Dennis the Disciplinarian
It was frankly interesting to read the comments from fans and pundits this past week, many of whom were wringing their hands, worrying over whether or not Coach Franchione would handle the Santonio Beard situation correctly. As an assistant commented yesterday, "He's only been doing this for what? Twenty-five years."
Actually, the 2002 season at Alabama marks Franchione's 20th year as a head coach, but the point remains. This is not a man lacking in experience. He has a hard-earned and well-deserved reputation for both firmness and fairness in dealing with student athletes. And those that know anything about Franchione's history had no doubt he would deal effectively with the recent problem.
Will Beard be allowed back for a bowl game (if Alabama qualifies)? That answer isn't clear at this point--though Franchione may have given a hint when he said on his radio show that "It's not like this is the third or fourth time he has had a problem. Santonio is not a bad kid." It's probably not crawling too far out on a limb to predict that Beard will be subjected to firm off-the-field punishment, and when completed he'll be allowed to rejoin the squad.
But a few points are almost certain. Beard will appear before the team's Leadership Council, which could be even more unpleasant than his meeting with Franchione. And the details of the situation will likely never become known. Note carefully the official statement released by Alabama. "As is my (Franchione's) policy, disciplinary measures will be handled within the framework of our football team."
This is not a staff that airs its problems out for media (or public) consumption.
Competition and ‘The Duke'
Despite the fact that junior Dante Ellington has been playing much better in recent games, redshirt freshman Evan Mathis has continued to start at strong tackle. In fact, both tackles are playing quite a bit. Against Mississippi State the offensive play breakdown was 39/32, with Mathis getting slightly more reps. And that trend continued against Auburn. So obviously, the competition between the two continues.
But frankly the chemistry that has developed along the Tide offensive line is too good to risk damaging this late in the season.
The players report that when Ellington is performing at maximum efficiency in practice, he can bury opposing linemen. But of course there has never been any question about the Leighton native's athletic potential. If Ellington can lose those last 10-15 pounds while also continuing to gain strength in the weight room, the battle for No. 1 in the spring and summer could get very interesting.
But right now, Line Coach Jim Bob Helduser is enjoying the luxury of having eight quality linemen (Ellington, Mathis, Wesley Britt and Atlas Herrion at tackle; Justin Smiley, Marico Portis and Dennis Alexander at guard; and Alonzo Ephraim and Mathis at center) to rotate among the five starting positions.
Where's the (original) ‘Deuce' when you need him?
While it's true that Coach Franchione values ball protection over almost everything else when he looks for a punt-return man, there is little question that Alabama has been less-than average on punt returns. Freddie Milons handled the role the early part of the year before being replaced by Antonio Carter. Milons has eight returns for 37 yards (4.6 average), while Carter's 90 yards on 17 attempts averages out to 5.3 yards per punt return. Alabama's longest punt return of 2002 has been for 17 yards.
The Tide is dead last in the SEC for return punts and 112th (out of 115) nationally. Carter is rated 12th in the conference, with 14 names listed.
Taken together, those numbers have got to be heartening to Brandon Brooks. Currently sitting out as a redshirt, the diminutive athlete (Brooks is listed at 5-4, 157) showed good return ability back in the fall. And frankly, the job should be wide open headed into spring drills.
‘Fast Freddie' and ‘J-Mac' leaving for ‘The League'?
Alabama will lose two senior starters at wideout. And both Freddie Milons and Jason McAddley will almost certainly be given every chance to make an NFL roster. In fact, both could/should end up being drafted. So, should Tide fans panic about the receiver position next year?
Assuming Alabama can sign one or two athletes this winter, no.
Full-time starter Antonio ‘AC' Carter will be back for his senior year, and sometime starters Sam Collins (rising senior) and Triandos Luke (rising junior) will fill out the starting rotation nicely. All three are far more than solid, with Luke and Carter showing genuine star potential.
And if you're looking for a darkhorse candidate to step forward next season, keep an eye on Tarry Givens. Significantly stronger than when he first arrived on campus, the 6-5 athlete has caught his head coach's eye.
Tide shut out of All-SEC?
It's possible, especially given the fact that several of Alabama's top athletes have not put up stellar stats this season. Kindal Moorehead, Freddie Milons, Saleem Rasheed and Terry Jones Jr. were mentioned for pre-season honors. But though all have been solid this year, none have done much to wow voters in other SEC cities.
So who is Bama's best prospect for all-conference?
Probably first-year starter Alonzo Ephraim. Since taking over the starting role last spring, ‘Zo has been nothing short of excellent. The Birmingham native is the leader of Bama's young offensive line, and the Tide coaches have often named him as their most consistent lineman. Usually, all-star teams are dotted with familiar names. So it'll be interesting to see of Ephraim can break through after only one year in the starting job.
Rasheed will likely end up leading Alabama in tackles, but several other linebackers around the conference have almost certainly had better seasons. But he has a great deal of name recognition, so it's entirely possible he could get some votes.
Placekicker Neal Thomas deserves some consideration--but will probably come up short. With only one game remaining, Thomas is statistically behind Florida's Jeff Chandler. Thomas has been successful on 75 percent of his kicks to Chandler's 83 percent, and the Gator kicker is averaging more field goals per game (1.67 to Thomas' 1.5).
Honestly, Thomas has probably been ‘hurt' by Bama's unexpectedly good offensive performance this season. Back in August, most were predicting a low-scoring Tide ‘O' that would be forced to rely on Thomas' toe. Except for the Vanderbilt game, that scenario hasn't played out.