Price's spring goals realistic

Mike Price does not have unrealistic expectations as Alabama prepares to start spring football practice on Monday. Price knows there is not going to be a bench-warmer who is going to emerge from spring drills as a Heisman Trophy candidate. He knows that Bama is not going to get all its offensive and defensive packages installed this spring. He even warns that "We may not look great in the beginning."

But Mike Price is excited about the start of his first spring as head football coach at Alabama. In fact, he said, "No one in Alabama is more excited about Monday than I am. The players have been working very hard in the off-season program. The players have been very responsive to the coaches. And I feel good about the coaching staff."

Alabama begins the first of its 15 days of spring practice Monday. On Monday and Wednesday the Tide will have NCAA-mandated non-contact practices. A team may have three scrimmage practices and Bama's will be on March 15 and March 22, as well as the A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on March 29 to conclude spring work.

The spring game may be the only practice in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The first scrimmage on March 15 will be at the Thomas-Drew practice field. The second scrimmage on March 22, which is part of the spring coaching clinic, may be at the stadium if the current work to rework the soil beneath the turf is completed. Last fall Alabama replaced much of the turf at the stadium and this winter the turf was taken up in order to improve the subsoil.

The first rite of spring practice will be Friday evening at Coleman Coliseum when Tide players participate in the "Night of Champions," the strength and conditioning exhibition under Strength Coach Ben Pollard.

In a Thursday preview of spring practice, Price said, "We'll put in our new offense and defense this spring. It will be base. Then we'll add the things that fit our personnel. I'm not concerned about looking good this spring. I want to look good next fall."

The Tide head coach said he wants to come out of spring practice with "retention." While that might mean the players retaining what they learn in the spring (and Price no doubt expects that, too), he was talking in terms of actually retaining players. "With our scholarship limits, we don't want to lose any players," he said. He said, "We want to have our players stay healthy. We want them to be academically eligible. And we want them to exhibit good citizenship off the field." He said that he didn't want to have to suspend any players, but that he wouldn't hesitate to discipline any player who fails "to toe the line, do the right things."

Price also said he "wants to know who the players are, and where to put them, to have a depth chart." And he wants to come out of spring practice with a place-kicker, a punter, and a long snapper.

The players will go into spring work with everyone having a fresh start, Price said. He noted that he can't give players the playbook until the start of spring practice on Monday. But, he said, players have been able to look at videotapes of what the Tide will be doing on offense. The staff has the equivalent of instructional tapes from when the staff was at Washington State.

Even though the coaches have been examining tapes of last year's games, Price said that process is something like looking at videotapes of prospects in recruiting. The coaches can't be absolutely sure of what the players will be able to do in the new schemes. Additionally, Price said, the coaches have been able to examine the players in agility drills­not football specific, but football related.

Price said an examination of videotapes from last year gives him optimism about an offensive line that returns three starters in tackles Wesley Britt and Evan Mathis and guard Justin Smiley. He said the group does well on drive (run) blocking, but needs improvement in pass protection techniques. Alabama lost center Alonzo Ephraim and there has been talk of shifting one of the returning starters to center, but Price said "We're not going to shift anyone yet."

The defense will be new to Price as well as to the players. Joe Kines was hired from Florida State to be defensive coordinator and Price said Kines will put in a fresh defense. In fact, Price said, he would spend more time than usual with the defense this spring. Ordinarily Price is considered to be an offensive coach, including working directly with the quarterbacks.

There has been considerable talk about the quarterback position this spring. Tyler Watts has completed his eligibility and soph Brodie Croyle is expected to take over the job. Croyle will battle fellow soph Spencer Pennington and redshirt freshman Brandon Avalos. Both Pennington and Avalos are playing baseball, and Price didn't give that much of an endorsement. He said he thought football players don't help themselves by playing other sports, but that he was honoring arrangements made by the players with former Coach Dennis Franchione. Running back Shaud Williams is also playing baseball. The three will not miss any football work for baseball.

There was also some concern about Croyle having an injury. He was wearing a brace on his right (throwing) arm and hand last week after spraining his thumb during conditioning work. However, he is out of the brace and expected to be ready to go Monday.

Wide receiver Antonio Carter will not be participating this spring. He was redshirted last fall after surgery for a stress fracture in his leg. Healing did not go well and he underwent another surgery a few weeks ago. Price said Carter has been out with his teammates in the 6:30 a.m. conditioning work, even though he is unable to participate.

Price has said that Alabama's offense will use the pass to set up the run. But for those who think Bama will be pass-happy, eschewing the running game, Price said, "Anytime we have had a running back who rushed for 1,000 yards, we had a winning season; anytime we didn't have a running back rush for 1,000 yards, we had a losing season. The run is still important. If you can't run, you probably can't win. If you can't stop the run, you can't win. The running game, defense and special teams are still what win football games."

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