Alabama is working towards its August 31 opener against Middle Tennessee State at Legion Field in Birmingham. The game will kick off at 11:30 a.m. CDT with regional television coverage by Jefferson Pilot.
Actual game preparations began today, and Franchione spent some time "encouraging" the offensive players. "We started working on the (MTSU) game plan today," he explained, "so some adjustments in their practice routine had to be made. I had to grind on them a little bit, but it was nothing unusual. They did pretty good---just not as good as I wanted."
Franchione commented on the number and quality of walk-on players that have joined the Tide program this year. "We're constantly looking for good walk-ons, and there are a lot that are interested in Alabama. We encourage that. With the 105 (early reporting) limitation, it's hard to leave some of them off when there's so much interest.
"We're encouraged by the group that reported today. Some of them will have their debut in January, when they first come out for spring practice."
Interestingly, the NCAA sanctions have actually resulted in more walk-ons rather than less. "There is a great deal of interest in Alabama among walk-ons," Franchione said. "I think they see that now they might have a better chance of making an impact than in other years.
"We treat all the players the same. We expect the same thing of them academically, socially and on the practice field. We're going to play the best player. If a walk-on can get in the two-deep and is making a contribution, then he's got a great chance to be rewarded with a scholarship."
Alabama returns three senior starters on the defensive line, and Franchione expects that their play will key the defense. "Things will definitely start with them," he said. "Pass defense and run defense, they'll both start with them. It's easy to get caught up in stats (with defensive linemen)---how many sacks or tackles you get. And we hope to have a lot of both. But they can impact a play by just pressuring the quarterback or by tying up a double team to let the linebacker make the tackle."
"Jarret (Johnson), Kindal (Moorehead) and Kenny (King) are all leaders," he continued. "They're catalysts on the defense. We need all of them to be impact players."
Franchione also pointed to Antwan Odom as a D-Lineman on the verge of making an impact. "Antwan is not far behind that top group. He's held up physically very well this fall. It's incredible how he was able to recover from shoulder surgery and get stronger at the same time. That's a tribute to Rodney (Brown, Head Trainer) and Ben Pollard (Strength and Conditioning coach). But it's also a tribute to Antwan.
"He just lacks the game-time experience of those other three. He has all the tools to be a great defensive player---size, strength and range. He's unlimited in what he can accomplish."
Friday afternoon the squad will begin a weekend-long preparation for the season opener. Referred to by Franchione as a mock game, from Friday evening until Saturday afternoon, everything that occurs will be just like a regular game weekend.
"It's more for the starters and guys that will play than the newcomers," Franchione explained. "We'll cover everything from the pre-game meal, to halftime, to warmups to substitutions---getting players on and off the field. We'll cover every possible situation we could face in a game: taking a safety, kicking after a safety, receiving a kick after a safety. It's for sideline organization.
"It'll be a logistics, an organizational type day."
One position where much improvement is expected is at cornerback. And right now six or more players have a shot at starting. "We've got a group of cornerbacks where you could just put them all in a sack, shake it up and drop two out and play with them," Franchione said. "They're all close. Some days Gerald (Dixon) and Hirchel (Bolden) separate some, but the competition has been fierce. It's made them all better."
Franchione expects good things from redshirt freshmen defensive backs Charlie Peprah, Anthony Madison and Roman Harper. But he's determined not to rush them. "You don't know how a player will respond until he actually gets into a game," Franchione said. "I wish we were like the NFL and could play some exhibition games, where you could use a kid when all the chips weren't on the line.
"We'll give a lot of thought as to how we can work (those three) into the playing rotation without putting them into a tough situation."