September 26, 2006

Shula: Darby still first option at halfback

Mike Shula might divvy up carries more evenly among his top two halfbacks when the Alabama Crimson Tide travels to fifth-ranked Florida on Saturday, but there won't be a change at the top of the depth chart.

When asked at his weekly press conference if Kenneth Darby would remain in place as the starter, Shula said: "Yeah. And we'll also use those other guys."

Darby has struggled through the first four games of his senior season, rushing for 233 yards on 77 carries (3.0 ypc). Meanwhile, his top backup, Jimmy Johns, has had more success in rushing for 119 yards on 23 carries (5.2 ypc). Neither Darby or Johns have scored a touchdown this season.

Shula said the decision to stick with Darby is based on more than numbers.

"He's a guy who can be productive and win games. And to us, it's not all about statistics," Shula said. "If the holes were there and he was not taking advantage of them all the time then it would be something we'd need to take a look at. We've had a couple of [bad] plays here or there by him, a couple of plays by our offensive line and a couple of plays scheme-wise where the defense had a good call on for the play. It's not just what he's averaging, although you do factor that into it. But you don't do it solely on [statistics]."

While Shula defended Darby's first-team status, offensive coordinator Dave Rader acknowledged that the ratio of carries between Darby and Johns might begin to tighten up.

"Right or wrong, Jimmy should probably have more snaps, whether KD was getting 100 yards or 1 yard," Rader said. "Right now, that's something we've got to do."

Shula added that going with the back who is producing more in a particular game is something he'll also consider.

"We have gone with a guy who has had the hot hand in the past. We've always kind of done that," Shula said. "If we get a guy who is running well, we need to continue to do that."

As for Darby's slow start, Rader admits that it hasn't been easy to watch.

"It is something you don't want to have happen for one of your leaders and one of the guys you count on," Rader said. "He's a guy who has given you everything that he has and it hasn't clicked for him. We gave him the ball more and we had a few different things in for Arkansas to try and spring him loose. The first play started well and it looked like we were off and running with him, but then we just didn't get it done for the rest of the game.

"It's not from a lack of effort. It's not working. We've evaluated and looked at it and we have something that we think will work for him this week. When he trots out there, we'll have all the confidence in the world in him."

PROMISING SUNDAY PRACTICE: Twenty-four hours after a gut-wrenching loss in Fayetteville, Shula had the Tide back on the practice field. And, according to the players and coaches who were on hand, the workout was more upbeat than one might have been expected.

"I thought we had a really good practice," Shula said. "I think our guys know what we're getting into this week. If we had won the game last week we still would have needed the same kind of week of practice. We're a young football team, but we have the look a resilient team. But we won't know that for sure until Saturday."

"Practice was pretty good Sunday. It was fast. Everybody moved around real swift and everybody was on their game," said junior wide receiver Keith Brown. "That was a real good sign knowing we had a tough loss. It was the sign of a maturing team that we could comeback that quickly from a loss."

Shula was asked about the mindset of this team coming off an overtime loss compared to the 2005 squad, which fell in overtime to LSU before being drummed at Auburn the following Saturday.

"It's earlier in the season and there is a lot of football left and this is a different football team," Shula said. "I think we found out some positive things about our team and we've got to take those and use them in a positive way in our preparations this week. We're still going to hear questions about [the Arkansas loss] this week, but we've got to move. We tell our guys to take that feeling they have right now and use it for motivation. And we've got so much on our plate to get ready for that we don't have time to think about anything else."

Getting off to a quick start in Gainesville would go a long way in improving the Tide's chances of pulling off the upset.

"We talk about starting fast each and every week. It is important to start fast on the road, but the game doesn't end at the end of the first quarter or the end of the third quarter," Shula said. "I think last week was a good example of that. You want to talk to your team about that, however, if you don't [start fast] you don't want them thinking they're going to lose the game because they didn't start fast. You have to talk to them about playing relentlessly throughout the entire game and being resilient."

