TUSCALOOSA | Dre Kirkpatrick caught Kirby Smart by surprise in January in the aftermath of the University of Alabama's blowout win over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.
No sooner had the junior cornerback returned to Tuscaloosa than the 2011 season was already on his mind.
"I know when we came back from the bowl game, I looked down in the weight room in early January and he was in there working out," Smart said. "I thought, Wow. That's a little out of character for him to be in there by himself when there's not a group down there, and he's really working hard. He's kind of bought into that. He wants to be a good player."
Kirkpatrick was a first-year starter in 2010 at cornerback, and is relishing the opportunity to return this season with the game experience he was lacking a year ago.
"I feel like I've matured a little bit. Coach stayed on me, talked to me about being more consistent," Kirkpatrick said. "My goal is to make like every practice like it's my first practice, like I'm trying to give a first impression on every down I'm out there."
The Gadsden City native made 53 tackles last season and tied for second on the team in interceptions with three. One of those clinched a crucial road win at Arkansas, a play Kirkpatrick called the most memorable he made all season.
Starting next month, he'll be looking to make a new set of memories.
"He's a much more consistent guy right now as a football player. I think it's largely due to his maturity and his personality," Saban said. "He is much more goal-oriented now. He realizes from the experience he gained last year playing that paying attention to detail, doing the little things right, can serve him well as a player. He's more into it in every way, off the field as well as on the field.
Carter still on hold
Saban said the team is still awaiting academic news on transfer wide receiver Duron Carter, the former Ohio State Buckeye who came to UA via Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.
"The issue is, school at these places was out about the same time we started," Saban said. "So to get grades posted and transcripts is the issue. That's what we're waiting for. We don't know that there are any issues, but we've got to get the information so that he can be admitted, so that he can practice. We've got lots of people working on it."
Carter is the son of former NFL All-Pro Cris Carter. Saban said the player has been frustrated by the holdup after completing the necessary coursework.
Learning about learning
Members of Alabama's signing class may be eager to show the UA coaching staff what they are capable of in practice, but Saban indicated the evaluation of the physical skills isn't so simple when it comes to incoming players.
"For young players especially, who everyone probably has the most interest in trying to evaluate, that's the most difficult time to evaluate because the learning curve is extenuated and accelerated, and you're trying to teach all these things and put all these things in," Saban said. "Really, it's more about evaluating how a guy's learning what he's supposed to do than it is about what he can do."
The Crimson Tide has all but two members of its 2011 signing class participating in practice, including 14 who have enrolled since June.
"I tell him just be ready. He knows what he has to do. He's been here five years, just like myself. I know it hurts him a lot to miss those two games. I just tell him we're going to try to make it two wins for you, and when you get back let's get to it." - Marquis Maze on fellow wide receiver Darius Hanks, who will miss UA's first two games due to an NCAA redshirt regulation.
Defensive lineman Undra Billingsley missed practice Tuesday after being hospitalized with an illness Monday night. ... Freshman offensive linemen Arie Kouandjio and Ryan Kelly are day to day with minor injuries. Kelly was not at practice during individual drills Tuesday, but Kouandjio did participate. ... Saban said running back Dee Hart (knee surgery) may be able to begin running by November, but would not project whether the freshman could play by season's end. ... Reserve sophomore defensive end William Ming worked with the outside linebackers in individual drills Tuesday. Ming has previously been at defensive end. ... Members of the New Jersey Nutley High football team observed practice Tuesday. The group was in town to volunteer to assist tornado recovery efforts. ... Tuesday marked Alabama's first practice of camp in full pads.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com or at 205-722-0196.