On Tuesday, Mike Shula hosted a long lunch for casual conversation with the dozen or so sportswriters who cover Crimson Tide football on a regular basis. He provided something of a post-mortem of spring football practice, and for the most part he was up-beat.
The status of Brodie Croyle and the quarterback position was part of the conversation.
The sportswriters also had a little time with a handful of Crimson Tide football players, including Croyle. Croyle is an upcoming junior who was the starting quarterback in 2003, but who missed part of last season with a shoulder separation and the full team work of spring practice as he rehabilitated after December 11, 2003, shoulder surgery.
Last year Croyle became the first sophomore in Alabama football history to pass for over 2,000 yards. Playing in 11 of Bama's 13 games (and for only a handful of plays in one of them, the Georgia game), Croyle completed 182 of 341 passes (53.4 per cent) for 2,303 yards with 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Shula said, "It would have been better to have had Brodie for 11-on-11 work in the spring, but I feel better about the (quarterback) position than at any time. Brodie is smart, he's talented, he's savvy. He is driven to do it. There's not a better competitor on our team. He has all the things you want. He just needs more experience."
The coach said, "I think he would have played better last year if he hadn't been hurt. He was hurt all season
Shula added, "Where he's got to get better through experience is in taking completions and in not taking hits. There's nothing wrong with throwing it away sometimes. And we've got to get better in our protection of the quarterback and our receivers have to get better in getting open."
While Croyle is the starter going into fall work, Shula said that the coaching staff will have to get a lot of repetitions for all the quarterbacks. He said that Croyle and Spencer Pennington, the 2003 back-up who also missed part of last season and who was limited in spring work because of a shoulder injury and surgery, would have to get repetitions to make up for the work they couldn't get in the spring.
And Marc Guillon, the sophomore transfer from Miami who got most of the spring work at quarterback, deserves the opportunity to compete in August, Shula said. "I think we have to give a lot of reps to guys we think are going to be able to help us," the coach said. "He played 75 of the 91 plays we had on A-Day, and that kind of work helped him."
Shula said, "Because of the number of reps he got this spring, Marc is more comfortable in the system. He made huge strides. We have some competition at the quarterback position."
Croyle said one of his goals "is to be in the best possible shape so I have a better chance to avoid injuries."
The Tide quarterback admitted that the injury had been painful last fall. "Once the game started some of the pain would go away, but you can see that it affected my throwing motion," he said. "As it got more and more chewed up in there, I was throwing different at the end of the year than I had been at the beginning. I'll take my share of the blame for the season we had, but I'm not using the injury as an excuse."
Croyle said the shoulder is "tighter" than it has ever been and that he is close to being released by doctors to be able to go full speed. However, he said, he is doing all of the weight work that he would have been doing. He is lifting weights four days per week in Bama's off-season program and undergoing rehabilitation two days per week.
Croyle said that even though he couldn't take part in the team work in the spring that he felt he learned a lot as he watched drills in the presence of Shula and Quarterbacks Coach Dave Rader. "I learned a lot just watching," he said. "It's a lot easier to quarterback from 10 yards deeper. Of course I wanted to be out there taking reps, but it was a good learning experience."
Croyle was pleased with the performance of Guillon in the spring. Even though they are competitors for the job, it's the nature of football players that they are teammates first. "Anything can happen as we saw last year," Croyle said. "Marc's here to help the team. He came on this spring. I think we'll be better with him."
He added, "I can't get caught up in a quarterback battle played in the newspaper or on television. I listen to Coach Shula and Coach Rader. I know the number two quarterback is always the most popular player. That's the way it is all across the country. But I can't think about that."
Croyle thinks that while the offense might be younger, particularly at wide receiver, he thinks the Tide will be improved. "We'll be a lot better," he said. "We'll be a lot younger, but that isn't always bad when there have been coaching changes. The young receivers including the ones who were redshirted last year understand what they need to do, and I think the ones coming in will know they can contribute. I think we're going to have some of those guys who can take a short pass and turn it into an 80-yard touchdown, which is a quarterback's best friend."
He added, "We'll have a championship to play for this year."
For those who might be wondering what Croyle thinks of criticism he sometimes gets on internet sites, he said, "I've never been on an internet message board. Everyone is entitled to his opinion. I've known for a long time that when you win the quarterback is the savior and when you lose the quarterback is the goat. It's been that way my whole life."