PROTHRO INJURY ANNIVERSARY COMING UP: The Florida game will mark the one-year anniversary of the severe leg injury that cost wide receiver Tyrone Prothro more than half of last season and all of the 2006 campaign.

"I think we underestimated what his impact was to our team," Shula said. "When you're with somebody everyday you kind of take them for granted. In watching the tape of the [2005] Florida game again, when he's in there 22 and 81 aren't in there. So we didn't have as much experience as we thought after that game and they were both kind of thrust in there.

"Personally, it's still hard. As coaches and players we know that it's part of the game and we have to move on. Other guys have to step up and make plays until he gets back."

CHRISTENSEN COULD BE BACK ON FGs/PATs FOR UF: Shula and special teams coordinator Dave Ungerer planned to give placekicker Jamie Christensen more work on field goals and extra-points during Tuesday's special teams period. How his strained right groin responds to the additional work will determine whether he or Leigh Tiffin handles placements at Florida.

"If Jamie is ready to go he'll be our kicker. I've said that from Day 1," Shula said. "We'll evaluate how he is today and then continue to do that throughout the week."

As for Tiffin, who missed three field goals and an extra point in last Saturday's double-overtime loss at Arkansas, Shula thinks the true freshman has the mental makeup need to bounce back from a disappointing performance.

"I think anytime you don't play like you should you have to have the mental toughness to come back from it, and I think he's got that … even for a freshman," Shula said. "Our thing is that if something isn't working, let's do what we have to do to fix it. We want our guys to be confident when they go on the field or they shouldn't be out there at all."

INJURY UPDATE: Shula said starting strongside linebacker Terrence Jones (shoulder) might be back for this week's game. Jones sat out the Arkansas game.

"He should be out at today's practice," Shula said. "He won't be 100 percent, but he should be out there unless we hear something different."

Shula also provided updates on Aaron McDaniel and Cory Reamer, both of whom recently underwent knee surgeries.

"Aaron's still in the hospital. He should be out in another day or so. We'll see how he is at the end of the season as far spring goes. It was actually a couple of ligaments that he tore."

Shula said Reamer might return in several weeks, but he also indicated that a medical hardship could be requested on Reamer's behalf. If granted, Reamer, who appears to fall within the requirements of the hardship rule, would have three years of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2007 season.

"We've just got to decide whether there is the potential there for a medical redshirt," Shula said. "It will probably be several weeks before we have to make that decision."

As for true freshman halfback Terry Grant, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last week, Shula said, "We're going to try and get him back for spring."

Shula on:

Comparing WRs Brown and DJ Hall:
"If you look at Keith, he might be the faster player, but I don't know. DJ is deceptively fast. Both are catching the ball as well as they ever have -- knock on wood. They both have a really good understanding of our offense and both can play all four positions. They're both really smart as far as understanding defenses."

Comparing HBs Darby and Johns:
"KD is more of an elusive, change of direction guy and Jimmy is more of a power back and he's learning how to use that power each and every week. We talk to him about running like a big back and he's doing a better job of that."

On LT Andre Smith's performance against Arkansas:
"He did OK. He had a couple of mistakes that hopefully he won't make this week. But for a true freshman on the road at Arkansas he did some good things."

On playing back-to-back conference road games for the first time since 2002:
"You're not used to games like this on the road back-to-back. Going back to your NFL experience there were games like this each and every week. There were times you played three weeks on the road. So mentally we'll talk about how you have to prepare harder whether you're a senior or a freshman."

On attacking defenses with the run:
"You factor in that every defense is different, and some defenses aren't going to let you get the ball outside. We always try to attack each and every week -- inside, strongside, weakside and outside. We try to to keep balance in the running game and keep people honest. "

On the increased playing time Marlon Davis has been getting at right guard:
"We may play Marlon even a little bit more."

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