Legal limbo

Wednesday wasn't your average day around the University of Alabama football complex.

On a typical Wednesday, the crowd gathered around Tide Coach Mike Shula following practice consists of a handful of print reporters, usually three or four, and several representatives of Web sites covering UA sports.

This Wednesday was different. The usual characters showed up, but they were flanked by a contingent of television cameras, accompanied by reporters who asked their questions in clipped tones far more suited for the top of the newscast than the three minutes allotted the jolly ‘ol sports guy near the bottom of the half-hour.

Their topic du jour? Ray Hudson.

Seems the Alabama junior tailback had been arrested Wednesday, charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana, which was discovered after a police search a week ago. Hudson was released from the Tuscaloosa County Jail Wednesday after posting $1,000 bond, and practiced with the team.

The implications from his arrest are uncertain, but that's another story for another day.

What most fans are probably worried about are the immediate implications -- and what they'll do to Alabama's running game heading into a difficult test against LSU, the nation's No.2 running defense.

Tide Coach Mike Shula had no official announcement on Hudson's status following practice Wednesday, saying it was under evaluation.

"He's on the team right now, we're going through an evaluation process, we'll find out all the details, and we'll handle that, just like we do all of our other violations of team policy," Shula said.

Since Ray Hudson did not test positive on a drug test administered by Alabama, his status with the team has not yet been affected while the details of the situation are confirmed. According to Head Coach Mike Shula, once that investigation is complete, he'll be subject to disciplinary measures "within the context of the team."

There is never good timing for a player to be arrested on drug charges, but Hudson picked a particularly poor time to fall under scrutiny from his coaches, teammates, and law enforcement.

The Tide offense boasts the SEC's best rusher in Shaud Williams -- who averages 114 rushing yards per game. But at five-foot-eight, 180 pounds soaking wet, Williams can't carry the load by himself.

He needs help, which Hudson always seemed to provide. The Bonifay, Florida, native hasn't started a single game this season, but he has formed a nice one-two backfield punch with Williams. Between them, they average 154 yards per game and nearly five yards per carry.

Hudson has come on particularly strong the past four weeks, rushing for 70-plus yards in three of four games. Last week's 38-0 victory over Mississippi State was a perfect example of his value.

He spelled Williams for a series at a time, allowing the senior to rest his carry-weary legs and come back fresh. When the day ended, Hudson had quietly rolled up 79 yards, just 10 behind Williams, by far the more highly regarded of the two.

That's Hudson's style -- work hard, don't say much, but make a big impact. He isn't much with words, which is probably a reason why he gives a fraction of the interviews the gregarious Williams handles in an average week.

But just because he doesn't say much doesn't mean he isn't important.

Before Wednesday's incident, he was firmly in line to become the Tide's starting tailback next fall after Williams leaves. Now his chances are as muddled as the running game the next three weeks.

Williams will be forced to carry an even larger load than the huge burden he already bears if Hudson is suspended for any length of time. That doesn't bode well for his health; earlier this week, Williams admitted to reporters he was sore "pretty much every morning." And who can blame him?

If Hudson is absent, it will leave Williams more susceptible to injury and force younger, untested players to fill his role.

Redshirt freshman Kenneth Darby is the most logical candidate; he has 22 carries for 148 yards this fall and has shown speed and burst in small flashes. But he, too, has been injury-prone. He has missed three games this fall while battling rib and shoulder injuries.

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True freshman Tim Castille -- who played running back while starring at Birmingham's Briarwood Christian High School -- is another option, but he has his hands full playing fullback. Fellow frosh Le'Ron McClain could ease Castille's fullback burden, but Castille's learning curve at tailback would likely limit his contributions.

Put it all together, and it isn't a pretty picture.

It all makes one wonder what Hudson must be thinking right now. Surely he's embarrassed by his actions. Surely he's feeling more than a little guilty.

Hudson isn't the first athlete in America to be accused of marijuana possession. He certainly won't be the last.

But that won't make it any less painful for him -- or the Alabama offense -- if he's walking the sideline in street clothes Saturday night.

Sometimes in life, we learn our lessons the hard way.


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