Shrouded in mystery
Shula, 'Bama's offense still unclear entering campPosted: Monday August 04, 2003 6:47 PM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Dave Rader would love to be able to project Alabama's exact pass-run ratio this season and pinpoint every strength and weakness, but he can't.
"I don't have a clue what we're going to be able to do best," the Crimson Tide offensive coordinator said Monday.
It's time for the coaches to get a clue. Alabama begins preseason practice on Tuesday, the first on-field get-together for the players and their third head coach since December.
They'll have to start almost from scratch in learning another offense before the Aug. 30 opener with South Florida, though the defensive staff remained intact after Mike Shula replaced Mike Price in May.
Still, Shula is just happy to return to the field after a hectic summer.
"I can't tell you how happy I am to get this thing underway and have a chance to get out on the field and work with these guys," he said.
"I'm having withdrawals, with not being able to get out there and just start yelling at everybody."
The freshmen and upperclassmen all reported Monday, ready to put behind them another chaotic offseason that saw Price get hired, lead spring practice and then get fired for off-the-field activities.
Lost in the shuffle was the fact that Alabama was a pretty good team last year despite NCAA sanctions.
"You haven't heard anything about us winning 10 games last year," quarterback Brodie Croyle said. "All you hear about is all the controversy with all the new coaches, how we're going to struggle this year.
"That's what we want. We want people to doubt us and it makes it more fun when you go out there and win a lot of games."
The job got even harder Monday, when linebacker Brooks Daniels informed Shula that he was withdrawing from school for medical reasons.
Daniels, a preseason All-Southeastern Conference pick, is the first Tide player ever to have back-to-back 100-tackle seasons.
The Tide is expecting to have wide receiver Antonio Carter back, though. He missed both last season and spring practice, undergoing a second leg surgery in February to repair a stress fracture.
Carter said he's back 100 percent, but is eager to prove it quickly in practice.
"I'm going to get out there [Tuesday] and just push it and go hard," said Carter, who needs 46 catches to become Alabama's alltime leader. "I'm going to find out right off the bat what A.C. can and what A.C. cannot do."
Shula said the coaches will use the spring depth chart "as a starting point," but there are few guarantees.
"Those guys that are listed as the starters at the end of spring practice ought to feel a little nervous -- yeah, you're a starter but you've got to prove yourself again," Shula said. "I think it will be beneficial for us. I think we ought to get the best out of everybody."
Shula said he doesn't have a clear idea of how many of the freshmen -- all signed by Price -- could play this season, but that he's not afraid to play them. Only two saw action last season -- linebacker DeMeco Ryans and fullback Greg McLain.
One bonus for the freshmen is that they'll be learning the new offense at the same time as the upperclassmen.
"They're just looking for the playmakers," freshman receiver Matt Caddell said. "Whoever makes the plays, whatever grade he's in, they need those players on the field."
The coaches have the next 25 days to identify them.
"Our key word this fall is going to be flexible," Shula said. "We've got to be flexible as coaches to find out who those guys are, what they do best and get them on the field to do it.
"It'll be a crash course in everything," he said.