"I feel good about the way the guys reported, their physical shape and their strength," Franchione said. Franchione, who is a great believer in the strength program, said he believes the team is very close to where a team needs to be in strength. He said the squad had made "dramatic improvement" and was probably a year ahead of when he expected it to be at this strength level.
Perhaps more important to Franchione than the way in which the team reported on Wednesday is that they all reported. Last February 1 the NCAA Infractions Committee shocked the Tide with sanctions that included the loss of post-season play this season and next season. That penalty carried with it the possibility of Bama juniors and seniors transferring to other schools without having to sit out a year. Other schools recruited Alabama players, but all elected to stay. Franchione said, "I am really proud of the way these guys stayed together and forged ahead."
Franchione said, "I like the chemistry of this team. We have a motivational challenge ahead (owing to the loss of post-season play, which prevents Bama for playing for a championship), but we are off to a good start." He said he expected the team to do better in the second year in the offensive and defensive schemes of the Franchione staff, adding "The anxiety factor will be much lower since they have been through this."
There have been some academic casualties since the end of the spring semester. It had earlier been announced that linebacker Marvin Brown would not be eligible. Thursday Franchione announced that defensive lineman Gerard Clark had been lost to academic ineligibility. Offensive lineman Dante Ellington is also ineligible to play this year. However, Ellington will remain on the team, redshirted this year as he works on the scout team and on regaining eligible status, and "hopefully return for his senior year in 2003," Franchione said.
Franchione said the team is in good health as fall practice begins. Walk-on flanker Lance Taylor has a broken hand and walk-on fullback Nathan Cox also has a hand injury. Wide receiver Antonio Carter and strong tackle Evan Mathis have rods in their legs from off-season surgery. Defensive end Todd Bates, who also had off-season surgery, is probably the most questionable, and may be limited to some extent. Franchione announced that the team has new helmets, quickly adding, "No, not white helmets like so many people ask." The new helmets are designed for safety, particularly for those susceptible to concussion. Fullback Donnie Lowe, who missed part of last fall and part of last spring with concussions, will be among those wearing the new headgear.
Last spring offensive tackle Atlas Herrion moved to defense for the second half of spring drills. Thursday Franchione announced that Herrion would move back to offense, partly because of the loss of Ellington and partly because of what Franchione has seen from Alabama newcomers, notably junior college transfer Ahmad Childress at defensive tackle.
While senior Tyler Watts is clearly the number one quarterback going into fall camp, Franchione said it would be an important 29 practices for redshirt freshmen Brodie Croyle and Spencer Pennington. The coach said, "Brodie set the table with 15 good practices in the spring. Now he needs to have 29 good practices in fall camp." He noted that Croyle is ahead of Pennington because Croyle came in semester earlier and went through spring practice and then had the advantage of working with the offense most of last fall while Pennington was the scout team quarterback.
Franchione said the tailback "will always get a lot of touches" in Alabama's offense, but he wouldn't speculate on how many might go to Ahmaad Galloway or Santonio Beard or Shaud Williams. "They are a point of strength," the coach said. "They combined for a lot of yards last year." Franchione said that all of the tailback candidates "have things to work on," and said "we want to be confident in whoever is in the game that he will take care of business when he doesn't have the football."
One of the most interesting aspects of spring football practice was the introduction of two new positions on offense, "A-Back," which is a second tailback, and "W," a combination of weakside tight end and fullback.
Shaud Williams and Ray Hudson were the two men playing A-Back in the spring. The A-Back lines up at tailback, fullback, in a slot, on a wing, or split out. "The two guys we have can do it all if we can teach it all," the coach said.
Theo Sanders, who was back-up to Terry Jones, Jr., last year, is the leader at "W." Franchione is particularly impressed that Sanders now owns every Alabama strength record for tight ends, having "wiped Jones off the board." The "W" will sometimes run the ball from a fullback spot, but will be used primarily as a blocker and pass receiver. "Theo needs to catch the ball a little better," Franchione said.
Franchione said that wide receiver Antonio Carter, who missed last year's Independence Bowl game because he had not passed enough school work in the fall semester, had probably thought his junior year would be his last at Alabama and didn't take care of things academically. "These agents tell them things and the players want to hear them," Franchione said, adding that Carter had been disappointed by having to miss the bowl game. He said that Carter appears to be a player who wants to be a leader on this team and that his teammates look up to him.
Other points addressed by Franchione:
-- Alabama needs to solidify its placekicker before the first game.
-- At least eight offensive linemen and eight to ten defensive linemen must be identified for the playing rotation. The coach said that with teams passing as many as 40-50 times per game, a number of defensive linemen are needed to rush the passer and still have fresh players available in the fourth quarter.
-- The depth chart and rotation need to be solidified in the secondary. (He noted that junior college transfer David Scott has not disappointed Tide coaches, who expected him to strengthen the cornerback position.)
-- Antonio Carter and Sam Collins will be two of Bama's wide receivers, but number three, four, five and six must be identified.
-- Alabama will probably play a junior varsity game on Thursday, October 10 (during Bama's open week), against Georgia Military Academy. Kickoff at Bryant-Denny Stadium would be at 4 p.m. Franchione said this would be for the benefit of those players who weren't being redshirted, but who were not playing a great deal in games.
Alabama goes into full gear Tuesday. Classes and one-a-day practices begin August 21.
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.