Tide Goes Into Pads Tuesday

Alabama's football team will go into full gear for the first time this pre-season Tuesday morning, then likely hold its first scrimmage Wednesday. Head Coach Dennis Franchione said the plan is to have a Tuesday morning workout in full gear, the first day Alabama is not mandated to be in shorts, then go back to shorts and shoulder pads Tuesday evening. "If we have two good practices Tuesday, then we'll have just one practice Wednesday," Franchione said.

He said the scrimmage would begin at 11:30 a.m. CDT in Bryant-Denny Stadium. That time is not random. Alabama opens its season with an 11:30 kickoff against Middle Tennessee State on August 31, a game that will be played at Birmingham's Legion Field and telecast regionally by Jefferson Pilot.

Franchione, who noted that Bama's six practices in shorts and shoulder pads had been good ones, said, "A year ago we could never have thought about missing a practice." He said that is another example of how much further along the Tide is in the second year of the Franchione system than it was last season. He complimented the players on being improved physically and mentally.

If Alabama does scrimmage Wednesday (almost a certainty), the players will return in the evening for a walk-through and meeting. "That's what we did Sunday and it was very profitable," Franchione said.

The schedule has been less physically demanding on Franchione's second team. "We had so much to do we had to grind it every practice," the coach said of 2001 pre-season camp. The predictable result was the squad "hit a wall" about its third day in full gear. This year he said the team will work in full gear Tuesday morning, then ease off a little Tuesday evening to give the players recovery time for the scrimmage. "We're able to keep them a little fresher this year," Franchione said.

While Alabama's Monday practices were in shorts and shoulder pads, the evening workout gave a hint of things to come. It was quite spirited, and included tempers flaring on a few occasions. Franchione said, "I'd much rather have to tone them down than fire them up." He added, "At this point in two-a-days you expect a little of that. The players realize that six of 29 practices before the first game are now gone, which adds to the tension. You don't need too much of it, but a little isn't too bad." He said the coaches and players are aware that such activity can result in a penalty later.

He said it was also a sign of the past times, that the team was doing a little more each day, getting a little more physical, as it draws closer to the full gear workouts. Indeed, he said, "You won't see a lot of difference in what we do in full gear from what we were doing in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets."

Franchione said Tuesday's practice included too many penalties, but a reason for that may be that the coach has instructed the officials who work practice each day to call things more closely. Franchione also said the quarterbacks had done a "good job of changing cadence to keep the defense off balance, but, unfortunately, the offense was also affected."

In July, Alabama's coaching staff spent a week preparing a scouting report for the opening opponent, Middle Tennessee State. However, actual game preparation will not begin until the start of classes (and one-a-day practices) on August 21. Franchione said the team is doing work on itself in early camp. He said Bama would have all of its offense, defense and kicking game installed before starting work on MTSU. "We'll put in things we won't use in the first game, but we might in the second. By having it already installed, it's just a matter of recall when we put it into the game plan."

Alabama has a kicking game scrimmage each year (this one is scheduled for Saturday morning), and right now Franchione has some aspects of that game that are not settled. While he noted that Lane Bearden has been more consistent punting and that there are as many as a half dozen candidates for kickoff return, questions remain at placekicker and punt return man.

Franchione had praise for the four junior college signees in camp. He said that all of them–middle linebacker Derrick Pope, defensive tackle Ahmad Childress, cornerback David Scott, and wide receiver Zach Fletcher–would all be considered to be in the two deep depth chart. He noted that cornerback is very competitive and that Scott is a little behind, but added, "He's catching up."

Todd Bates, the defensive end who has been slowed by the recovery process from off-season surgery, had a better day Tuesday. Franchione said a change in warm-up procedures may help Bates, who was the only scholarshipped freshman who play last season. While Bates may be headed for a redshirt season to complete his recovery, Franchione said his performance Tuesday may be an indication that he is further along than expected.

One member of this year's freshman class drawing praise is Greg McLain, the 6-2, 246-pounder who came in as a linebacker, worked briefly at tight end, and is now practicing at fullback since the loss of Donnie Lowe. "He has done well, learning two positions," Franchione said.

Lowe, Bama's starting fullback last year, had to give up football because of a problem with concussions. That position may have lost another player Monday. Franchione said redshirt freshman Marquez Dupree had left the team "for personal reasons" and added he didn't know whether he would return or if he would be replaced on the 105-man roster.

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