While most look at spring practice as the chance for players to make an impression with their new coaches, Kasey Dunn points out that it's also important that the coaches impress the players.
"We want to get off on the right foot, including being well-organized," he said. "It's not like we're taking over a program that was 3-10. These guys were 10-3 last year. Most of this team is not broken. We'll give the guys a chance, but we're not here to clean house or rock the boat. The boat is pretty solid and running straight."
Dunn is typical of the Alabama staff in that he is interested in the players as people. "No one gets on Coach Price's staff unless he is sure that coach is going to react to the players," Dunn said. "Everyone has good Xs and Os. We're looking at personnel."
This spring Alabama's running backs will be learning a new scheme. Most notably, there will be only one running back. The new Bama offense does not include a fullback. That means returning fullbacks like starter Greg McLain and back-up Juke King will be in new positions.
Dunn said an examination of videotapes from last season led the coaching staff to the determination that McLain would probably fit in better at tight end than at running back. King will start out this spring at strongside linebacker.
Dunn said that in the past he has had a big running back, 6-1 or 6-2 and 225 pounds or so. He has a couple coming in who fit that fill. Signees Le'Ron McClain and Tim Castille are big running backs. (In fact, Dunn said, McClain needs to lose from about 240 pounds to under 230.)
But Dunn also said he has never had a running back with the running skill of the man he inherits as the Tide's top returning rusher: Shaud Williams. "Shaud is so smart," Dunn said. "He's a gem of a player. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts he's going to light it up."
The Tide coach said, "My job is to find a way to protect Shaud. He's not very big (5-8, 189), and since we're going to be passing 50 per cent of the time, that means about 50 per cent of the time he's going to be pass blocking, which is taking a hit."
Last year Williams had 130 carries for 921 yards (7.1 yards per carry) with five touchdowns. He also caught 21 passes for 228 yards. Last year Williams split time as the starter with Santonio Beard, who will not return for his senior year.
Dunn isn't concerned about Williams being able to pick up the new offensive system and terminology. Williams has already proved he can do that. Williams started his college career at Texas Tech, then transferred to Bama. The coach is also not worried that Williams is playing baseball for Alabama this spring. "Shaud won't miss any football work for baseball," Dunn said. "He is one of our leaders."
Other running back prospects this spring will be junior Ray Hudson (5-11, 198), who had 37 rushes for 205 yards and one touchdown last year; and redshirt freshmen Kenneth Darby (5-11, 186) and Nic Luke (6-1, 209).
Dunn said the Alabama offensive system is an easy one for players to learn.
"We build it in blocks," the coach said. "You learn one part and then the next part fits right in with it. It's not like we look at Michigan and see a play we like and put that in. And look at Florida and see a play we like and put that in. If you understand the base, you understand the package."
Dunn also expects to get all special teams assignments installed in spring practice. While he is coordinator of the entire kicking game, he takes hands on responsibility only for punting, punt block, kickoff and kickoff return. Bob Connelly, who is Bama's offensive line coach, will be responsible for place-kicking (field goals and points after touchdowns), while Defensive Ends Coach Paul Randolph will handle place-kicking block assignments. And Aaron Price, who coaches quarterbacks, will also instruct punters and place-kickers.
Dunn said the spring will also be a time for getting all of the offense, defense and special teams on videotape "so the players can see what we do."