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SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2007
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Alabama Report

Grant shows his speed

TUSCALOOSA — It’s not exactly a news flash, considering hype surrounding Alabama running back Terry Grant during preseason practice. He has said that he is the fastest player on the team, but other than two carries last season, he hasn’t gotten a chance to show his ability in a game.

Until Saturday.

Grant’s first carry in Alabama’s season opener against Western Carolina — the game’s first play from scrimmage — went for a 47-yard touchdown run. He also bolted for a 21-yard score in the second quarter.

The 5-foot-10, 188-pound redshirt freshman used the same running style for both plays. He ran patiently, waiting for holes, then exploded through the openings, sprinting past the defense.

Saban’s system of using two running backs appears to set well with Grant and Jimmy Johns, who also saw some carries at tailback.

Local connection

Linebacker Rolando McClain of Decatur became the eighth Alabama true freshman to start a season opener and the second in two years.

Left tackle Andre Smith started last season against Hawaii. The other true freshmen who started season openers for the Crimson Tide were fullback Tim Castille (2003), linebacker Saleem Rasheed (1999), offensive lineman Dante Ellington (1999), tight end Terry Jones Jr. (1998), offensive linemen Jon Stevenson (1991) and Larry Rose (1985).

McClain made his first collegiate tackle with 10:06 remaining in the first quarter on a Mike Malone 5-yard run.

He finished with seven tackles.

Fellow freshman Alfred McCullough, a defensive lineman from Athens, made one tackle.

Senior defensive back Eric Gray played as a reserve but didn’t record any statistics.

Hartselle High grad Nikita Stover caught one pass for 10 yards.

First-game captains

Wide receiver Matt Caddell, linebacker Keith Saunders and defensive end Wallace Gilberry served as Alabama’s game captains Saturday, but there’s no guarantee they’ll do so again the rest of the year.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban said he doesn’t believe in selecting team captains for the season.

Instead, he favors different captains for each game.

“What we want to do is promote leadership on our team,” Saban said. “That’s the most important thing to me.

“I think sometimes when you elect captains before the season, the team kind of allows those guys to become the leaders, and everyone follows them.”

Bear speech still present

The famous Paul “Bear” Bryant speech that is played before every Alabama home game came on a few minutes earlier than usual and with a new surprise ending.

After Bryant finished talking, the screen flashed to a video of Saban’s introductory news conference when the new coach talks about being a champion.

Normally, the Bryant video is played right before Alabama comes onto the field. This time it was played as the team was going into the locker room after pregame warmups, about 22 minutes before the opening kickoff.

The Crimson Tide came out to a new montage with big plays from the last few years. It started with Tyrone Prothro’s catch against Southern Mississippi in 2005 and offensive tackle Andre Smith’s touchdown run in the Independence Bowl last year.

Saban first-game history

Saturday’s victory made Nick Saban 3-1 in his opening games at the four college programs he has coached.

Saban defeated Miami of Ohio 20-14 in his first game as Toledo’s head coach in 1990. At Michigan State, he lost to Nebraska 50-10, and in his first game as LSU’s head coach, Saban defeated Western Carolina 58-0.

Alexander gets attention

Alabama wide receiver Earl Alexander didn’t hear his name mentioned often publicly, but he received plenty of attention when it counted — at the start of the season opener.

Alexander caught the Crimson Tide’s first two passes of the season. They were the first collegiate catches for Alexander, a redshirt freshman.

He finished with four receptions for 40 yards.

Tide’s first-time starters

Alabama had eight players making their first collegiate starts Saturday — running back Terry Grant, fullback Baron Huber, right tackle Mike Johnson, linebackers Ezekial Knight, Darren Mustin and McClain, wide receiver Mike McCoy and nose guard Lorenzo Washington.

Washington was not slated to start, but when original starter Brian Motley fractured his ankle Tuesday, Washington slid into his spot.

Grading the Crimson Tide

Decatur Daily Sports Writer Josh Cooper grades Alabama’s performance in Saturday’s 52-6 win over Western Carolina, giving the CrimsonTide a letter grade from A+ to F in four categories.

OFFENSE: A+

The last time Alabama had anywhere near 575 yards was against Louisiana-Monroe last year. John Parker Wilson was in sync with his receivers and running back Terry Grant showed the ability to be a regular.

DEFENSE: B+

The Tide defense played well, but Western Carolina showed an ability to move the ball on occasion. It will be interesting to see what happens when this unit plays a Southeastern Conference opponent.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-

Javier Arenas made the official start to the Nick Saban era with a 30-yard kick return to open Saturday’s game. Arenas looked quick and his blockers seemed to know where to make holes for the slippery return man.

OVERALL:A

Alabama dominated every facet of the game, but that was to be expected. We’ll see what happens when SEC play starts next week in Nashville against Vanderbilt.

Best and worst

Best first play from scrimmage to start a season: Could it have been scripted any better? On Alabama’s first play from scrimmage, running back Terry Grant sliced through the Western Carolina defense to score the first touchdown of 2007 on a 47-yard rush.

Best pre-game banter: It probably should have been the other way around, but before the game, an Alabama fan asked a Western Carolina fan, “Please go easy on us.”

Best welcome-to-college-football moment: It was Rolando McClain’s second tackle of his young career, but he put a pounding on Western Carolina running back Willie Harper. The Decatur High grad hit Harper so hard that his helmet came off.

Worst montage decision: I don’t care if Saban is trying to start new traditions at Alabama. You can’t move the Bear Bryant montage back to 22 minutes before kickoff. Nothing gets the fans going like the old coach.

Worst time for a penalty: The Bryant-Denny crowd turned silent as Western Carolina receiver Eddie Cohen crossed the goal line for a touchdown, cutting Alabama’s lead to 7-6 midway through the first quarter. But a holding penalty by Marquel Pittman negated the reception. We’re not saying the play would have changed the outcome of the game, but it would have put some heat on Alabama early.

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Josh Cooper
Josh Cooper
DAILY Sports Writer

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