Alabama will not practice Thursday. Returning players officially reported Wednesday, bringing the early fall roster to 105. The entire squad will participate in two-a-day practices beginning Friday. The first workout in full gear is set for next Tuesday. Classes and one-a-day practices begin August 21.
Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione said Pope earning his eligibility helps secure the middle linebacker spot. Redshirt freshman Freddie Roach finished spring drills as the number one middle linebacker. He was backed by Marvin Brown, who has since been declared academically ineligible and turned professional. There was a chance that Jason Rawls or Mark Anderson could play middle linebacker, but they are more suited to outside spots, where they back up Brooks Daniels and Cornelius Wortham.
Pope, a native of Galveston, Texas, had completed all but one class at Garden City Community College in Kansas, where he was a junior college All-America. He moved to Tuscaloosa this summer, living with his uncle, Alabama Assistant Head Coach Kenith Pope, and took his final course at Shelton State Community College. He took his final examination Tuesday and learned Wednesday he had successfully completed the class.
"I think he's a quality football player," Franchione said. Franchione has followed Pope since his high school days. The Tide head coach reiterated that he thinks all four junior college transfers in the class of newcomers "will make an impact," naming defensive tackle Ahmad Childress, wide receiver Zach Fletcher, cornerback David Scott, and Pope.
Final examinations for players enrolled in summer school at Alabama are not complete until Friday, and Franchione said he was still a little anxious about "two or three." One returning player, defensive end Gerard Clark, is not on the roster of 105 who may practice prior to the start of classes, an indication that he failed to gain academic eligibility.
Franchione said the two days working with the newcomers has been positive. "You evaluate them in the recruiting process, but it's not a sure thing until you see them in your jersey, being taught by your coaches. I feel good, but they have to survive the test of time. We'll see how they do in two-a-days. Last year Todd Bates was the one who kept at a high level through two-a-days and he was able to help the team."
The coach added, "At this level, there are no plays off. They are going to be more tired and more sore than they have ever been when we get into two-a-days." He pointed out that while football is a physical game, it is also a mental game, and when a player becomes fatigued he is more likely to make a mental mistake. That is why conditioning is so important.
Franchione said the players–particularly the new players–are watched very carefully to make sure there are no heat issues. He noted that most of the new players spent the summer in Tuscaloosa to get in good shape. He said that part of fall practice may be in the indoor practice facility, "not to hide from the heat, because we've got to get ready to play in heat, but to keep them fresh enough to keep the learning curve."
Franchione said the newcomers will get a lot of offense and defense thrown at them in the next few days. "They have probably gotten about 15 per cent so far," the coach said. "In the next five days we will have re-installed all of the offense, defense and kicking game. It is going to go faster this year because the veterans have been through it. That makes it harder for the freshmen, but it's nice that they can learn by watching the veterans."
Franchione had said prior to the start of drills that some of the newcomers would get a chance to work on both offense and defense. Greg McLain, 6-3, 230, of Lineville, was one that Franchione mentioned as having a "linebacker-defensive end-tight end-fullback body." McLain worked at linebacker the first three sessions, but Wednesday afternoon was with the offense, working at the new "W" position, which is combination fullback and tight end.
Among practice visitors Wednesday was new Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive, who was making a tour of the campus with Athletics Director Mal Moore. Franchione met with them briefly following practice. Franchione, who has known Slive since Slive was commissioner of Conference USA and Franchione was at C-USA member TCU, said, "He was my candidate all along."
Alabama has received its eighth commitment from an upcoming high school senior. Jarod Parrish, a 6-3, 180-pound cornerback from Chattooga High School in Summerville, Georgia, announced that he will sign with Alabama in February.
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.