Franchione said. The coach said he thought Childress, who has three years of eligibility remaining because he was redshirted in junior college, could play either nose tackle or defensive tackle, and that he might play at both spots.

Wide receiver Zach Fletcher (6-3, 200) from City College of California was an eye-catcher. "Watching Zach fulfilled what our hopes were," Franchione said. "He has good hands, good moves, and good speed. I would say he could fit into our top four, five, or six receivers. But he has a lot of offense to learn first."

One new Tider who had not reported to Tuscaloosa earlier in the summer to begin workouts is defensive lineman Jeremy Clark (6-3, 280) of Daphne. Franchione said it's too early to evaluate his conditioning. But, the coach said, he had watched the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game during the summer and thought that Clark looked good in that contest.

Franchione announced that wide receiver Marcus McKnight (6-2, 170) of West Nassau High School in Callahan, Florida, had signed a scholarship with Bama Monday morning. He received the scholarship that had originally been awarded to defensive end Chris Browder of Camden. Browder is not academically eligible. Alabama currently has 79 on scholarship, one under the 80 limit mandated by NCAA sanctions.

Franchione said he was bringing in three placekickers in the 105 who report Wednesday. There were no placekickers among the 25 newcomers. The three who will report are all back from last year–Brian Bostick, Mike McLaughlin and Michael Ziifle. The coach said he feels good about all three. Additionally, he said, placekicker is one area where a player can come in when classes begin (and when there are no limits on the number practicing) and win a job. Two years ago Neal Thomas came in with the start of classes and earned the job as Bama's placekicker for 2000 and 2001. "When you can only have 105, it's difficult to bring in more than five specialists," Franchione said. In addition to the three placekickers he will have deep snapper Nick Ridings and punter/kickoff man Lane Bearden in camp.

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