Alabama Is One Week From Opener

One of the advantages Alabama football has is a good indoor practice facility to avoid bad weather. It rained on Crimson Tide football practice Saturday, but the team stayed on the outdoor practice fields. It wasn't in preparation for the next game. It doesn't rain in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, where Bama will open the season against Virginia Tech.

"The players wanted to stay out in it," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said following a two-hour workout in full gear. "It was fun for them." He added that if the players' equipment "was as heavy as my britches, they were carrying a load."

Crimson Tide nose tackle Terrence Cody, who had missed several days with flu, was back on the field. "He probably was not 100 per cent, but he worked his way through it, including the running (after practice)," Saban said. He said that three more players had been added to the quarantine list. Wide receiver Marquis Maze, offensive lineman Alfred McCullough, and freshman defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore were not practicing. Saban had explained Bama protocol is that if a player has a fever "we get him out. We hope this is not an issue. We hope the guys are back in a day or two."

Alabama, ranked fifth in the nation pre-season, opens 2009 play in a week when the Crimson Tide meets seventh-ranked Virginia Tech in Atlanta. Kickoff next Saturday will be at 8 p.m. EDT (7 p.m. central) with national television coverage by ABC.

Alabama has had three practices in game preparation. Now Bama is on normal game week schedule, including Sunday being an off day.

"We've gotten a couple of good days of work in and a couple of good days of work in pads to improve fundamentally and start preparation for this game," Saban said following Saturday's practice.

"I think it's very important that when we come back to work on Monday that the players psychologically set their sights on Virginia Tech. This is a tremendous opportunity for them to show who they are and it's going to take a full tank, no doubt, for each individual player to participate and give us the best opportunity to have any success in this game. Virginia Tech is a very, very good team. They have a lot of players back. They are very good on defense and special teams."

Discussion of Virginia Tech almost always includes the Hokies' special teams play. Virginia Tech under Coach Frank Beamer has a long history of success in all aspects of the kicking game, with particular effectiveness at blocking kicks.

Saban said he, too, is a great believer in special teams play. "That's how you control vertical field position," he said. Saban said that offense, defense and special teams are all important, and that in a close game the winner will usually win in at least two of those three areas. He said that Alabama had been good in some areas of special teams last year and needs to show improvement in other areas this year.

He mentioned some players who may not be starters on offense or defense, but might be candidates for special teams play. He listed freshman defensive back Rod Woodson, freshman running back Trent Richardson (who could be used on returns, but "can also do other things, such as kickoff coverage"), and sophomore running back Demetrius Goode. Saban noted that Alabama has a number of returning players to special teams, although some may have moved up to starting spots on offense or defense.

Saban also noted that most college teams don't use starting offensive players on special teams, the theory being that it is dangerous to use a starter in that position. Rhetorically, he asked whether it would be any worse than Alabama losing the caliber of player of cornerback Javier Arenas, who is Alabama's punt return man.

The Tide coach said there is no running back rotation in place yet. He noted that Terry Grant, Richardson, and Mark Ingram had been good in camp and that Roy Upchurch has done well since returning from injury. He said it was possible that several running backs could have "some role."

Saban said he does not buy into the typecasting of Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor as not being a good passer. He said Taylor is a scrambler who uses that ability to throw the football. He said Taylor escapes trouble, but keeps his eyes downfield, and that makes him particularly dangerous for the defense. He also noted that Virginia Tech does have parts of its offense designed for Taylor to run, "but they have a good passing game."

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