TUSCALOOSA — The sun was setting on a classically hot Tuscaloosa afternoon when the Crimson Tide freshmen hit the Thomas-Drew Practice Fields on Thursday evening.
The group of about 50 players included more than just the new guys who were making their debut, after the veterans officially opened practice in the late-morning heat.
All of the freshmen standouts were in attendance, including Eddie Lacy — who was cleared by the NCAA on Wednesday morning. He made the drive from Louisiana later that day and arrived in Tuscaloosa ready to practice
One player missing from the evening workouts was Kerry Murphy. The JUCO transfer from Hoover returned home following a tragedy. His 22-year-old brother, Terrory, was found shot to death in Bessemer on Thursday morning.
"He's taking it hard," Rosetta Murphy, Murphy's mother, told The Birmingham News.
The issue of freshmen grayshirts was also cleared up before the practice.
There was some confusion following Saban's Wednesday news conference in which he said three freshmen would grayshirt, but four signees were absent from the 105-man roster.
The three freshmen expected to grayshirt this fall include Anthony Orr, Petey Smith and Darius McKeller. Kellen Williams was the other newcomer missing from the roster, but he is expected to join the team when classes start Aug. 19.
• Looking to expand roles: With a healthy stable of running backs available this fall, Saban said Wednesday he is looking to use the versatile players in multiple roles.
Roy Upchurch and Terry Grant proved their value with strong special teams play a year ago. He uses some of the same thinking as New England Patriot coach Bill Belichick, who he coached under with the Cleveland Browns.
"A third-down back, which may be your third back, has to be able to contribute on special teams, otherwise with a 47-man roster, you don't have enough guys to play on special teams" Saban said. "In college, you have more players, you can take more players, but there are still some positions that are better suited, body-type and athletic ability-wise, to play on special teams and running back would be one of those."
Returning running backs Upchurch, Grant and Mark Ingram will be joined by highly-recruited freshmen Trent Richardson and Lacy.
• Big time in playboy: Three Alabama football players will appear in the September issue of Playboy.
Javier Arenas, Julio Jones and Rolando McClain were picked to the Playboy All-American team that will grace the pages of the September issue. Former Crimson Tide offensive lineman Andre Smith made the team this past season.
Arenas plays defensive back, but he made the Playboy team as a punt returner. He led the nation last season with three punts returned for touchdowns, while averaging close to 16 yards per return.
• Not disappointed: McClain joked at last month's SEC Media Days that Arenas should have been the one representing the Crimson Tide defense in Hoover.
When asked Thursday if he was disappointed when McClain got the nod, Arenas laughed.
"I wasn't disappointed at all because I probably would have said something (the university) wouldn't have liked," he said.