Building for the future-Offense, part 1

Though several may have been able to help in backup roles or on special teams, every single true freshman recruited to play offense will redshirt this year. takes a look at the entire group, focusing on their likely roles next season. Part 1.

Bryan Bass, 6-1, 180, Shortstop/Wide Receiver

Bass is an excellent athlete, but it's almost certain he will never play a down of college football. After being selected by the Baltimore Orioles with a first-round supplemental pick in the Major League Baseball draft, Bass signed and is now a minor leaguer. Even if he were to pull a Kelley Washington and give up baseball for the SEC, Bass is not currently academically qualified.

Quentin Bowens, 6-0, 265, Fullback/Tight End

Quentin Bowens is projected as a blocking fullback, but he must graduate junior college to become eligible.

Bowens is another athlete from last year's signing class who may or may not play for Alabama, though certainly his chances are better than Bass'. After playing two years for East Central (MS) Junior College, Bowens was signed by Alabama with hopes that he could provide immediate depth at fullback. Built like a concrete block, the Killen native would have been a bruising blocker at either fullback or tight end.

However, Bowens did not graduate from junior college, which prevented him from joining the team. Reportedly, he's now enrolled at Shelton State Community College, hoping to become eligible and resign in February. But it's uncertain whether or not that will happen.

Bowens is the brother of former Tide receiver Tim Bowens and the half brother of current Bama middle linebacker Freddie Roach.

Brandon Brooks, 5-4, 157, Kick Return Specialist/Wide Receiver

Brandon Brooks (#83) being coached by Ken Pope.

A recruiting commitment obtained by the previous staff but honored by Coach Franchione, Brooks has worked hard on the scout team this fall. He made some noise returning kickoffs in the final two scrimmages before UCLA, but it was always assumed that the diminutive athlete would redshirt his first season.

Very quick and possessing decent speed, Brooks should at least provide depth returning punts next year--though obviously Antonio Carter would be the favorite for that assignment. He could also be a factor returning kickoffs, but normally straight-ahead speed is the top requirement for that job. And while Brooks is fast, several current Tiders (Roberto McBride, ‘AC,' Triandos Luke, etc.) would be ahead.

Brooks is also listed as a wide receiver, and he has displayed good hands and a willingness to catch the ball in traffic. But frankly, micro-athletes like him have a hard time being productive against big-time cornerbacks. As Franchione puts it, for a defender every inch of height advantage over a receiver is worth a tenth of a second in speed to a cover corner.

J.B. Closner, 6-4, 297, Center

Right now Closner is projected at center.

Closner is a good example of the type athlete Franchione and Offensive Line Coach Jim Bob Helduser plan to bring in. He's a good athlete, but early indications are that Closner is an even better football player. Plus--and maybe best of all--Closner plays with a ‘mean streak.'

He entered school early last summer and enthusiastically jumped into Bama's conditioning program, working out and running most days with Justin ‘Big Smiles' Smiley. Closner began with good strength for a true freshman, but over the next year or so he'll definitely benefit from a close association with Strength and Conditioning Coach Ben Pollard. Helduser's plan is simple. Stockpile enough athletes to where the majority of linemen never see the field until their redshirt sophomore year. That way the issue of maturity and toughness will take care of itself.

When he arrived, there was talk of also playing Closner at tackle. But Evan Mathis' development at that position likely dictates the Texas native will remain at center. As the Tide coaches groom Closner to take over for Alonzo Ephraim in 2003, expect him to see action next season in a backup role.

Closner injured the tendons on the top of his right hand earlier, and most days in practice he wears an unusual brace that forces the fingers to point backward. That way, pressure on the tendons is minimized. The awkward angle of his hand looks odd, but the brace should actually help him in the long run, because Closner has been forced to learn how to snap with his left hand.

Brodie Croyle, 6-2, 190, Quarterback

Though almost certainly unfair, Croyle (#12) has been touted as Bama's next great quarterback.

For any Bama fan still wondering, Brodie Croyle is indeed the ‘real deal.' That doesn't mean that he'll start next season--nor in fact is it an iron-clad guarantee that he ever will. But don't bet against him on that score.

Stand Croyle beside current starter Tyler Watts, and the benefits of four years in the Bama weight room are evident. Watts (6-3, 217) has put his time to good use, building and toughening his body to withstand the pounding that goes along with playing in the SEC. But there is no reason to think that Croyle won't work equally hard. And if he can add 20-30 additional pounds of muscle without losing his quickness, then Croyle could be special.

The Rainbow City native has got an outstanding arm--easily the most accurate of all the current QBs (and hardly less strong than Andrew Zow's howitzer). But right now two things hold him back. In the spring (and to a lesser extent in the fall) Croyle had a tendency to force the ball, making him vulnerable to interceptions. And his somewhat slender build raises questions about his ability to operate the option run effectively. But no one doubts Croyle's intelligence or athleticism. So time--time at the training table, time in the weight room and time spent studying film--should solve both problems.

Though he'll obviously have to continue to improve, expect Croyle to begin 2002 as Watts' primary backup. And depending on how much he and Watts progress during the off-season, more is possible.

Marquez Dupree, 6-0, 219, Tailback/?

Dupree (left) with his father, Marcus Dupree, at A-Day last spring.

Son of Marcus Dupree--probably one of the best running backs in college football history--Marquez certainly has the football pedigree to be good. And in fact, when he has been healthy he has impressed on the practice field. Dupree has his father's wide shoulders and gliding gait, plus he understands what the term ‘North/South runner' means.

The problem for Dupree has been staying completely healthy. He was bothered by a previous knee injury when he first got to campus, and the decision was finally made to do arthroscopic surgery. The procedure and forced recovery time mandated a redshirt year, and he frankly hasn't recovered quickly--though there are no questions about his long-term health.

Like another recent big-bodied tailback (Brandon Miree), Dupree was a sprinter in high school. But whether slowed by injury or not, so far he has shown only solid speed at Alabama. Assuming he gets healthy, maintains his speed and gets stronger in the weight room, he could be a factor at tailback next season. But it's just as easy to imagine him putting on some extra bulk and moving to fullback. And of course with three upperclassmen returning next season at tailback (Ahmaad Galloway, Santonio Beard and Shaud Williams), Dupree's quickest route to playing time could even lie in the secondary--where Alabama is in desperate need of good-sized athletes that can run.

But frankly, at this point it is simply too early to make any sort of accurate prediction about Dupree's immediate future.

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