'We must protect...'

When a team only has two scholarshipped quarterbacks available--and both of them have suffered separated shoulders--the mission is simple. <br><br>Protect the quarterback at all costs.

But while the Tide line has enjoyed some success here and there, Head Coach Mike Shula is far from satisfied. "Brodie is taking too many hits," he stated flatly. "We've got to make sure we get that corrected."

Starting quarterback Brodie Croyle (left shoulder) and back-up QB Spencer Pennington (right shoulder) have both dealt with separations this year. Croyle is certain to undergo off-season surgery to mend the joint, while Pennington's problem will require months of weight training and rehab before he approaches 100 percent.

In the meantime it's up to Bama's offensive line to protect them to the maximum degree. But unfortunately, that task has been made incredibly more difficult due to injury.

Sophomore center J.B. Closner has managed to avoid the injury bug (knock on wood).

All-America left tackle Wesley Britt is out for the season with two broken bones in his leg. Tight end David Cavan is out for the year with an ACL tear. Starting right guard Dennis Alexander severely sprained his ankle several games ago and is not yet recovered. Hardly a practice goes by that all-everything reserve Matt Lomax doesn't spend time on the exercise bike to ease his sore back. Tight end Clint Johnston sat out several recent games with nerve problems in his neck. Back-up tight end Donald Clarke has a bad ankle sprain. And reserve guard Mark Sanders tore a hamstring muscle two weeks back in practice that remains a problem.

And that list doesn't even mention right tackle Evan Mathis, left guard Justin Smiley, and reserve guard Danny Martz, all of whom are now essentially recovered from a stress fracture, injured foot and damaged knee cartilage respectively.

Of the principal contributors on the offensive line, only tackle Atlas Herrion and center J.B. Closner have been (mostly) injury-free.

Shula commented, "My concerns are the same. When you lose a guy like Wesley Britt, you'd be lying if you say you're not going to miss him. That's not taking anything away from Atlas Herrion who has come in and done a nice job (at left tackle).

"Dennis Alexander is hobbled, and Danny Martz is playing. Matt Lomax is coming in (off the bench). Those guys are seeing a lot more playing time than they did earlier."

Heading into the season the Tide O-Line was supposed to be one of the best in the conference, but injuries have taken a toll.

It got so bad Saturday that career guard/center Matt Lomax actually started at tight end. "Matt Lomax has been the backup at center," Shula said. "He's had experience. When he comes in he's expected to know everything, as he should because of his experience."

Shula remains philosophical regarding the problem. "Injuries are part of the game," he said. "Guys have to come in and step up. Prove that they're capable."

Athletes like Wesley Britt cannot be replaced easily.

"We're not going to point fingers in any direction or make excuses," Shula continued. "As coaches and players we're going to continue to work to get better and do things that are going to make us more productive."

With one game left to play, the Tide offense is averaging only 159.7 yards rushing per game, 54th in the nation and fifth-best in the SEC. Passing numbers are worse. 186 yards per outing via the air ranks the Tide dead last in conference.

"Inconsistency has been frustrating," Shula acknowledged. "The thing that we've got to get done is continue to work the guys that have played and have started. Do everything right all the time."

Injuries, no spring football, not enough time to install a full playbook... The list of vallid reasons (not excuses) for Bama's problems are all too real. But Shula wants his squad focused completely on what they can control, and not distracted by problems out of their hands.

"That's easy to say, but it's a little tougher to do," Shula said. "But if you have an opportunity to make some plays, you've got to go ahead and do it."

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