Golden chance for Caddell

According to redshirt freshman Matt Caddell, he's a much athlete now than when he first arrived last fall. Which, given the Tide's desperate need for receivers, is very much a good thing. <br><br>"Mentally I'm more mature," Caddell said. "Physically I'm stronger and faster than when I first arrived."

Caddell signed with the Tide as part of the 2003 class. He was a member of the Tuscaloosa News "Sweet Sixteen" list and considered one of the top receiving prospects in the state. Last season he took a redshirt, gaining strength and knowledge for SEC play.

"My role this year will be much more important than it was last year," Caddell said. "I'm used to catching balls from Brodie Croyle, which helps."

No offense to the various high school quarterbacks that threw to Caddell during his prep career, but getting used to catching throws from a strong-armed college QB like Croyle takes a bit of time.

Caddell commented, "All our quarterbacks have real strong arms. That was something I had to get used to real fast. Now it comes second nature for me. When you get on the field, you don't want to have to think. On certain routes it took awhile to adjust to their arm strength, but now I'm used to it.

On the first day of spring practice Matt Caddell looks back in for the snap. That's Ray Hudson (#27) in the background.

"I've been catching them for months now."

Besides position coach Charlie Harbison, Tide Head Coach Mike Shula is also taking a careful interest in the wide receivers this spring.

"Everyone is talking about the guys that we recruited, but we're looking at the guys we have here now," Shula said of the Bama wideouts. "Tyrone Prothro is obviously experienced, and Matt Caddell is another guy we're watching. We've got to find out in a hurry about all our receivers.

"They've got to learn more than one position, when we go to our three- or four-wide-receiver sets."

Caddell began last season on the Alabama scout team, working exclusively to prepare the Tide defense for the next game. It was important work, but he was happy when the Tide staff gave him a chance to work with the first and second-string offense.

"Halfway through the year (last season) the coaches moved me up to work with the varsity," Caddell said, "getting to work with Brodie and the other quarterbacks. Rotating with them really helped. I'm learning, but I've got a long way to go. I'm just trying to get better."

Understanding his role on the team, Caddell worked particularly hard to give the Tide defense an proper "look" to prepare them for next week's game.

"I took pride in that," he explained. "When I was on the scout team, it was my job to make all the DBs better. Roman Harper, Charlie Peprah, Anthony Madison, Ramzee Robinson, I tried to make them better. I never wanted to sell the team short by my not going full speed."

A star player for as long as he can remember, game days last season were an adjustment for Caddell. Used to being on the field, last season he dressed out every game but watched from the sidelines.

After joining the team last fall, Caddell quickly found out that SEC football was not a walk in the park.

"I finally got used to it," he recalled. "Actually I was happy to be out there. Certainly a lot of other players (on the squad) wouldn't have minded being in my position. You stood on the sideline and tried to keep your teammates up during the games."

Most importantly, Caddell didn't just spend the season marking time. Instead he worked hard to improve, preparing for spring drills. He commented, "The year went fine. I tried to use the time to improve my game, try to get better. Learn the offense and learn the tricks of the trade involved with playing receiver in the SEC."

As Shula mentioned earlier, many fans are fixated on the talented group of wideouts that inked with the Tide last February. But the Bama coaches are much more concerned with the athletes already enrolled and working out this spring.

"We'd like to come out (of spring drills) thinking we've got a complete team right now," Shula acknowledged. "Then any of the young guys that come in will be a bonus, icing on the cake.

"But at receiver and some other positions, in the back of our minds we'll be looking hard at some younger guys to play."

In high school Caddell was often just better than his competitors. For his prep career he tied the state and national records for punts returned for a touchdown at 12. During his senior year he did a little bit of everything offensively, catching 14 passes for an average of 27 yards per reception. He also rushed for 828 yards and a touchdown and returned four punts for TDs.

But Caddell knows the college football is another game entirely.

Caddell talks to a reporter following practice. He and the other young wideouts on campus have a much better than average chance to earn playing time next season.

"You can't just win on talent alone, you've got to learn your techniques," he said. "It's all about technique. Out-thinking your defender and out-competing him."

Accustomed to being the fastest person on the field in high school, Caddell says everybody is fast in the SEC.

"That shocked me when I first arrived," he admitted. "We were going through pass skel one day last summer, and I had my man beaten on a post route. But then Anthony Madison flew in. I didn't know he was right on my butt.

"You've got to really pay attention to getting separation (at the line of scrimmage) in college."

It's early, but after just one day of spring practice Caddell's head coach knows his name. Following Saturday's workout, Shula volunteered "Matt Caddell did some nice things, but he still has a lot to do."

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