Talent exists, but it's thin

It's not that Alabama doesn't have talented athletes on its squad, because it certainly does. But sanctions, injuries and attrition have taken a deep toll on the Tide's depth. <br><br>Next season, along with early contributions from some true freshmen, Bama will need good injury luck to contend for any titles.

(Above left) He's only a true sophomore, but Tyrone Prothro will be counted on to be a playmaker and lead Bama's receiving corps next season.

Heading into spring there was a lot of talk about quarterbacks Brodie Croyle (pictured) and Spencer Pennington rushing their respective rehabs and returning early to take part in spring drills. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and both QBs have been held out of essentially all full-team work. It's crucial that Bama be at full strength next fall, so Brodie and Spencer have been protected this spring.

Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach Joe Kines gives some one-on-one instruction to middle linebacker Freddie Roach (#8). Kines is generally satisfied with his talent at linebacker, and he's also pleased with the progress made this spring by Bama's defensive backs. Though he quickly adds that the Tide will need contributions at both cornerback and safety from incoming freshmen.

Senior offensive lineman Evan Mathis pauses briefly after Saturday's scrimmage to get his photo taken. Mathis' move from right tackle to left guard hasn't been talked about much this spring, but his adjustment will be crucial to Bama's offensive success next season. Mathis has also endured more than his share of injuries in college, and it will be essential that he stays healthy in 2004.

Le'Ron McClain poses for the camera. Arguably the Tide's only true fullback on its roster, McClain had an excellent day last Saturday running the football. But it's his ability as a blocker that has Bama's coaches salivating. McClain's continued development will provide flexibility in how the offensive staff uses Tim Castille.

Shula isn't one to complain--certainly not to the media. But there is no question that his rebuilding job will not be accomplished overnight. He said Thursday that he basically expected twice as many true freshmen to play this year as last, and that he didn't see that dynamic changing for the the 2005 class either.

Injuries and a few defections have left the Tide painfully thin on the offensive line. In fact Alabama is barely two-deep at the crucial position. Here reserve center Taylor Britt (#52), reserve guard Dawson Brown (#62) and reserve guard Justin Moon (#71) practice getting into their pass protection stances. To the right, walk-on tight end Rusty Hill (#94) heads out into the pattern.

As a former basketball and track star in high school, Juwan Garth arrived on campus one of the most gifted athletes on the squad. He showed real promise last year in a back-up role, though Coach Kines reminds him that he made his share of freshman mistakes. This season Garth is being counted on to handle the starting job at weakside linebacker. At this point Kines' linebacking corps is one of the few positions on the Tide squad with adequate depth.

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