A few changes for North Texas

Three games into the 2002 season, Alabama will finally play its first "real" home game, when the North Texas Mean Green visits Bryant-Denny Stadium this Saturday.

Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione and his staff are always careful not to say anything critical of Legion Field in Birmingham, but the Bama players are perfectly willing to say on the record and off that they prefer games on campus in Tuscaloosa.

Senior cornerback Hirchel Bolden had a tough game last weekend, having two touchdowns scored over him and giving up a long run on another play that led directly to an Oklahoma score. In the second half of that game, second-year players Charley Peprah and Anthony Madison got the lion's share of snaps at cornerback.

So there has been a great deal of speculation this week over possible depth chart changes. "Charley Peprah will start at cornerback," Franchione revealed. Peprah actually started versus Oklahoma in the nickel back role, and it's expected that Madison will inherit that position this Saturday.

Bama tight ends also dropped several passes versus the Sooners, and the position will also see a lineup change. "Donald Clarke will start at tight end," Franchione said.

Saturday's game is slated for a 6 pm (CDT) kickoff, and Athletics Director Mal Moore explained the timing. "Some have questioned why are we playing the game at 6:00 p.m.," Moore said in his weekly message to Tide fans. "And the reason is really simple: we have found that is the time that most of our fans prefer to play during the month of September and early October. And, it is one of the few games that we can actually dictate our starting time because the only TV will be on a pay-per-view basis."

Both teams will enter Saturday's game at 1-1. North Texas lost its season opener to the University of Texas, 27-0, before bouncing back last weekend to down Nicholls State, 23-0.

Yesterday Franchione complimented this year's squad on their practice habits, noting that the team's workouts got better as the week went along. Following today's session, nothing had changed. "Practice was good," he reported.

Alabama was out in shorts and helmets today, polishing the game plan and working on specific game situations. Friday the squad will have a walk-through, emphasizing sideline control and substitutions.

The Bama sideline Saturday will be especially crowded, as Franchione intends to dress out the most players so far this season. "I haven't tallied them up, but it's over a hundred," he said. "(Director of Football Operations) Coach (Charley) North can tell you."

According to North, the specific number is 117. Since North Texas will be an out-of-conference home game, Alabama is not limited by SEC or NCAA rules on the number of players it can dress out.

Back-up tailback Santonio Beard fumbled in the first half Saturday, and though he did see some action later in the game Ray Hudson got most of the extra carries in the second half. But Franchione said earlier this week that one mistake alone would not change the playing rotation at tailback. Following practice today he joked, "that depends on how the game goes--if anyone fumbles, we've got a new one in."

"But no, there's not a lot of change there," he concluded.

Franchione did reveal that the coaches will be targeting the A-back position for more action. "We're going to make sure Shaud (Williams) gets some touches," he said, "and Ray (Hudson), too, for that matter."

Williams will also see action in the Tide kicking game. "Shaud will be back for punts (and kickoffs)," Franchione said.

Without intending to generate a quarterback controversy, there was no question that two days this week senior starter Tyler Watts was NOT the best quarterback on the practice field. But even Watts wouldn't argue that point, because Tide legend Joe Namath was in attendance Tuesday and Wednesday. Namath is in town working to clear up loose ends at The University, so that he can finally receive his Alabama degree.

Namath was not the only former Tide quarterback to visit this week. Wednesday Gene Newberry and Warren Faust were on hand to watch their former team work out.

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