14 October 2008
The Tide was back in full pads today for continued workout for the Ole Miss Rebels. It was unusually warm this afternoon, though the temperature at kickoff on Saturday is expected to be in the high 60s. Also unusually high was the intensity level today. The Tide typically practices at a high level, increasing as the week moves on, but today was especially spirited.
The injury news continues to be good. Andre Smith is wearing a protective pad on the left elbow that he injured in the Kentucky game, but it doesn't appear to be holding him back any. Everyone else was in good shape, having taken full advantage of the off week.
We've talked on the site for the last couple of week about the way that Brandon Fanney has played almost exclusively with his hand down, especially in Bama's nickel and dime packages. That was especially evident today as the Tide worked on those two packages heavily. There was no change in the first group personnel, though we did see a change in the second unit.
From the beginning of fall camp we've seen Charlie Higgenbotham as the backup at the mike linebacker, but today Prince Hall was taking snaps there. When the full second unit base defense was working Prince was at the will with Charlie at the mike. But during the dime package work, when there is no will linebacker, it was the oft-suspended Hall who was taking the snaps in the middle. Given his extreme lack of playing time thus far it appears as though the coaches might be looking for more ways to get him on the field.
One of the ways that they worked him onto the field against Kentucky was on special teams, and he seemed to make a difference. While he didn't make a tackle, he did force the Wildcat returner into a different lane... one that was occupied by the locomotive we know as Courtney Upshaw. That work will be needed again this week as the Rebels send Mike Wallace back to return kicks. With an average return of 27.71 he ranks 19th in the nation.
The Tuscaloosa News ran a great article
today about Travis McCall and the impact that he's had on the Tide offensive line. Travis will likely spend a great deal of his time this week helping Drew and Marlon Davis try to slow down Rebel defender Greg Hardy. Don't be surprised to see McCall and fellow tight end Nick Walker involved early in plays with double teams on Hardy before releasing into the flat on pass routes.
The Tide safeties are being given a heavy dose of the read option in preparation for the Wild Rebel formation. Dexter McCluster has only attempted three passes (0-3 with a pick) despite taking numerous snaps in the formation made famous by Houston Nutt last season. With that in mind the last line of defense for Bama is looking to become a major part of the front line of defense.
Justin Woodall and Mark Barron are especially adept at letting smaller guys like McCluster think twice about keeping the ball on the option play, and Rashad Johnson is one of the Tide's better reactionary defenders. With the Rebels typically spreading the field when they go into this formation, leading teams to go to the nickel, look for Bama's safeties to play a lot like linebackers when the Wild Rebel is in play.
It will be back in pads again tomorrow with a press conference also on the schedule. We'll have a report on both.