Inferring good news on the injury front

As would be expected, Alabama Head Football Coach Dennis Franchione was not tipping his hand regarding the latest developments because of injured football players. During last Saturday's 30-12 victory over Arkansas in Fayetteville, Bama lost punter Lane Bearden and center Alonzo Ephraim with knee injuries. <br><br>In his Sunday briefing to reporters, Franchione, who has a policy of not discussing injuries unless they are season-ending, spoke briefly about the two Tiders.

Bearden's injury was worse than Ephraim's, saying he expected to get Ephraim back. Furthermore, he said it would be optimistic to think Ephraim might return this week.

In his Tuesday briefing, Franchione said he had nothing to discuss regarding injuries. A reading between the lines, based on his policy of discussing only season-ending injuries, is that Bearden may not be injured as seriously as believed. However, Franchione provided no specifics.

Alabama and Georgia play Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. Georgia, ranked sixth in the nation, and Alabama, which moved into the rankings for the first time this year at number 22, will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. CDT with national television coverage by CBS. Georgia is 4-0 and Alabama 4-1. Both teams are 1-0 in Southeastern Conference play.

It is not likely that Georgia is spending a great deal of time in preparation on different punters or different centers. It is not the same as games in which Franchione has withheld information about the injury situation of quarterback Tyler Watts. Last week Watts did not play and redshirt freshman Brodie Croyle made his starting debut with a masterful performance against the Razorbacks. It is likely that Franchione will not announce a starting quarterback this week, either.

If Ephraim is not able to play, his center position is expected to be filled by redshirt freshman J.B. Closner. Starting strongside tackle Evan Mathis is also capable of playing center.

There is more interest in the punting situation. Last week backup kicker Michael Ziifle, whose forte is placekicking rather than punting, took over for Bearden and the results were less than spectacular. Ziifle punted twice, a 31-yard effort and a 25-yarder. He was in punt formation in the final minutes of the game, but Alabama elected to let him take a safety rather than risk another short punt.

This week, Franchione said, "We had eight guys call yesterday and want to volunteer." He went on to say that Bama had worked in its Sunday practice with several players punting. He added that would continue to be stressed in practice this week. He named Ziifle and Jeffrey Aul, a walk-on freshman, and said not to rule out the return of Bearden. Franchione also noted that Croyle was his high school team's punter. "I like to think of the fake possibilities," Franchione said. Most doubt Croyle would be put in such a vulnerable position.

In addition to Bearden, Ziifle and Aul, candidates could include Kyle Robinson, a transfer who punted as a freshman in junior college; placekicker Brian Bostick, who, like Ziifle, has practiced punting just to be ready in case of an emergency; and walk-on junior Will Fountain. Josh Woodard, a freshman walk-on placekicker, was a high school punter, but is concentrating on placekicking. Jeremy Schatz, a redshirt freshman, punted last spring, but has since suffered a leg injury and is working only in the weight room this fall and has not been medically cleared to play football.

Georgia and Alabama have met 61 times. Bama holds a 35-22-4 edge in the series and has won the last three games. Georgia has never won in seven trips to Tuscaloosa. The last Bryant-Denny Stadium meeting produced a dramatic Alabama come-from-behind victory, 29-28, with Michael Proctor kicking the winning field goal with 1:12 to play.

Franchione was complimentary of Georgia and said the Bulldogs deserve their high national ranking. He said Georgia's offense has been a little up-and-down. (That's a bit of an overstatement. Georgia ranks 11th in the SEC in rushing offense and 12th in the league in total offense. They got 536 yards against Division I-AA Northwestern State, but only 203 yards against Clemson and fewer than 300 against both New Mexico State and South Carolina.) The Tide coach noted Georgia has five senior starters in the offensive line, a strong quarterback in David Greene, and "the best receivers we'll see all year." He said the kicking game is "explosive" and the defense "solid."

Franchione added that Georgia is 5-0 in games played on the opponent's home field under Bulldogs Coach Mark Richt.

Franchione noted the game will be telecast by CBS and that the popular ESPN college football show, Gameday, will originate from Tuscaloosa. Additionally, a new ESPN production showing game-week preparation at every SEC school is at Alabama this week (to be aired at 11 p.m. CDT, midnight EDT Thursday, October 10). Franchione said he and his players welcome the national television attention. The Tide coach said that the attention will be a distraction, but that his team has handled distractions well.

And, he said, players come to Alabama to play in big football games.

Georgia is one of the SEC teams Franchione and his staff have not coached against and current Tide players have not played against. (The last Alabama-Georgia game was a 31-0 Bama win in Athens in 1995.) The Tide coach said having not played Georgia means it is difficult to judge how Alabama players will do against Georgia players. Scheme study is off videotapes.

Franchione said the feeling among Alabama players and coaches is that the Tide has not played its best yet. "The players and coaches believe we have the potential to play better," he said. He added that Bama players have confidence this year, whereas in last year's 7-5 season the confidence following wins was probably somewhat contrived.

Last week Bama had to play without starting quarterback Tyler Watts and starting tailback Ahmaad Galloway, who is out for the season with a knee injury.

The Alabama coach said that Brodie Croyle had made good progress at quarterback, and said, "I think Brodie understands he has tough games ahead of him." The coach noted that Croyle was pressed into action on the eighth play of the game against Southern Miss when Watts was injured. "I think that game was his real awakening," Franchione said. "He didn't play as well as he could, and that helped him. Fortunately, it didn't cost us a game for him to learn that lesson."

Franchione was complimentary of all three tailbacks who played against the Razorbacks­Santonio Beard, who rushed for 134 yards; Shaud Williams, who had an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game; and Ray Hudson.

The coach said he stresses to all players that a second team player is just one play from being a starter, a second team player just two plays from first team status. "Brodie has been through that process," Franchione said.

He said Alabama's offense is more comfortable and more confident than it was a year ago. He pointed out that last year Alabama had a very inexperienced offensive line, but that with everyone back this year it is an experienced and confident line.

Franchione said he hopes for improvement in several areas of the kicking game this week, including kickoff coverage. Alabama ranks 11th in the SEC in kickoff coverage with opponents averaging returns of 24.1 yards. The coach said the problems have been both in personnel and in schemes. He said there would not be a "tremendous number of changes."

There has been some discussion on internet sites and talk radio about Alabama players not having an NCAA decal on their helmets. Franchione was asked why the decals had been removed from the helmets. In fact, Franchione pointed out, there has never been such a decal on Alabama helmets and it is not mandatory that helmets display the NCAA decal. Franchione was asked why doesn't Alabama doesn't use the decal. "Go figure," the coach said. Alabama's football program recently received unprecedented penalties from the NCAA.

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