Spring Outlook: Plenty of chances at tight end

It's not the same high-profile position that quarterback is, so frankly few fans have taken notice. But Bama's tight ends will also be limited this spring due to injuries to key players.

Position Coach Dave Ungerer lost two athletes from last year's team to graduation. Donald Clarke finished his three-season career at the Capstone, which included numerous games as starter. And fourth-year senior walk-on Ted Gryska is giving up his final season of eligibility to concentrate on academics.

Two talented walk-ons, Will Denniston and Barrett Earnest, spent their first year on campus as redshirts. Each will be available this season and has a better-than-average chance to earn some playing time, especially on special teams.

Three solid scholarshipped players are listed at the position, but unfortunately two will be limited in what they can do this spring due to injury. At this point Greg McLain is the only healthy returning tight end with previous game action under his belt.

Despite a broken hand, Cavan started most of Bama's games last season.

Six athletes are listed at tight end on Bama's 2004 spring roster:

When healthy, David Cavan (6-5, 252) is a solid SEC-caliber tight end. He began his career as a receiving specialist, but Cavan has added bulk and strength and developed into a very good blocker. Unfortunately, injuries continue to plague him.

Cavan competed for essentially all of last season with a cast on his right hand to protect a broken bone. For a time the coaches kept him in the passing offense, but after several drops his role in the '03 offense was basically limited to blocker. Officially, he was credited with two receptions for 19 yards.

Cavan's hand is fine now, but he's now recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL. It's his second such injury, but reports are that Cavan should be okay by the start of fall camp. However, he won't be much of a factor this spring.

Greg McLain (#31) and Clint Johnston (#88) walk off the practice field.

One of the top weight lifters on the team, Clint Johnston's pictures sometimes make him look bulletproof. But the truth is that Johnston (6-4, 245) has dealt with more than his share of injuries at Alabama. Chronic shoulder problems also make his participation problematic this spring. Participating in 10 of Bama's 13 games this past year, Johnston caught six passes for 46 yards and one touchdown.

On the other hand, Greg McLain is as healthy as he's been in awhile. Various health problems limited his effectiveness last season, but the main culprit was a concussion suffered in the pre-season. McLain (6-2, 244) has had concussions before, and he was subsequently moved from fullback to tight end to minimize the danger. Held out of all contact for long weeks, it took McLain awhile to work his way onto the field. But by the end of last season he was playing on special teams and also seeing spot duty at tight end. He ended up participating in 11 games and catching two passes for 34 yards.

Three walk-ons will look to seize the opportunity and hopefully impress the Tide coaches, including sophomore Rusty Hill (6-1, 226), and redshirt freshmen Barrett Earnest (6-4, 230) and Will Denniston (6-2, 217).

Earnest was still nursing a surgically repaired knee when the season started, but he's healthy now. In high school he was a dominant big receiver, but Bama's coaches see his future at tight end. He's certainly tall enough, and Earnest has the frame to add more weight.

Walk-on Barrett Earnest has a chance to make an impact this spring.

Out of UMS Wright in Mobile, Denniston is one of those stellar high school players that has problems finding his ideal position in college. He's athletic enough to play defense, but for now he's hoping to make a mark at tight end.

Both Denniston and Earnest would have to be placed in the "Golden Opportunity" category this spring. Injuries to other players will guarantee that they'll get tons of reps. And with two excellent freshmen set to arrive in the fall (Trent Davidson and Nick Walker), now is the time to take your best shot.

(NOTE: Travis McCall played tight end in high school, but he's expected to be placed at defensive end by the Bama coaches).

To badly paraphrase a movie line, Greg McLain is hoping that finally he'll be able to say "Trainers?!? I don't need no stinkin' trainers!" Since arriving on campus, "Moose" has become a fan favorite. But one health problem after another has killed any chance he's had to do much on the playing field.

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