TUSCALOOSA _ Although University of Alabama sophomore wide receiver Julio Jones wasn't been able to match last year's production in terms of catches and yards, it didn't stop talk that opposing defenses needed to only key him.
The Crimson Tide certainly heard it.
"Most people were saying that we had only one receiver," sophomore wide receiver Marquis Maze said. "It motivated me to go out and work harder.
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"It motivated all of us, even the one receiver that they were (talking about)."
For the first time since the 2006 season the Tide has two 500-yard receivers, and enjoyed a lot more diversity in the passing game than last year.
Whereas the Tide had only two players with 200 yards or more last season, it has five this season: Jones, Maze, Mark Ingram, Colin Peek and Darius Hanks.
"They all have a little bit different role that they play, but together as a group they make a very complete group in my opinion and they've done an outstanding job for us all year," Coach Nick Saban said. "I think that's one of the biggest differences in this year's team and last year's team offensively, is we have more players who can make plays, are confident that they can make plays and do make plays, including the tight end and least three receivers in the receiving corps that have been pretty consistent about it all year long."
Peek's return from a knee sprain was especially timely as he had three catches against both Auburn and Florida, including his 17-yard touchdown that graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.
"When he came back, he came back guns a'blazing,' Saban said. "He's made some really big plays for us. The way people play outside, it's probably a really good thing that we have a really good pass-receiving tight end."
Peek, who has also dealt with a hairline fracture in his foot has been wearing his boot around this week to decrease the swelling of a bunyon.
"I have them all around the house," he said. "It's like a tennis shoe to me."
Rust coming off
Saban has been pleased with the players' approach so far despite the long break since the SEC Championship Game.
"We've had three really good practices these last practices after we've gotten back and a got the Christmas hangover out of them," he said Wednesday. "We practiced really well today.
"These last two days, I really feel like our team is sort of back."
However, that doesn't mean there isn't some growing restlessness to get on with things, with the BCS national championship still more than a week away.
"It's been pretty good," junior quarterback Greg McElroy said. "I'm kind of disappointed in our progress in the sense that it kind of feels like we've had a couple of sloppy practices, not so much sloppy just the energy level, the monotony of practice is beginning to wear on people.
"I think once we get to California, it'll be a new setting and I think we'll be a little closer to the game so people will tighten up little. I think the energy has been decent, I don't think it's where it should be for a game of his magnitude."
Alabama practiced in pads inside the Hank Crisp Facility on Wednesday. The team will have a final home workout in shells Thursday before departing Friday for California.
No one was absent from practice.
Texas Tech reception
McElroy was calling home during his free time to talk with people close to the situation at Texas Tech, where Coach Mike Leach was fired Wednesday.
"It was really disappointing," McElroy said. "I'm still a Texas Tech fan believe it or not. I still pull for them and keep up with their season and have friends on the team. It was just real disappointing and I'm upset about that and for Coach Leach, and what happened with the James family and that their son had to deal with that. Hopefully everything will get worked out."
Leach was suspended Monday while the school investigated his treatment of a player with a concussion, Adam James, and was due an $800,000 bonus Thursday as part of his five-year, $12.7 million contract. Tech said his dismissal was due to the alleged treatment and acts of insubordination.
Saban declined in general to comment about the situation, but McElroy agreed that losing a coach like that, or what Florida has gone through with Urban Meyer the past few days is pretty much the nightmare scenario for a player.
"As a college football player there's so much loyalty between you and your coach," he said. "You just put your life on the line every week to make him happy. That's' the way I approach each week for Coach Saban, I want to do right for him. If something like that happened here it would be very upsetting.
Alabama is well aware that Colt McCoy leads Texas in rushing, with the majority of yards on plays he takes off on his own.
"We practice for it every week, every game" sophomore safety Mark Barron said. "In practice we tell the scout-team quarterback to scramble to make sure we finish the play. I feel like we'll be ready for that.
"We have put an emphasis on it this week."
However, that doesn't mean it will be the primary responsibility of the safeties to stop McCoy from running free.
"Everybody's got an assignment each time on defense," Saban said. "They run zone-option, where he pulls the ball sometimes. They run quarterback counters. They run quarterback draws. I think that the fact is they are such a good passing team and he's such a good passer and they have very good passing efficiency in all that they do. They are a very good third-down team. They force you to really try and play more where you are covering your receivers, so now you have less people in the box, which makes it more difficult to defend quarterback runs and I think that's one of the things that he has as much speed as any quarterback that we have played against all year.
"We are going to have to be more disciplined, especially up front in the front seven, of making sure that our eye control and our keying is very disciplined, so that we have the right guys in the right places when he decides to run the ball, because you are a little bit spread out with the kind of offense that they run."
Although he played against Virginia Tech a week after getting shot, senior defensive end Brandon Deaderick admitted Wednesday that he wasn't full strength until nearly midseason. "I started feeling a lot better around Kentucky, Ole Miss," he said. "The wound healed about three or four weeks ago. It was really just a lot of scar tissue, a lot of soreness."
Former Alabama interim head coach Joe Kines announced his retirement Wednesday from Texas A&M, where he was the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. The 2004 Tide defense ranked first nationally in pass defense and was second in total defense. "For me, first off, he was a father figure," former Alabama linebacker DeMeco Ryans once said. "He's a great person on and off of the field that you can go to and talk about anything. On the field, he was probably the oldest coach on our staff, but he had the most intensity out of anybody and he demanded a lot of hard work out of our group. There was no doubt about it that we were the hardest working group when we went out to practice day in and day out. I think we performed well on the field because of that. As a defensive coordinator, he kept things simple and everybody knew what they were doing and guys just made plays."
Players were notified of the complete trip itinerary, which includes a visit to Disneyland. Although senior cornerback Javier Arenas has been to Disney World in Orlando, and said it was like saying tomato two different ways, admitted "palm trees would be a new experience." "I don't do the tea cups, I get dizzy and I'm afraid of heights," McElroy said. "I hate to talk down on Disneyland, but the kind of ride that suits me may be 'It's a Small World (After All).'"
Some of the talk in the locker room this week has been about the new public service announcement strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran did encouraging flu vaccinations. Fittingly, it includes a lot of yelling.
McElroy on Academic All-American tight end Colin Peek nearly calling himself the smartest player on the team earlier this week: "That's smart, he can almost call himself that. We'll take the SAT, I'll sit in this room and take it with him."