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In 1964, Alabama coach Bear Bryant walked onto Georgia Tech's Grant Field wearing a football helmet to protect himself from objects hurled from the stands. Watching Bryant that day was a a Ramblin' Wreck lineman named Bill Curry, now Alabama's new coach. Considering what he's facing, Curry might well be wondering if he should be similarly attired for his first game as the Tide's coach—even though it will be before a home crowd at Birmingham's Legion Field.

Curry, you see, committed the crime of accepting the Alabama job without having played for Bryant—and with a mediocre 31-43-4 record during his seven years at Georgia Tech. With their eyes on a schedule that includes Penn State, Florida, LSU, Notre Dame and Auburn, the 'Bama wolves are baying.

But if some promising youngsters can replace the eight starters drafted from last year's 10-3 team, Curry will get some breathing room. Walk-on junior David Smith, who understudied Mike Shula and directed four scoring drives last season, will start at quarterback. If the offensive line can weather the loss of All-SEC guard Bill Condon (a spring practice knee injury), Smith's task will be easy: just hand the ball to tailback Bobby Humphrey. Humphrey, who set Alabama game (284 yards) and season (1,471) rushing records in '86, is so good Curry has switched fellow lightning bolt Gene Jelks to cornerback.

In the lingo of defensive coordinator Don Lindsey, the outside linebackers are now the Bandit (Randy Rockwell) and Strike (Derrick Thomas). Thomas bears the burden of being hailed as the next Cornelius Bennett, but he is luckier than Curry. To meet expectations, Curry will have to be a bear of a mentor.



Linebacker Rockwell (57) gives the defense (not to mention opponents) some kind of lift.