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December 27, 2010ORLANDO _ University of Alabama sophomore linebacker Dont'a Hightower was all smiles when asked about a particular subject Monday afternoon, the loss of his knee brace during bowl practices.
So far he hasn't had any setbacks and is hoping to keep it off during Saturday's game against Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.
"I'm going to try to," said Hightower, who likes the brace as much as a used diaper.
"(Director of Sports Medicine) Jeff Allen is not too big on not wearing it after I did all season, but the last couple of games I really didn't want to wear it. The last couple of weeks I've gone without wearing it and feel pretty good without it. I see the (reason) for wearing it Saturday, but I feel better without it on."
Hightower began the season wearing two braces after sustaining a serious injury on a low hit to his left knee against Arkansas last year. He ditched the right one for the Florida game and responded with six tackles, two hurries and a pass broken up.
He's felt even more mobile the past couple of weeks, but is still being careful. With the cold conditions here Hightower's spent more time stretching and warming up, and done a little extra post-practice treatment as a precautionary measure.
Hightower, who needs eight tackles to catch injured safety Mark Barron for the team lead in tackles with 75 (although freshman middle linebacker C.J Mosley trails his 67 by just one), was planning to ditch the brace during the offseason and work the whole spring without it.
Allen suggested that he wait until the strength in his surgically-repaired knee exceeded the healthy one, which a test verified a couple of weeks ago.
"It surprised me a lot," Hightower said.
Tide practices indoors
Despite the logistical challenge the Crimson Tide moved Monday's practice from the stadium at Dr. Phillips High School near downtown Orlando to the Nicholson Fieldhouse on the campus of the University of Central Florida.
However, it wasn't the 47-degree temperature that led to the last-minute switch inside, while Michigan State opted to stay outside for its workout.
"The wind was the issue," Coach Nick Saban said.
Coaches didn't feel comfortable using the lifts for cameramen to film practice, and there was no other way to get the end-zone shot that most coaches prefer for evaluations. In October, 20-year-old Declan Sullivan died while shooting a Notre Dame practice when the tower he was standing on fell over.
The windy conditions during Sunday's practice were also problematic.
"We had a lot of interceptions," sophomore safety Robert Lester said. "The wind was blowing the ball all over the field."
The switch to the bowl's backup facility did make for a longer day as players had to suit up at Dr. Phillips and get back on the busses, where 11 motorcycled policemen escorted the team to UCF, roughly 30 minutes away.
"Practice today was real good," junior defensive lineman Marcell Dareus said. "We didn't have any distractions. It was a lot better today. We didn't have Mother Nature kicking in too much, we didn't have problems on the field like yesterday.
"People had their minds right today. Moving indoors allowed us to focus on the work and not worry about the weather."
Despite December shaping up to be the coldest month on record in Orlando, the forecast is for temperatures to climb into the low 60s by Wednesday and 70s on Thursday. No rain is expected the rest of the week and Saturday's game should be played in sunny, near-80 conditions.
Although junior linebacker Chris Jordan had his right thigh wrapped during the observation period there didn't appear to be any injury changes during practice.
Saban on if he would play backup quarterback A.J. McCarron against Michigan State: "We're not going to penalize Greg (McElroy) in his last game here and the great job he's done the last two years being as a starter so we can try and play someone else for the future."
Alabama officials may have been quietly taking notes on Nicholson Fieldhouse, which was specifically designed for football and is bigger than the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility (and used to also include indoor tennis courts). "I like the facility," Dareus said. "I just wish they had some heat in there. I bet it gets pretty hot in there (during the summer)."
Alabama will practice at Dr. Phillips at 11 a.m. (locally) Tuesday and hopefully settle into a routine for the rest of the week. The scheduled team event is at Universal Studios. The Capital One Bowl's sister game, the Champs Sports Bowl between West Virginia and North Carolina State, will be played Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. (Tuscaloosa time, ESPN) at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.