Highly Motivated

Alabama Coach Mike Shula isn't conceding the rest of the season. After back-to-back Southeastern Confereence losses, it was suggested there isn't much left to play for, that goals have to be revisited. While Shula knows that ultimate goals can't be achieved with the losses, he said, "There are still a lot of things out there we can take."

To do that, the Alabama head football coach added, "We've got to get prepared and go out and take them. And we're motivated higher than ever after two losses."

He said, "You have to have a plan to start every week. We treat each week as a one-week season. We have to get everyone on the same page, going in the same direction."

Shula expects his team to have confidence for the rest of the season. And he understands how that confidence is achieved. "When you win, you're going to get more confidence," he said. "So a win can cure a lot of things. It helps emphasize all the points that you make throughout your dealings with the players in the off-season and fall training camp and of course during the season. The older guys, you don't ever worry about that. Maybe the better answer is some of the younger guys, they're going to gain more confidence as we win. But for a small senior class, we've got good leadership, and I think, really, that's shown more in the last couple of weeks with that group than it has this whole season, including going back to the off-season, which makes me feel good about going into this week and the rest of the season."

Shula said when problems arise the practice can be adjusted to give attention. But, he pointed out, "You have to take away from something else. Last week we spent more time on special teams so we took a little more time away from other things. We kind of tweak it each and every week."

Most might think Alabama needs extra practice on Red Zone execution since the Tide ranks low in achieving touchdowns afer reaching that final 20 yards before the goalline. Shula said, "I don't want that to sound like I'm putting it on our players. I include myself and the coaches. We have to produce better. We have to have better schemes and coach them better. I think one of the better things we can do is increase our snaps in practice. We've seen different looks. One thing we feel like we can do is give them more snaps down there and give them as many looks as we can. Sometimes we get looks we haven't seen on tape. The more things you can give a guy like John Parker Wilson in regard to some of the things you're going to see, the better he will do down there."

One sportswriter wanted to know if it was important for Alabama to do more than just defeat Duke, whether the Tide had to "dominate" the Blue Devils. Shula said, "We're in this thing to win. This could be a very scary game too because all the things people are asking, and whether or not its media or friends and family, ‘Oh, you'll beat Duke.' That's scary to me because then it gets in their heads that if they just show up they will win."

The coach said, "They're going to be motivated. We're going to get their best shot, and if we're not on top of our game it doesn't matter who you play, we're not going to win games. We need to worry about ourselves each week. We want to go out and play solidly and win and improve."

Shula didn't think it would be necessary to have a big-name opponent to motivate Bama this week. "Regardless of who we play this week our guys have a feeling inside," Shula said. After two losses, it's a bad feeling. The only way we can begin to feel good about ourselves is to win. We have to win and build and get better."

Shula said Duke is "a team that we don't know a lot about. We've watched them on tape. Our focus this week is to find a way to get back on track. We had good work Sunday night. The kids, I think, have a great attitude. We've suffered two tough losses, losses in which we felt like we could have won the game. I think there's a lot of points that you can talk to your team about, as far as where we are and where we could be, and how we've got to get back on track. The main thing for all of us to do is be positive and learn how we can all get better. Really put the emphasis, as we do every week, especially this week, doing everything right and come in here and prepare harder than we've ever prepared; and just each guy start with himself on how he can help this team get better."

He said, "We've looked at the tapes of all four Duke games. There are things we do that are similar to Virginia Tech, Virginia, Wake Forest and Richmond, but they have a lot of two-tight end, one-back and we're the opposite. Duke will have some gimmicks. And they are good against the run. They blitz a lot and do a lot of zone blitzing. They blitz linebackers and safeties and play zone behind it, and they do a good job against the run. They present some problems for you on defense. Teams that have played them have had some short fields due to turnovers or maybe some plays on special teams."

As for Alabama's special teams, Shula said that placekicker Jamie Christensen, who returned to field goal and extra point duty last week, "had more (practice) reps last week than ever, but will be back on regular schedule this week. We need to make sure he kicks a 39-yard field goal, not a 51." Last week Bama lost field position in the final seconds of the first half, forcing a much longer field goal try.

He said that freshman Javier Arenas was solid as the punt return man, particularly after making some nice catches. But, Shula said, "We've got to get something going in returns, especially punt returns."

On the injury front, Shula said:

Defensive end Ezekial Knight was still out with dizziness as Bama awaits the results of examinations. Shula said, "We don't have any updates yet on Zeke. We're still waiting for test results back, so his status is the same. He got it (dizziness) a couple of days after the Arkansas game. Nothing shows up on a tape as far as a head injury."

He said fullback LéRon McClain "was moving around Sunday, X-Rays of his leg were all negative.

"(Linebacker) Terrence Jones made it through the game okay.

"(Halfback) Glen Coffee should be out there Tuesday doing individual drills for the first time. He's really right on schedule and is running in his rehab and he will take it to individual drills where he we do some change of direction and things."

Shula said that quarterback John Parker Wilson is "one of the reasons, one of the big reasons, why we're having the best year we've had on third downs. He moves around and makes plays. The last few weeks a lot of our third downs have been short yardage, which is good. The percentages go up the shorter the distance, and we've done a nice job of converting some of those short-yardage gains. We need to have less third downs; in other words, make more first downs on first and second down. I think his decision making and his mobility have helped us."

Halfback Kenneth Darby appeared to be much improved against Florida. Shula said, "They played a little more seven man front on first and second down and I think that helped us. We ran better and we blocked it well. We need to do better; balance is what we're striving for."

In answer to a question about whether Jimmy Johns might get more work, Shula said Johns would get opportunities. He added, "But we're not going to neglect a guy who has had two 1,000-yard seasons and did pretty well last week."

As Bama approaches the midway point of the season, Shula was asked if most redshirting decisions had been made. The coach said, "I would say at least half of those decisions would be made but we always reserve that due to injury. If we had no more injuries, then, yes, there would be some decisions after this week as far as guys not playing. I think we're playing five or six true freshmen, so, if we're going to play a guy who hasn't played this week, then we need to have a plan to play him the rest of the year. We shouldn't just go into it thinking that we would just play him this one week. Again, that's without the injury factor."

As for those freshmen who have played, some for only a few snaps, Shula said, "You'd like the guys who have played a few plays to play more. It's a fine line in getting them in there, because the way our games seem to go every play is so crucial and you want to feel like you have the best 11 in that situation."

Alabama has been in a three-man defensive front most of this season. Shula was asked if he was surprised that opponents have had trouble running against it. He said he was not surprised. "We struggled offensively running against it in practice last spring. I just like in general, I think it utilizes our speed on defense. You've got one more smaller quicker guy who can move around and get to the football."

There may be more Evan Cardwell at center in Alabama's future. Shula said that the move of Antoine Caldwell to left guard, his 2005 position, and Cardwell into center in the final two minutes against Florida was part of a plan. He said Bama is comfortable with the move. "We'll look at it again this week in a possible two minute situation. Could we possibly see more of that? Yeah. Evan's come along and we want to get both guys on the field. If Evan's one (of Bama's five best offensive linemen) he needs to be on the field more than just in the final two minutes. Having him in to snap in the final two minutes takes some of the pressure off Antoine. It gives Evan more experience."

Also regarding the offensive line, he said Bama would continue to play both Chris Capps and Kyle Tatum at right tackle.


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