Using Three to Replace One

Losing Tim Castille is like losing two players – at least - and Alabama will have to rely on two, maybe three guys to try to replace the squad's starting fullback, number two halfback, arguably the best run- and pass-blocker in the backfield, and second-leading receiver.

"You lose a halfback and a fullback and a guy that's equally good at both, and a leading receiver," Running Backs Coach Sparky Woods said. " We greatly miss Tim, but that's no excuse for us to lose. Le'Ron (McClain) will step up and go and so will Aaron (Johns). We'll just miss Tim and execute without him."

Le'Ron McClain has been gradually building into a position to accept responsibility for that role. The sophomore replaced Castille in 2003 after Tim suffered a less severe injury in the Tide's second game against Oklahoma, but McClain was hurt the following week against Kentucky. He must stay healthy this time, but he can't let those thoughts get in the way of what he needs to do to be effective.

"Tim told me (Monday) that they were going to have to operate," McClain said. "As soon as he told me that my head just dropped because I felt sorry for him and everything. That's three times already to people on the team. I'm just going to pray for him and hope he gets back by spring."

"Last year when Tim got hurt in the Oklahoma game I came in at Kentucky and I got hurt," he said. "I'm just going to take advantage of this. This is my opportunity now to stay healthy, play hard and play better."

McClain can do an adequate job of replacing Castille leading in creating holes for a tailback. McClain has been done the job well on a part-time basis throughout the season. McClain has rushed nine times for 44 yards through eight games.

Aaron Johns will move into the back-up role behind starter Kenneth Darby. Darby will certainly carry more of a load, much like he did against Kentucky when he logged 29 carries, but Aaron Johns will also get an opportunity. Head Coach Mike Shula decided to play Johns, a true freshman, late in games in the early part of the year, removing the possibility of a redshirt year for Johns. Now Johns' 32 carries for a 154 yards will be invaluable as he prepares to carry a heavier load.

"It wasn't a lot of difference today," Johns said after Tuesday's practice. "I always practice a lot no matter what since Ray went down. When Ray went down I was expecting to play but, Tim stepped up and got a couple of more reps at tailback. Now that Tim has gone down there's no one else to step up but me, so I'm ready to play."

Johns might be ready to carry the ball, but playing in the backfield is much more. Woods said the bulk of Johns' will be in pass-protection fundamentals and ball-security. It sounded odd, but Woods said he's not as concerned about his backs in other formations as he is in four-wide receiver sets, where Castille was a truly reliable blocker and receiver.

"I'm about as worried as much about four-wides," Woods said, "having enough guys to play that position. Our protection is pretty important for us there. Darby can go at halfback and then Aaron has got to step up.

"(Aaron) may have the biggest responsibility increase in terms of things he's got to do. If we got to three I think Josh Smith could carry those snaps right now. He's been around a long time. He came here as a halfback, he's a smart kid."

Smith is now a fullback and he knows both running back positions, and he saw some valuable playing time there in the wake of the injuries to McClain and Castille a year ago, including a season-high 19 snaps against Southern Miss.

"I'm getting a lot more reps and they're just trying to get everybody ready," Smith said.

"I play probably around 15 special teams plays a game, and I got a lot of offensive experience last year because we had injuries."

Smith is also an asset as an older guide for the Alabama running backs corps. As a team veteran Smith is able to keep things in perspective and help his younger teammates.

"You can't dwell on a loss, and you can't dwell on the loss of a player because you have to keep playing every week," Smith said. "It hurts at the time but it's an opportunity for other people to step up and do what they've been practicing to do to help our team. We feel bad for the guys that get hurt, but as far as being down, we can't afford to do that, we've got to pick it up and play."


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