16 August 2010
The Alabama football team worked in shells on Monday night during the final practice of two-a-days. The Tide will have one more practice on Tuesday afternoon that will be considered part of fall camp, and then school begins on Wednesday. At that time the roster will expand and Alabama will begin real preparations for game opponents.
Here's what you need to know:
D.J. Fluker missed the evening practice with an illness. He was replaced in the first group by John Michael Boswell. Boswell had been running second unit at left guard, and Brian Motley slid into that role.
Blake Sims is in black wearing a protective boot for what is being called a sprained foot. It is not considered serious, and the staff is hopeful he'll be back in time for Saturday's scrimmage. With him working at multiple positions it is vital that he have as much time as possible at whatever position he will end up playing at, but the staff will not rush him back.
DeMarcus Milliner is in black with a sprained ankle. His injury is also not considered serious, and he should be back any day. He's a serious threat to take on a role in the Tide's nickel and dime packages, so getting him back quickly is important. His time on the team in the spring lessens the blow of him missing a few reps now.
DeQuan Menzie joined these two guys on stationary bikes during the media viewing period. The official report is that he has a tender hamstring, but it is also a bonus that he's getting rest for his achilles. He's also expected to have a big role in Bama's nickel and dime packages, though how quickly he is able to get his achilles to 100% may determine exactly how early he is able to fill that role.
The two guys that made position moves during the morning practice - Michael Bowman (tight end) and Corey Grant (corner) - were still working at their new position during the evening practice. I'm not convinced that either move will be permanent, but there are upsides for both guys.
Bowman is a big guy that has the frame to put on more weight. The fact that he didn't redshirt in 2009 means that he could spend this year as a redshirt learning the new position. He doesn't have the type of elite speed that most primary outside receivers have, but he would have elite speed for a tight end. He showed good skills as blocker last year, and if the staff can translate that into tight end blocking. then he can become a mismatch nightmare.
Grant is an explosive athlete who could figure into the special teams mix as soon as this season. If he's not going to redshirt, then the staff will obviously look for as many ways to involve him as possible. The roster is thin at defensive back to begin with, and the Tide practiced today without four potential scholarship defensive backs - Sims, Milliner, Menzie and Kendall Kelly - so now is as good a time as any to see if Grant might be a good fit at defensive back. Once these four guys are back in the mix it will be interesting to see ifhe stays at corner, or if he'll move back to the offensive side of the ball.
There was some thought that he would actually begin his career at wide receiver, but the fall camp that DeAndrew White is having seems to have quieted that. White is, like Grant, an elite speed guy. He's demonstrated a real ability to get open and catch the ball, and is one of the true freshman really poised to make a run at early playing time. The idea of White and Grant on the field at the same time seems intriguing, and if Grant comes back to the offense, we might see some of that.
The intensity level was up again during the night's practice, with the meeting held by the players appearing to have made an impact. It is important to understand exactly what is going on right, though.
Nick Saban's 2004 LSU squad lost three games the year after winning the BCS Championship, and I would imagine that those losses are weighing heavily on his mind. That squad was incredibly talented, and still managed to drop three games. Was it bad luck? Was it complacency?
In looking at thier schedule for that season, it looks like a little of both. They dropped their third game of the season 10-9 at #15 Auburn. They responded to that by drilling Mississippi State 51-0. So, seemingly riding high on their rebound win, they got destroyed 45-16 in Athens by #3 Georgia. They rebounded again, beating Florida in Gainesville the following week, and winning their remaining five games of the regular season. They were then beaten by a hail mary pass by Iowa in the Capital One Bowl.
Road games at Auburn, at Georgia, and at Florida were big obstacles for that LSU team. Similarly, Bama has road games at Arkansas, at South Carolina, at Tennessee, and LSU on the docket in 2010. Throw in the whole "giant target on your back from being the national champion" and you get a season primed for disappointment.
And that is why we've seen Coach Saban pushing this group extra hard. It's why we've seen him be even more critical of veteran players than normal. It's why we're seeing him flip-flop the depth chart on defense to send a message to players that any let down in intensity and effort is simply not acceptable.
What we are seeing is a great football coach having learned from what had to be a terribly disappointing 2004 season. He doesn't want to see this Alabama team suffer the same fate, so he's pushing that much harder now. I think he's well aware that this team is incredibly talented, but he knows that talent simply isn't enough. So he is requiring that this team bring it on every play of every practice. And you can not require that type of perfection without having your leaders buy into it. Sending the message he sent is how you get those leaders.
And, based on the reports of how the players' meeting went, it looks as though he's gotten the leaders.
Look for Tuesday's practice to be high intensity with the players really being pushed. Wednesday will see the roster expand, and things change totally when the guys have to start attending class along with practice. So expect the staff to take advantage of the last pre-school practice to test the guys on how they are responding to the messages being sent.
We'll have our normal report.
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