Friday, March 10, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report: Spring Practice Baedeker

Days 4 & 5

“Ladies, ladies, ladies, let's strike the pads, please, not lean against them.”
Joe Kines
University of Alabama defensive coordinator

Outside the PAC10 and the WAC (crack the code: everywhere football’s taken seriously), defenses are outpacing offenses this time of year. As such, Alabama’s spring practice has taken on the aspects of a carnival bumper-car ride, occasionally jarring but mostly predictable. Some personnel changes have continued and there is slight but important movement within the depth chart. We gawkers along the fence spend most of our time picking up our jaws whenever Jimmy Johns runs through contact drills.

The only curious thing happening is off the field. One of the onlookers, an elderly man the spitting image of Erhard Raus, has a habit of shouting non sequiturs about his domestic life while the players stretch. During warm ups, General Raus stands and sputters out his declarations as if he’s yelling over a Panzer.

“Anti-bacterial soap has cost me the use of my left arm and the love of my children,” he cries. A few minutes later Raus is screaming his fool head off about the importance of a dust-free fuse box and how one shouldn’t store potatoes in your spare bedroom. I’m not the public-shushing kind – I stopped going to movies when the crowds stopped talking back – but I’m tempted to put the kybosh on the general. Yet there’s just enough chance I’m imagining the whole thing, so it’s best to fold this hand.

The next day, I move closer to Raus and pour on the détente: Care for bratwurst? Ever driven through Europe? Gosh, western Russia looks like a shitty place to stage a war of attrition. Wouldn’t you agree, friend?

The old man ignores me and looks to the practice field. “The sock drawer is a Hollywood pipedream,” he says. “Man should lay socks in the space along his folded shirts.”

Sly fox. This isn’t over, general.

Day 6

I once cancelled a date so I could listen to Wilco's Being There five times through – this two years after I’d all but ignored their opening set for a band by playing air hockey with a buxom luggage saleslady while Jeff Tweedy puckered his voice through bad mutations of Beck and Gram Parsons.

I bring this up as proof that I believe in second chances and to preface that, by an objective standard, the Californian looked, let us say, capable during practice today.

Perhaps he is more comfortable in the offense after watching it from the bench for these past two years. Perhaps he is more comfortable with a fellow California product behind him running the scout team. But whatever the reason, one should remember that his past, non-medically related, troubles came from being a little too comfortable.

He still threw a cheap pick in practice, damn it.

Day 7

“I want the people to remember me as a winner, 'cause I ain't never been nothing but a winner.”
You know who

For about a week now, Kenneth Darby has been wearing an orange jersey. This being Tuscaloosa, you’d guess that orange would be the wrong color for a football player to be wearing, and you’d be right. Orange, among other things, signifies injury.

By Darby’s standards, his injury is barley noticeable. He finished out the 2004 campaign with either a fractured pelvis or a hernia, depending on which press release you believe. This time around, it’s slight soreness in his knees and a bruised ego.

Somewhere along the way, Kenneth Darby got the crazy idea that football players should play football, that your teammates expect you to take the field so you do. This, I know, is an uncomfortable idea for some. It is fully expected that Darby will close out his senior season eclipsing Shaun Alexander, whom you may have heard of, as the all-time leading rusher in the school’s history -- especially if he's running behind Alabama's big-time recruit, Andre the Giant.

In a troubled world, it’s fair to ask why things like this matter. One answer would be that the more troubles you have the more of an escape you need. The PE always had the rebel, but you could shake your ass to the rhythm too. Plus, 91000 people won’t herd into a stadium for a poetry reading, but they’ll come to watch the metaphor in action. As the wars get longer, victories get rarer. You may not make to the entree, so enjoy the appetizer.

Roll Tide.