"We're keeping spring practice on the same schedule we did last year, so things are going to go fast," Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula said. "After this spring we'll evaluate the early spring practice schedule."
BamaMag.com will provide a position-by-position spring preview in the days leading up to spring practice, beginning today with the quarterbacks.
Alabama is expected to have senior quarterback Brodie Croyle back for spring work. Croyle was basically out of spring drills last year as he recuperated from post-season shoulder surgery. This year he is returning from knee surgery, an operation that was performed following the injury in mid-September.
"I'm done with rehab. I'm back to lifting weights and working out with (strength) Coach (Kent) Johnston," Croyle said. "I'm just waiting to get cleared by Dr. Andrews. I will probably get cleared the next time the Doc comes in."
"I'm running at about 90 per cent right now. I could probably run full speed now if I had to, but we have a schedule we're following and we're sticking with that whether I am ahead or not," he said.
Although he only played in three games last year, Croyle started all but two games his sophomore year. He and JB Closner are the only two senior returning starters on the Bama offense.
"It's a different role without guys like Wes Britt and Evan Mathis, but it's pretty much the same as I had last year," Croyle said. "Me and JB are the only seniors who have been around and started for a lot of games. We're going to be the veterans, but we have a lot of talent. Our wide receivers look like they are ready to go."
The quarterbacks and receivers are currently working on passing routes on their own as a group. These informal workouts will progress to one-on-one drills against Bama's defensive backs and then to seven-on-seven drills with participation from all skill-position players in the days leading up to spring practice. They also study film twice each week, Croyle said.
"It's something we all wanted to do to get to where we need to be," he said. "We don't want to be 6-6 again."
Shula said, "The expectation is that Brodie will do more this spring than last spring. That will be critical, too. He needs to get his timing down with the receivers, who are a little more experienced than they were when Brodie was working with them in the fall."
At the time of Croyle's injury he was ranked among the nation's top performers. Following his loss, Bama did not get consistent quarterback play. Marc Guillon was the first to replace Croyle, but after two starts Guillon was lost for the year with back problems. He was replaced by Spencer Pennington, who had also replaced Croyle in 2003, when both Croyle and Pennington suffered shoulder injuries.
Croyle said he never worried about re-injuring himself after his previous knee and shoulder surgeries, and he genuinely never seems bothered by questioning or speculation that he is too injury-prone to make it through his senior year.
"If people want to say that, it's fine. I can't help what people say. If I get hurt this year they might have a point. I played my whole freshman year and didn't get hurt. I played my sophomore year and missed one game. When you're the quarterback your injuries get publicized a little more. There were people playing with injuries just as bad as mine," Croyle said.
"With my shoulder and my other knee I never thought about them after I rehabbed. One of the good things about having surgery is it can make you stronger than before."
Alabama will also get another look at incoming grayshirt freshman John Parker Wilson at quarterback. Wilson was allowed to participate in some of Alabama's pre-bowl practices and impressed coaches with his passing. Wilson will split time this spring between the football and baseball teams, battling for time at third base. But he is also throwing football with the group twice a week.
"I think John Parker Wilson is going to be a stud quarterback down here," Croyle said. "He has the right mentality, a live arm and he likes to move around and make things happen out of the pocket."
Rather than split time between football, where he was pressed into duty as the starter the past two years, Pennington elected to give up football to try to win a job at first base or as a designated hitter for the baseball team, where he is a junior.
Guillon's status for the spring after suffering with an injured back for much of 2004 is unknown. Shula said Guillion is not at 100 per cent and there is no clear timeframe given for a recovery. It is not clear how much he will practice in the spring. If Guillon is able to practice, he will compete with Wilson for the spot behind Croyle.