Franchione did not promise that Bearden would play this week. In answer to a question about punting, he said the plan is "I hope we're not going to have topunt." But, he said, "If we have to punt, there is a strong likelihood that Lane Bearden will punt."
The Tide head coach said, "In 30 years of coaching I have never seen anything like Lane Bearden. What a display of courage and toughness and love for the Crimson Tide to want to play and help our team."
Franchione added, "I can't imagine there is another player in America tough enough to do what he's going to do. I've never had more respect for a punter and kicker -- very few football players -- than this guy."
Bearden suffered a knee injury (believed to be a torn ACL) while trying to run from punt formation in a game at Arkansas earlier this year. Franchione does not discuss injuries other than the season-ending variety, so there had been a sliver of hope that Bearden might return this year. The Tide coach hinted prior to the Georgia game that Bearden was a possibility, but Bearden did not dress out against the Bulldogs. Michael Ziifle took over Bearden's punting and kickoff duties in that Georgia game.
Bama is preparing for its homecoming football game Saturday. The Crimson Tide will host the Mississippi Rebels at 2:30 p.m. in Bryant-Denny Stadium in a game that will be telecast by CBS. Alabama is 4-2 overall and 1-1 in Southeastern Conference games and ranked 24th in the nation. Mississippi is doing even better, a 5-1 record and 2-0 SEC mark and national ranking of 21st.
While Alabama is coming off an open week, the Rebels took a 52-17 win over Arkansas State last weekend. Bama's last outing two Saturdays ago was a disappointing 27-25 loss to fifth-ranked Georgia. Both of Alabama's losses have come at the hands of teams ranked in the top five, Georgia and number two Oklahoma.
The forecast Saturday calls for mostly sunny skies and highs in the mid-70s. Homecoming events begin Friday, including the pep rally and bonfire on the quad beginning at 7 p.m. The homecoming parade begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
Even if Bearden does not return this week, Franchione said he will be back on the field. "If not this week, the next," the coach said.
The coach said that Bearden cannot be more seriously injured by playing. Franchione said it was a matter of Bearden gaining more strength in the leg, wearing a brace for support, and "dealing with the pain."
As the home team in an SEC game, Alabama is allowed to dress 80 players. (The visiting team can dress only 70.) Bearden will be one of six kicking specialists in that mix. In addition to Bearden and Ziifle, the Tide will have place-kickers Brian Bostick, Kyle Robinson and Alex Fox (who is also a holder) and punter Jeff Aul. Ziifle is expected to handle kickoff duties even if Bearden is back as punter.
Franchione said it might be sometime in pre-game warm-ups Saturday before the placekicker is decided. He said that if he had to kick today it would "probably" be Bostick. But, he said, Robinson "is in the mix. He gets the ball away quickly and gets it up high."