Brodie Croyle is obviously Alabama's best quarterback and its clear-cut starter when healthy. But unfortunately it's the "when healthy" part that has crippled Bama's offense. Croyle partially separated his left shoulder while making a tackle in the season opener against South Florida. He aggravated the injury against Oklahoma, then had it pop completely out during Bama's loss to Arkansas.
After rehabbing furiously all last week, Croyle took few snaps in practice and did not start against Georgia. But hoping for an offensive spark, the Tide coaches sent him into the game Saturday with his team down 30-3. Predictably, the Georgia defense blitzed Bama's injured quarterback both plays, the second time slamming him to the turf and sending Croyle off the field in obvious pain.
According to Mike Shula, the hit caused pain but no further damage to the joint. "He just got a hit on it," Shula said. "The shoulder was sore, and he just got a hit on it again."
What about Croyle's availability this week?
"Our feeling is that unless something changes between now and Tuesday, then Brodie's situation will be very similar to last week," Shula said. "He'll have a chance to play. There will be some pain."
The status of Croyle's shoulder will be evaluated on virtually an hourly basis, and his availability for practice will depend on the Tide doctors. "We've got to see if he can get some practice time in," Shula said. "Then based on the practice time, we'll make a decision whether or not to start him. If not, then Brandon Avalos will be our guy."
Bama's No. 3 quarterback, Avalos (pronounced Ahhh-va-los) is up next because of an injury to Spencer Pennington. "Spencer will probably be out a couple of weeks at least," Shula said. "He hurt his shoulder."
Pennington got both his first start and first significant game action Saturday. Just 9-of-20 passing, he didn't have a great game statistically. But Shula said that Bama's offensive problems shouldn't be laid at Pennington's feet. "We didn't do a good enough job offensively early (in the game) to help Spencer out with our running game and some things we think are our strong points," Shula said.
Alabama finished with a poor 209 yards of offense, only 90 of which came in the first half. "We did better later on, but not early," Shula said. "That cost us. It dug us into a hole."
Pennington did lead Alabama on a 70-yard march in the second quarter, hitting Dre Fulgham in the endzone for Bama's only offensive touchdown of the game. But his attempts to rally the Tide in the second half were ended by a crushing blow directly on his right shoulder.
Midway through the third quarter, Pennington was out and redshirt Brandon Avalos was in. A redshirt freshman, Avalos had hardly taken any practice snaps since fall camp.
"I've coached some guys in that situation and it really is tough," Shula said. "You go into a game as the backup and all of a sudden you're in the game. (At that point) we've got a chance, but Brandon hadn't had any reps at all. We try to tell them from Day One. Even though you're not going to get a lot of reps, you're responsible for (learning the offense).
"It's like a relief pitcher. You've got to come in with a good mindset and be productive."
Alabama must now come up with a game plan that both plays to Avalos' strengths and gives the Tide a chance to defeat Southern Miss. Shula explained that he and Offensive Coordinator Dave Rader ask each quarterback to give them a list of plays that he's comfortable with. With Avalos in the game Alabama ran roll outs, quarterback draws and plenty of handoffs.
"We will call the things that (each quarterback) does best," Shula said. "That's why we try to find out as much as we can about guys early (in training camp)."
If he improves quickly, then Croyle will be Bama's starter without question. But Shula isn't expecting any miracles and intends to get Avalos as many reps as possible this week in practice.
"It'll be very similar to last week," Shula explained. "We gave Spencer all the reps, then Brodie got a couple on Wednesday and got 30-40 percent on Thursday. It'll probably be very similar.
"If Brandon is the guy, then he's definitely going to need all the reps."
Shula is counting on either Avalos or Croyle to handle the load. But if Croyle's shoulder says otherwise, then first-year walk-on Mike Machen must be prepared. A former minor-league pitcher for the Braves and Orioles, Machen has not taken a snap in a football game in more than four years.
"Injuries happen every year," Shula said. "You get guys hurt and you've got to have other guys step up. Not just the backup, but the guys around them."