Bearden returns to practice

There was big news in the kicking game in Alabama's football practice Thursday, the day in which Head Football Coach Dennis Franchione makes the final determination for the travel roster for this week's game. And making the travel roster is Lane Bearden, Bama's punter and kickoff man who suffered a knee injury in last week's game at Arkansas.

Although specifics are not available, Franchione did say, "Lane Bearden punted today."

That is not to say that Bearden will punt or kick off Saturday. As Franchione pointed out, Bearden's biggest problem might come after the kick, when he becomes a coverage man.

Thursday also marked the second practice day in a row that the Tide worked inside the Crisp Indoor Facility, despite beautiful weather on the outside. The building provides some relief from the heat, but just as importantly it's completely private.

Alabama hosts Georgia in a Southeastern Conference football game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama is 4-1 and ranked 22nd in the nation and Georgia 4-0 and ranked sixth in the nation. Both teams are 1-0 in SEC play. The game will be televised by CBS.

If Bearden is not able to play, it is expected that his place as kickoff man will be assumed by Michael Ziifle, who took over as punter and placekicker after Bearden was injured last week. Either Ziifle or Jeff Aul, a walk-on freshman, would be called on to punt.

Ziifle and Brian Bostick are the field goal kickers. They got in a little special practice Thursday, While they practiced their craft, water guns that are used to spray the practice fields were aimed to simulate downpour conditions. There were also snaps and holds in the "rain."

The weather forecast has improved with the remnants of Hurricane Lili heading North, which is West of Tuscaloosa. The forecast for Saturday calls for only a 20 per cent chance of rain. Temperatures will be in the high 80s.

Bearden is one of a handful of important Alabama players whose status is not known for Saturday. Of most interest is quarterback Tyler Watts, The senior starter missed last week's game after having been injured on the seventh play of the Southern Miss game two Saturdays ago. Redshirt freshman Brodie Croyle took over for Watts in the Southern Miss game and then made his starting debut last week against Arkansas. Prior to the Arkansas game Franchione announced that Croyle would start, but said that Watts would be available if needed.

Also injured against Arkansas was center Alonzo Ephraim. He was replaced by redshirt freshman J.B. Closner. Franchione said Closner did well against the Razorbacks and that he has done well in practice this week.

Although he has not been injured, cornerback Hirchel Bolden found himself on the sidelines after having a poor game against Oklahoma a month ago. Last week Bolden played a significant amount of time and had a very good game. Franchione said he has also had a good week of practice, but is not likely to get back in the starting lineup this week. "We have a lot of confidence in Hirchel, but we have confidence in other guys, too," the coach said. "We probably wouldn't change the chemistry of the starting lineup." Bolden's right cornerback position the past three weeks has been held by redshirt freshman Charlie Peprah.

Franchione said practice this week "has been good. I think we were a little sluggish on Tuesday, but we got through it okay. The last two days have been really good, really crisp. We have a good spirit about us. Our players are looking forward to the opportunity to play a very good Georgia team."

As is often the case on Thursdays, Franchione left practice to attend the Tuscaloosa Central High School junior varsity girls volleyball game, which was being "covered" by ESPN and in which Franchione's daughter, Libby, was to play. ESPN and CBS have both had crews in Tuscaloosa all week. A handful of Tiders will meet with CBS sideline reporter Jill Arrington for interviews Thursday--there was no shortage of volunteers--and the popular ESPN college football show, "Gameday," will broadcast from the Quad Saturday.

Next week is an open week for the Tide, although there will be a junior varsity game against powerful Georgia Military next Thursday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Kickoff will be at 4 p.m. and there will be no admission charge.

Because of the open week, the practice schedule will be altered slightly. On Sunday, only those expected to play in the junior varsity game will practice. Monday will be a regular off day. There will be practice Tuesday and Wednesday. Varsity players will lift weights next Thursday and Friday then have Saturday off. The regular routine will resume Sunday, October 13, in preparation for Bama's Homecoming game against Ole Miss on October 19.

Alabama's junior varsity team will be made up primarily of walk-on players and players who have already been redshirted but who are not seeing meaningful playing time in games. Franchione suggested that Josh Smith would be the tailback. And while former high school quarterbacks Marc and Matt Miller have been considered the most likely quarterbacks in the JV game, Franchione did not rule out the possibility of Spencer Pennington seeing action. The Tide coach said it would depend primarily on the progress made by Watts.

"Thursday is a valuable day for a lot of guys, an opportunity to play in a game," Franchione said.

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