Will he play?

Every week this season the Tide coaches have talked about playing more true freshmen. So far, it's just been talk, but wide receiver Tyrone Prothro is ready if needed. <br><br>"They told me to stay close to the coach," Prothro said. "You never know when they might call my number."

Tide Offensive Coordinator Dave Rader said Tuesday that he actually expected Prothro to play last Saturday versus Northern Illinois. But the game (a Tide loss) remained in doubt the whole night, making it a less-than-opportune time to play a true freshman.

"There were times recently when I thought I had a shot, but I'm not trying to rush it," Prothro said. "If (the coaches) call my number, I think I'll be ready. Right now I'm pretty much just taking it day by day. I'm trying to learn my assignments."

At 5-8, Tyrone Prothro isn't Bama's biggest wideout, but he's a powerful athlete.

Given the understandable nerves involved, there's no doubt he's paying attention during the games. "Everybody is going to be anxious to go in the game," Prothro said. "It can get tough, but I'm sitting back waiting on my time to go in."

Prothro played running back and receiver in high school, amassing 8,099 career all-purpose yards, the third-best mark in Alabama high school history. He also accounted for 92 career touchdowns.

No one doubts his athletic ability, but Prothro said he had a lot to learn when he got to Alabama. He explained, "At the South Florida game I was on the edge as far as (knowing) what to do on some plays. From then to now I feel like I know most of the offense. I feel like I could contribute anywhere, but I'm willing to play wherever they put me at."

"I feel a lot more comfortable now," Prothro continued. "In the beginning it was hard learning the schemes, coming from a high school offense to college. I've learned a lot, and I feel a lot more comfortable than I did when I first started."

Asked his major assets as a receiver, Prothro had a quick response.

"Speed and athleticism, right now that's pretty much what I can bring to the table," he said. "I've just got to keep working hard, learning technique, then I'll be able to contribute more."

In the recruiting game, 40-yard dash times are almost an inside joke. High school coaches (and athletes) commonly exaggerate the numbers to raise their recruiting profile, but Prothro's speed is legitimate. A sprint champion in track at both 100 and 200 meters, Prothro can run with anyone.

The issue is still uncertain, but Bama's coaches have continued to mention Prothro as a possibility for playing time at wideout.

"A 4.38 is the fastest I was timed in high school (for the 40-yard dash)," Prothro related. "I ran a 4.4 flat at Bama's camp. That's been my consistent time. I'm probably the third fastest of the wide receivers. It's probably Brandon Brooks, then me and Tri (Triandos Luke). They say he can run a 4.4, too."

As his picture indicates, Prothro isn't just a speed merchant. After hours of work in the weight room, he can hold his own physically as well.

He commented, "Coming out of high school as a running back, you have to go up the middle all the time and work against linebackers. There is not that much difference moving to receiver. That's where my ‘guns' (biceps) come in handy.

"In high school I basically was a running back and receiver, ‘slash' everything else. Catching the ball comes natural to me."

Tide Head Coach Mike Shula said Prothro has been making steady progress every day in practice. "It's basically learning the techniques," Prothro said. "Being an athlete helps, but learning the plays and techniques is key. Right now I've got a lot that I need to learn, but I think if they put me in I would be able to play."

Despite Shula's occasional comments to the contrary, without question he fully understands the issues involved with handling redshirts. And certainly the Tide staff has a plan for this year's class. With five senior wideouts on the squad, it makes little sense to play a true freshman like Prothro simply to get him on the field for a few plays. On the other hand, those veterans are graduating, and game experience this year will make next season's transition easier.

Besides his daily reps with the offense, Prothro is also getting a long look on special teams. When the squad works on punt returns, Prothro trots back to shag kicks along with Shaud Williams, Triandos Luke, Brandon Brooks and Lance Taylor.

Immersed in an ice-water bath, Prothro cools off quickly after practice.

"They've been working me back there, getting me used to catching punts," Prothro said. "Shaud's going to be Shaud. He can pretty much do it all. He can go all the time."

Given his combination of speed and quickness, several Tide coaches expect Prothro to eventually take over the punt return role. But he's not ready to rush anything.

"I started out lost," he admitted. "I was pretty good in high school, but it's a big difference catching punts in college. In high school they mostly kicked it away from me, but in college they're going to kick it to you. Then you have to get used to catching punts a lot higher than they were in high school. You've got a lot to learn."

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